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  • Migrant workers protesting in Lebanon in May. Human rights groups say domestic workers are highly vulnerable to abuse.

    Migrant workers protesting in Lebanon in May. Human rights groups say domestic workers are highly vulnerable to abuse. | Photo: Reuters

Lebanon's Labor Ministry says its new 24-hour help hotline is part of broader efforts to reduce abuse of migrant domestic workers.

Lebanese authorities announced Monday they have launched a 24-hour hotline for women employed as domestic workers to report abuse.

“Every domestic worker now has an address to turn to lodge a complaint in the event she is subjected to any kind of harm or violation of her dignity, and that address is the Ministry of Labor,” said Sejaan Azzi, Lebanon's minister of labor in a statement.

According to Thomson Reuters Foundation (the charity arm of the Reuters news agency), the hotline will offer advice including legal assistance to female domestic workers on issues ranging from healthcare to sexual violence.

The government is promoting the hotline with billboards in several languages, urging migrant workers to take advantage of the initiative if they face abuse.

“This project is the practical implementation of the Ministry of Labor's concern for human rights,” said Azzi.

Domestic workers in Lebanon such as maids are often migrant workers from Africa and Asia, and human rights groups say abuse is rife. Under the controversial "Kafala" system, migrant workers are effectively locked into employment with a single employer. They normally require authorization from their employer to change jobs, while lacking most basic protections under Lebanon's labor laws. They are effectively unable to unionize and have few avenues of complaint for abuses ranging from non-payment of wages to rape at the hands of their employers, according to human rights groups.

An estimated 200,000 migrant workers are employed in Lebanese households. According to a 2014 study by Lebanese women's rights group Kafa, abuse is widespread. The study interviewed 100 migrant workers and found 65 had suffered some form of abuse in Lebanon, including “ forced labor, servitude, or slavery at some point.”

“Migrant domestic workers frequently report excessive working hours and delayed or nonpayment of wages,” the study found.

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