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Elhanan is a year-old Ethiopian woman with broad shoulders, short black hair, and a nest of wrinkles surrounding her brown eyes. She came to Lebanon five months ago to work as a maid. Yet after Elhanan arrived in Beirut, the man who owned the house she tended took her passport and, when his wife and children left the house, often raped her.
A choice between warlords: Lebanon can't elect a new president. Read more here. Thousands of foreign domestic workers in Lebanon are part of what is known in the Arab world as the Kafala system , a way that people from surrounding regions can emigrate to Arab states and work for higher wages than what they would earn in their homelands.
Kafala guest workers are used in a variety of industries, notably construction and domestic labor. The conditions of laborers working in places like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been reported on widely. In Lebanon, like other countries, the arrangement gives employers the power to take away workers' passports, withhold their salaries, and keep them in what sometimes amounts to a kind of indentured servitude.
For women guest workers, there are added dangers. With more than , domestic workers in Lebanon — mostly from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines — this system doesn't only subjugate women to a kind of tacit bondage, but it also empowers perpetrators of sexual violence and forced prostitution, according to both traffickers and those working to stop the trafficking.
Najla Chahda, the director of the Caritas Lebanese Migrant Center CLMC , an NGO supporting domestic workers in the country, says that while some women routinely suffer from rape or sexual abuse from the hands of their employer, it's also prevalent for gangs to offer false promises of better working conditions to entice women to leave their abusive household. But once a worker escapes before her contract finishes, she loses her legal status completely.