According to estimates, more than 25% of people subjected to modern-day slavery are minors. Children are predominantly forced into domestic servitude, sex trafficking and dangerous as well as harmful manual labour. 

Supply needs and industry demand for cheap, unskilled labour are increasing the numbers of children being forced into modern-day slavery. Many of the sectors enabling forced child labour include work requiring physical attributes, such as small stature and agility.

Poverty pushes children into accepting work including their parents asking them to work to supplement the family income. These conditions and circumstances are reinforced by systemic, structural issues such as lack of access to education, inadequate employment opportunities, corruption and social stratification.

Source: End Slavery Now

Although the Kafala system requires MDWs to be over 18 years old, there have been numerous cases of underaged Migrant Workers arriving in Lebanon, therefore being cases of forced child labour/child slavery and child trafficking.

Oftentimes recruitment agencies in sending countries forge legal documents for underaged women to ensure their migration to Lebanon under the Kafala system.

Sex trafficking is a form of forced labour consisting of exploiting a trafficked person for sexual services. Sex trafficking falling under the forced labour definition is characterised by the threat of punishment and for which the person has not offered themselves voluntarily. The UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol) includes three elements in its definition: the act, the means and the object. Sex trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons who under threat, force, coercion, fraud, deception or abuse of power are sexually exploited for the financial gain of another.

Source: End Slavery Now

Sex work in Lebanon is criminalised under its penal law, which has led to sex trafficking rings taking advantage of undocumented and destitute Migrant Domestic Workers, forcing them into involuntary sex work. 

According to a report by LAU and Egna Legna Besidet, 68% of MDWs in Lebanon have experienced one or several forms of sexual harassment by their employers, their agents or by strangers in public. 

Bonded labour, also known as debt bondage, occurs when people agree to unpaid labour as a security or amortisation against a loan or debt they either assumed themselves or on behalf of someone else. In theory, it is presented as an employment agreement, however, based on unpaid work to repay a debt, which oftentimes is not achievable and with work being under dangerous or extreme conditions.

The difficulty of settling the debts and the potential incurrence of additional debts often lead to a perpetuation of the exploitative situation.

Source: End Slavery Now

The Kafala system’s illegal and unethical recruitment practices include agencies in sending countries recruiting Migrant Domestic Workers with the requirement of upfront recruitment fees, which leads to many MDWs taking up loans with the agencies themselves, pushing them into the trap of debt bondage. 

In some cases the MDWs covered the expenses of their legal/travel documents, flights and administrative fees, unaware that their employers themselves cover some of these fees.

On the occasion of this year’s International Workers’ Day, members of Reclaim Our Rights are sharing their thoughts and appreciation of what Labour Day means to them and how they celebrate it as community leaders, workers’ rights advocates, and survivors of the abusive Kafala system. 


For me, this is my day. Labour Day honours workers and their contribution to society. So this day means a lot to me. Before, it did not have any meaning in my life. However, having worked as a migrant worker, I find this day very important. It shows how far I have come and the struggles I see migrants going through. This is the one day to honour the heroes, and my heroes here [in Lebanon] are the migrants and community leaders who show the truth that the Kafala system is flawed. Despite all the hardships they have been through and still experience, they still stand firm and smile. They still wake up the following day to continue fighting against the injustice under the Kafala system. They are the workers who have been through a lot and are still standing and willing to fight for others. I celebrate them on this day. They are my heroes today and every day after. This is the day I honour them. This is the day in my own quiet time when I say a silent prayer to all the workers all over the world, but especially to those who are trapped under the Kafala system in Lebanon. 


For me, Workers’ Day is about me. It is my day, and I want to reward and clap to myself for all the hard work I do every day for my family, my friends, the family I’m working for, and most especially for my community. It is important to give credit to ourselves for working so hard.


Labour Day is a day to celebrate and reflect on the struggle and the amazing work that we are doing. But we also use this day to acknowledge our suffering. We celebrate this day with joy but also to remember everything that we have been through as migrant domestic workers. Today brings out the best in us because we are able to express ourselves and share our stories with ourselves and the public. We can voice our concerns, the things that we face and the things we want to change. So it is a special day for us, and we celebrate it in a way that reflects on our achievements as migrant workers and the things we want to achieve in the future as community leaders. 


International Workers’ Day is Labour Day.  Labour Day is the day when we remember the contributions and struggles of workers all over the world. It is a day to honour the achievements of the labour movement. Labour Day is the day to recognise the dignity of workers. Labour Day is also to advocate for fair wages. It is a day to advocate for safe working conditions and social justice. It is a day to remember the ongoing fight for equality and the importance of standing in solidarity with other workers. This day is also to remember domestic workers are workers who should be respected and protected under the same labour laws as all workers. 

On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Reclaim Our Rights Collective shared an Open Letter addressed to the Lebanese media. They express their concern over the perpetuation of racial discrimination by Lebanese news outlets. MWA joins the calls of the ROR collective and recommends that journalists working for Lebanese media stop disseminating content that stigmatises and discriminates against Migrant Workers and adhere to international standards of media ethics.

Migrant Workers’ Action in support of the Reclaim Our Rights Collective celebrates International Women’s Day with the release of ROR’s Manifesto. The Reclaim Our Rights (ROR) Collective is a coalition created and led by Women Migrant Domestic Workers, community leaders, and activists who advocate and campaign for the abolition of the Kafala system and guaranteeing their rights and freedoms as migrant (domestic) workers in Lebanon.

Migrant Workers’ Action has submitted an Input to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls after a call for submissions by civil society to discuss sexual and gender-based violence in the sex work industry. The Kafala system is enabling sex trafficking and, with it, SGBV against MDWs in Lebanon. Download our briefing to learn more about the issue and read our recommendations to stakeholders and decision-makers.

There is a proverb in Arabic:

لم أشرب ماء البحر مثلك كل يوم، لكني أعرف شعور وطعم الملح في الفم

I never drank seawater like you every day, but I am familiar with its saltiness in my mouth.

I believe that the essence of this proverb is at the core of why I have dedicated my life to fighting for human rights. It encompasses the idea of empathy or understanding for another person’s suffering despite not having the exact same experience. It is about relating to the struggle or hardships of others to the extent that it feels part of one’s own experience. 

I remember my first encounter with the concept of humanitarian assistance and civil society organisations. I was only ten years old when a Japanese organisation visited the Palestinian refugee camp where I lived in the heart of Beirut. During an activity for children, we stood in a circle and were asked to share our dreams for when we grow up. I immediately knew that my goal was to help people. So I stepped into the circle and proclaimed that I wanted to become a nurse because, as Palestinians, we often don’t receive medical attention. 

I will never forget the moment when the interpreter, a Palestinian man, chuckled and told me that I would change my mind the minute I reached adulthood and would most likely end up in my husband’s kitchen. This moment became my awakening as an advocate of women’s rights with the ultimate goal of breaking out of these patriarchal limitations that my own circumstances would force on me. 

As a Palestinian, I am fully aware of the limitations that the Lebanese state has put in place, with many of my rights being denied. Yet, these limitations and this lived experience of marginalisation are what push me to advocate for the rights of others. The thought that whatever little I can do, whatever problem I can resolve, and whatever help I can provide gives me the power and satisfaction to continue. I refuse to watch the perpetuation of injustice passively and instead want to be actively involved in the process towards change and justice. 

This is what has led me to be part of the movement of working for Migrant Domestic Workers’ rights and against the Kafala system. I do understand the feeling of being away from my own land in a strange and hostile environment. I experienced the hardships of being a refugee in Europe and being reduced to a country of origin, which eventually also led to my decision to return to Lebanon. 

I work for rights while at the same time don’t have rights myself. I don’t have a passport, and I am stuck as a Palestinian refugee in a country that treats me as a nuisance. This reality I am living is shared with the MDWs in Lebanon. I want to liberate myself from the consequences of Zionism, the same way I want migrant workers to be liberated from the Kafala system. 

Palestinians don’t have the protection of the Lebanese labour laws. I share this main concern of exclusion with the MDW community that has repeatedly campaigned for change and inclusion under the legal framework of labour protection.

In Arabic, we say:

نقطة ماء في بحرك

Which translates into “A drop of water in your sea.” This expression is used to convey the idea that something is a tiny or insignificant part within a much larger and more significant context. In the Lebanese context, my drop of injustice is a drop in the sea of injustices that exist. I did suffer a drop of your suffering, so I do know its bitter taste.

Particularly, the limited access to services and the denial of rights are experiences I know myself, which is why I want to work against them on behalf of the MDW community in Lebanon.

This year, the experience of being Palestinian and working in the human rights field feels both cynical as well as necessary. The same colonial powers that deny me my right to return are also responsible for the capitalist exploitation and systemic abuse of women of colour under the Kafala system. The experience of Palestinian women being reduced to victimhood is a similar experience of MDWs being reduced to commodities in the households of the rich and privileged. 

My faith in human rights has been shaken. The hopes I previously held on reclaiming the right to my land and fighting for the right to existence have been dampened by the current situation. This also has had a similar effect on my hopes of abolishing the Kafala system and the reality of achieving the goals of the MDW community towards true and real change.

If there is no justice for innocent civilians suffering under the relentless bombing in Gaza, then how can I hope for justice for the women trapped under the Kafala system? 

يقولون إن فاقد الشيء لا يعطيه لا والف لا، فاقد الشيء يعطيه وبقوة

They say someone who misses something can’t give (offer) it. I say, on the contrary, someone who misses something offers it a thousand times more.

This expression conveys the irony or contradiction of privileges, suggesting that those who lack something are often more generous in giving it to others. Although I am struggling for my own rights, I also work even harder for the struggle of other people’s rights. 

We share the same trauma of violence by white supremacy, colonialism and patriarchy. The perpetrators and the circumstances might differ, but the trauma experienced is the same, which is why the fight for justice and liberation is the same.

MWA developed a short brief focusing on the role of the IOM Lebanon Office following several concerns expressed by partner organisations. The brief summarises the challenges and concerns MWA has found through its work with migrant domestic workers, their communities, and CSOs. It aims to shed light on gaps within IOM’s system and work that lead to confusion, as experienced by MDWs in Lebanon. The brief is intended to advise IOM in its work by providing recommendations on current challenges.

On the occasion of International Day For the Abolition of Slavery, MWA is launching its report on the plight of Kenyan Migrant Domestic Workers on their migration journey to Lebanon. The report is the first of MWA’s In-Focus research series committed to providing an in-depth understanding of localised contexts and key drivers of migration in sending countries, leading MDWs to travel to Lebanon, as well as their experiences under the Kafala system in Lebanon.