What’s missing from discussions concerning the UAE fining a maid for attempting suicide

Today’s UAE news includes reports of a maid who was kicked out of her job on September 10 which still being owed three months of back pay. After being kicked out on to the streets, she had no place to go, and she couldn’t remember the location of villa where she had been working nor the identity of the employment agency that handled her contract. The difficult state she was in prompted her to attempt suicide by standing in the middle of traffic. A policeman intervened, talking her out form the middle of the street. Today a court has fined fined her the equivalent of USD$272 for attempted suicide.1

Suicide is unlawful under the Shari’ah and the UAE criminal code applies a fine for failed attempts.2 In classic law this type of fine is known as a ta‘zir: a disciplinary punishment for an act which is unlawful and for which no specific punishment has been prescribed in the textual sources.

If you look at what people are tweeting about the story,3 virtual all tweets complain about the fine being unjustified, oppressive, barbaric, and suggest that the UAE is to blame for her situation. What many of the tweets seem to ignore is that neither the UAE nor the Dubai government deprived her of her pay, nor caused her to forget the address of the villa where she was working and the identity of the employment agency that arranged her contract – information that would enable the Ministry of Labour to sort out her back pay and deal with the offending parties. The Ministry of Labour may even be able to produce this information themselves, since somewhere there is a paper trail connecting everything together: her passport and entry visa, the identity of the agency that brought her and the identity of the family to whom they hired out her services, residency visa, the ID now required for all residents with all of its biometric data, etc.

Instead of focusing solely on the UAE criminal code, tweeps, bloggers, and virtual activists should be asking what has been done to help this woman obtain her back pay and to ensure that she receives assistance – material, moral, and mental – while things get sorted out. They should also be asking what sort of corrective actions are being taken against the employment agency and her employers who refused to pay her for her three months of work. Additionally, regional tweeps should should direct some of their energy towards improving the overall conditions for domestic help, since it is those conditions – not the UAE criminal code nor the Shari’ah from which it is derived – that prompted her to attempt suicide.