Sri Lankan maids face overseas ban after maid beheaded in Saudi Arabia

SRI LANKA - Sri Lanka said it will bar women of all ages from travelling abroad to work in menial jobs, following an international outcry over the beheading of a young nanny in Saudi Arabia.

Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced that women under 25 were now banned from going to the Arab state to work as maids, adding that it was the first step towards a worldwide travel ban for low-paying jobs.

The move was in response to the execution earlier this month at a prison in Riyadh of Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafik, who was only 17 when she was charged with smothering a four-month-old baby in Saudi Arabia in 2005.

"As a first step, we are raising the age limit to 25. We will gradually move towards a total ban on our women going abroad to do low-paying jobs," Mr Rambukwella told reporters.

He did not say by when the total ban would kick in, but said the authorities have started to discourage women from going to the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, where most maids are paid less than US$300 (S$370) a month.

Nafik was beheaded after she was found guilty of smothering an infant in her care after an argument with the child's mother, the Saudi interior ministry has said, AFP reported.

The US and the United Nations led international condemnation of the Saudi authorities over the Jan 9 execution.

Nearly 1.7 million Sri Lankans are employed abroad and the US$6 billion they sent home last year is a key source of foreign exchange for the government.

In Singapore, the number of Sri Lankan maids is expected to go up to about 6,000 by the middle of the year, up from about 4,500, according to the Sri Lankan High Commission.

The maid agents here said Sri Lanka is the fifth biggest source of maids here after Indonesia (103,000), the Philippines (70,000), India (15,000) and Myanmar (10,000), The Straits Times reported.

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