A Saudi princess was arrested on Wednesday and charged with human trafficking in the United States, after a domestic worker managed to flee and report abuse to the police, media reported.
Meshael Alayban, who was was taken into custody by California police, was identified by prosecutors as the wife of Saudi Prince Abdulrahman bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, news website Arabian Business reported.
Alayban was accused of forcing a Kenyan woman to work for 16 hours every day of the week, confiscating her passport and paying her only $220 a month.
Four Filipino women were also found in Alayban’s apartment complex, and police was investigating whether their passports had also been confiscated, The Guardian reported. Charges remain to be filed in their cases.
According to Arabian Business, the unnamed Kenyan domestic worker began working for Alayban in Saudi Arabia in March 2012. She had been promised by a recruiting agency that she would be working standard hours for $1,600 a month for the length of a two-year contract.
But the woman’s passport was confiscated, and Alayban refused to return it when she complained about unpaid wages. She was temporarily given her passport to travel with Alayban and her family to the US in May.
The woman fled Alayban’s home on Tuesday by bus, quickly contacting the police.
Alayban is being held on a $5 million bail and has been ordered to surrender her passport and submit to GPS monitoring, The Associated Press reported.
If convicted, Alayban could face up to 12 years in prison, The Guardianwrote.
According to AP, Alayban’s attorney claimed that the case is one of “work hours dispute.”
“This is not a contract dispute...This is holding someone captive against their will,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in court during a bail hearing Wednesday.
Migrant domestic workers are regular targets of abuse worldwide. Numerous NGOs address the issue in the Middle East, where cases of violence and exploitation of migrant workers can be common.
A report published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in January that only 10 percent of the reported 52 million domestic workers worldwide – mostly women – are covered by the same general labor laws as other workers.
Workers in private households often experience harsher working conditions than other workers in the same countries, the report said, and more than 25 percent are not covered by any labor legislation in their respective countries.
Because many migrant domestic workers have limited knowledge of the language and laws of their country of residence, they are especially vulnerable to abusive practices such as verbal, physical, and psychological abuse along with unhealthy living and working conditions.