CCTV in homes: peace of mind for families, or a step too far?

Growing distrust of childcare providers is causing many families across the country to install CCTV cameras in their homes - but maids say they do not like to be under constant supervision.

A CCTV camera looks down from a kitchen ceiling, an increasingly common sight in homes across the Emirates. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Growing distrust of childcare providers is causing many families to install CCTV cameras in their homes, but maids say they do not like to be under constant supervision.

Last June, a Filipina maid in Ras Al Khaimah was sentenced to three months in prison after she was found guilty of assaulting and endangering the life of a four-year-old boy she was babysitting.

She was caught on CCTV beating the child.

In another case, a Saudi man installed cameras in the kitchen of his home, only to get the shock of his life when he saw the maid urinating in their food.

The video went viral online, causing alarm over the important role maids play in family life.

Mohamed Rajab, 33, a CCTV salesman, said: “We’ve sold hundred of units this year. Business is good. It’s very common now to have them in your home. They are affordable and easy to use, even on your phone. Some people choose to install them to monitor their home and its gates while travelling. Others are using them to keep an eye on their maids and children.

“We do not install them in private rooms or bathrooms if requested. Clients normally don’t ask for this. There’s an understandable expectation of privacy.”

The presence of the constant monitoring has not been wholly accepted by those who work in family homes.

Myrna, 24, used to be a maid at a home in Abu Dhabi before she became a waitress in Ajman.

Her former employer used to monitor her on CCTV.

“When I first joined my previous family, the mother explained to me that I’m new and she didn’t trust me yet. She told me that there are many cases of abuse and its important for her to ensure the safety of her home. I fulfilled my contract of two years and, thankfully, found another job,” Myrna said.

“Its not a nice feeling to know that you are constantly being watched. Anything I do can be misconstrued. I keep my own bottle of milk in the fridge. I’m called dirty if I drink from it and not from a glass. I’m lazy if I’m sitting while the food is cooking. Context is lost in such circumstances.”

Myrna said she understood why families are resorting to such measures.

“I’ve seen the videos on YouTube. I don’t know why some maids have done the things they’ve done but its important to acknowledge that there must’ve been reasons that led them to this. Physical abuse, harassment and emotional abuse of maids are real issues in the Gulf. Maids are becoming wary of having to come work in the UAE,” she said.

Alia Al Mehairi, 38, a mother of four and Myrna’s previous employer, explained why she has CCTV and monitors it regularly.

“I understand the discomfort this may cause – being watched all the time – but a home is a maid’s workplace and its understandable for someone to be watched at their workplace.

“It takes time to build trust and most maids are here for a short while with hopes to get another job. I am taking a gamble with the safety of my family members entrusting someone with our lives to this extent. I’ve got to ensure the safety of my family.”