ABU DHABI // Young women from Nepal are being duped into coming to the UAE with the promise of jobs but are abused then sold for a few thousand dirhams.
The girls are exploited by agents who promise them a lucrative living then subject them to physical and mental abuse.
"The clandestine agents exploit them on golden promises in Nepal to send them to the Emirates," said Dipak Adhikari, counsellor and deputy chief of the Nepal Embassy.
When they arrive in the UAE, he said, an unscrupulous agency "receives them and sells them to willing residents".
The embassy is offering refuge to women fleeing such situations, and about three or four seek help each week.
"Attempts to rape, sexual harassment, torture and non-payment of wages are common with most of the ladies who are sheltered at the mission's safe house," Mr Adhikari said.
The number of cases is growing, he added, and "the mission repatriated 90 to 100 girls a year in 2011 and 2012".
Nepal banned women under 30 from working as housemaids in Arabian Gulf countries last August.
But the embassy says demand for its nationals to serve as maids is increasing, and it receives six or seven applications a day - about 2,520 a year - from UAE residents.
The girls recruited by unscrupulous agencies are told they will be cleaners. The agents apply for a housemaid work permit from the UAE, which has no ban on Nepalis under 30 doing this job, then changes the maid part to say cleaner so it will be approved by the Nepal authorities.
Once in the UAE, the girls are sold as housemaids for between Dh7,000 and Dh9,000, with them receiving a monthly wage of just Dh500 to Dh800 a month. Most of the girls the embassy has helped did not get paid for five months.
"Selling ladies like that is a kind of human trafficking," Mr Adhikari said. "Some agencies bring ladies here ... and they keep them until they find good buyers. They sell the girls against their will."
He said certain requirements had to be fulfilled to hire a maid but many sponsors preferred to hire agencies instead of dealing directly with the embassy.
But an employer must have personal documents attested at the Nepal Embassy, put up a guarantee of Dh5,000 and ensure wages of Dh900 per month, including room and board.
The embassy is currently sheltering 11 women, all between the ages of 22 and 26, with the aim of repatriating them.