COLOMBO // Authorities investigating how a Sri Lankan maid working in Saudi Arabia ended up with 14 nails in her body have temporarily barred the local agent who recruited her from soliciting more workers. Sri Lankan officials also have asked Saudi authorities to investigate the agent in the kingdom who was involved in getting the job for the maid, said Mangala Randeniya, deputy general manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.
If necessary, Sri Lanka will pay to fly the woman to Saudi Arabia to help in the investigation, he said in an interview. The bureau has ordered that the Saudi agent, who must be registered with local authorities here, be temporarily removed from a list of authorised agents. The employer has been blacklisted, so neither the agent nor the employer can recruit in Sri Lanka, he said. The case of LPD Ariyawathi, 50, has drawn worldwide attention, prompting the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to order an investigation.
Local newspapers have been running the story throughout the week, a few days after Ms Ariyawathi revealed that her employer had forced 14 nails and five wires into her body. Thousands of Sri Lankan women are employed in the Middle East as domestic workers and there are often complaints of abuse, sexual harassment and unpaid wages. However, this is one of the most bizarre cases reported so far, said Mr Randeniya of foreign employment bureau.
Ms Ariyawathi is being treated at Kamburupitiya Hospital and on Friday underwent an operation to remove the metal objects. Dr Kamal Weeratunge said in an interview that X-rays indicated there were 14 nails and five metal wires embedded in her body. There was a metal wire inserted over her eye brow and the others were in the lower and upper limbs. He said he did a three-hour operation and removed all except four thin pins, two in the forearms and two in the arms as they were too close to the bones.
"We took into consideration the surgery versus benefits and decided to let them be so that the body could adjust to them," he said. He said the injuries were probably not self-inflicted. "Usually if a right-handed person inflicts injuries on herself, they would most be on the left side - but it is not so in Ariyawathi's case. Her injuries are all over her body," the surgeon said. Ms Ariyawathi's son-in-law, H Gunapala, speaking by telephone from the hospital, said that when she returned to Sri Lanka on August 21, just five months after arriving in the kingdom, she had to be carried to a vehicle at the airport.
"When asked what was wrong, she said that she had trampled thorns from the date tree. "She was afraid to state the truth because the family was opposed to her going to the Middle East," he said. It was the next day when she was taken to a private doctor that she said she had been abused. "She didn't have any mental problems at the time she left Sri Lanka," he said. On Monday, women promoting the rights of migrant workers demonstrated outside the Saudi Embassy in Colombo demanding an impartial investigation into the alleged abuse.
The Saudi Arabian ambassador and his counselor were unavailable for comment, despite repeated calls to the Colombo embassy. Other officials there declined to talk, saying they are not authorised to speak to the media. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org