04 July, 2007 - Published 16:48 GMT

From Kantalai

Family weeps for youngster in Saudi

The sun sets in a small house in the town Muttur, Sri Lanka. A mother sits with three children around her, all sharing a similar dazed look. Farina Nafeek, mother of the children is mourning the fate of her eldest child, Rizana Nafeek.

Rizana Nafeek, a nineteen year old Sri Lankan house maid, was last week convicted of strangling a four month old infant in Saudi Arabia.

She was then sentenced a death penalty of beheading according to the Saudi Arabian High Court.

The Sri Lankan girl, then seventeen years old, went to Saudi Arabia on the 1st of May with high hopes of earning a living in order to help her family who were living in poverty.

She was still a schoolgirl studying at Sapi Nagar School. Her first thoughts at her tender age were a nice house and a good education for her family.

Following the tragic sentence for the youth, BBC Sandeshaya spoke with her family.

Only one letter

Sitting in the backyard of Rizana’s small house, Farina Nasik says: “Twenty eight days after Rizana left Sri Lanka, we received a letter from her saying that she had to look after ten children”.

“She was not happy and wanted to change her employer”, Farina weeps.

That was the only letter Rizana sent to her family. She described in her letter that she was overworked on a daily basis. She had to get up at three in the morning and work till late at night.

“We were then informed that Rizana was arrested by Saudi police on murder charges”.

“We could not believe this. We sent her to work because we do not have money. She is not a criminal, she is innocent,” Farina cries.

Underage girl

Sri Lankan law prohibits sending underage girls to work abroad but agencies often conceal the true age of their employees.

Saul Hameed Lathief, working for the employment agency that helped Rizana to get a job in Saudi Arabia, admits: “It is not difficult to alter the date of birth and send underage girls abroad.”

“Many agencies do that,” he adds.

The people of Muttur feel angry and helpless when questioned over the agencies’ right to violate the laws. They tell BBC Sinhala that the government should have done more to stop young Sri Lankan girls going abroad.

“This is a young school girl and government should step in to stop this. These people send their daughter because they are poor but agencies should have acted with due care and responsibility” Thaslim Muhammed Nishber, a resident of Muttur adds.

False papers

“The Government should stop turning a blind eye to this and they should step in to stop these scandals,” he points out.

Fishing and wood cutting, the main income generators of areas of Muttur have severely been hampered by the war and the town’s people do not have many opportunities.

Villagers say that foreign employment is one of the main income generators in the area and people are sending their daughters and wives to work as house maids in the Middle East.

Rizana’s family now face the problem of financing legal help for their daughter. The AHRC (Asian Human Rights Commission) say the cost of legal assistance amounts to roughly 600 000 Sri Lankan rupees, which Rizana’s family have no means to fund.

Her family can now only hope that the Sri Lankan government can step in and prevent their daughter’s tragic fate.