Kuwait: Slaves Bought and Sold on Social Media and Phone Applications


A BBC Arabic investigation over online human trafficking in Kuwait has shown that selling girls and women is now easier than ever, thanks to an application, 4Sale which is the largest commodity app in Kuwait. 

BBC Arabic discovered an online black market of women, sold by their “sponsors”. Under the kafala system, the migrant worker can enter the country and work under the “protection” of their sponsor. Kuwait has laws in place against exploitation of migrant workers but in practice domestic workers, women and girls, are not protected: their sponsors often take their passport away, isolate them, prevent them from calling home, force them into signing a false contract, change the employment conditions and pay, and are able to sell their sponsorship contract to someone else.

In their investigation, BBC Arabic followed the case of a 16 years old girl sold by her sponsor, a Kuwaiti woman. They also interview a policeman selling a woman. 4Sale and Haraj are two of several apps the BBC found connecting potential buyers and sellers to the illegal market of female domestic workers. Facebook, Instagram, Google, and 4Sale responded to the reportage by shutting down the transactions and the related hashtags, while Haraj has yet to respond.

Kuwait is one of the Gulf countries still using the kafala system and, even if  with labour laws in place to prevent exploitation, the implementation and effectiveness of such laws is negligible. The illegality of human trafficking did not stop people from using these apps as if they were online shopping. After all, as a policeman selling a woman says: “The passport, don’t give it to her. You’re her sponsor. Why would you give her her passport?”

The kafala system enables human trafficking, as the Kuwaiti government still requires migrant workers to enter into sponsorship contracts that force them into what the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery describes as “the quintessential example of modern slavery,”

The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) calls on Kuwait to abolish the kafala system and implement effectively the labor law No.6 of 2010, the ministerial Decree No. 68 of 2015 regarding domestic workers, the anti-trafficking law No. 91 of 2013.