Many of us have become aware of the tragic story of a little girl who was murdered by a housemaid last month in Yanbu. The child’s parents, having entrusted their home and child to this individual, came home to find their door locked, the maid suicidal, and the four-year-old girl brutally slain. The lives of those parents have been altered forever.
Now it is left for us to analyze this tragic event, with a view to try to prevent such occurrences in the future. It is natural, perhaps, for eyes to fall on the housemaid, an Indonesian woman who left her own country in order to earn money to send back to her family. This phenomenon is common in many countries, and has its problems — regardless, the killing in Yanbu was a rare incident involving what surely must be a profoundly mentally ill individual. Tragic as they are, these rare occurrences should not be taken as cautionary tales but as what they are — the most extreme variations of the human psyche and experience.
However, that isn’t to say that lessons can’t be learned from the incident at Yanbu. What is most apparent is a pressing need that our society only scantily and unreliably provides for — and that is the need for quality, licensed childcare in the workplace.
Society is evolving and more mothers are going out to work; this has countless advantages for both the individual and the society as a whole. But it shouldn’t be our children who pay the price. Women are driven to make hasty and makeshift childcare arrangements primarily because of a sense of near-desperation: How can they do the work they have been trained for, while at the same time providing care for their young children? The answer, surely, is not a compromise on the quality of care, but the obligation of the society to provide what those women and children most need. With quality childcare provided at work premises, women can do their jobs with peace of mind. As well as preventing the rare tragedy such as the one in Yanbu, this measure will enhance women’s productivity at work as well. It’s almost impossible for parents to focus on their job without first knowing that their children are happy and safe.
Of course, the provision of on-site nurseries will not prevent or wholly replace the hiring of domestic help, so it’s clearly evident now that we need a screening process for domestic workers, wherever they are coming from. It would, of course, involve a criminal records check, but wouldn’t have to end there.
What about establishing reputable agencies to screen and hire housemaids? Any medical or mental health issues could be identified in advance of an individual being placed in our homes. The system would not be foolproof, but it would give us a fighting chance. It might even prevent devastating discoveries that occur much too late to fix.