More than 45 foreign maids on death row in Saudi Arabia - report

More than 45 foreign maids are on death row in Saudi Arabia, amid growing global outrage over the treatment of migrant workers, UK's The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday.

The startling figure, based on estimates from human rights agencies, was revealed after the kingdom beheaded a 24-year-old Sri Lankan maid, Rizana Nafeek, for killing a child left in her care in 2005.

Indonesians are believed to account for the majority of those facing a death sentence. Human rights groups said 45 Indonesian women are on death row, and five have exhausted the legal process, The Observer reported.

There are also Sri Lankan, Filipina, Indian, and Ethiopian maids facing the death penalty, The Observer reported, citing rights groups.

There are about 1.5 million foreign maids in Saudi Arabia, including about 375,000 Sri Lankans.

"Some domestic workers find kind employers who treat them well, but others face intense exploitation and abuse, ranging from months of hard work without pay to physical violence to slavery-like conditions," The Observer quoted Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch as saying.

According to Sri Lanka's foreign ministry, Nafeek was sentenced to death in 2007 after her Saudi employer accused her of killing his infant daughter while she was bottle-feeding.

"President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a personal appeal on two occasions immediately after the confirmation of the death sentence, and a few days ago to stop the execution and grant a pardon to Miss Rizana Nafeek," the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

London-based rights organisation Amnesty International said the passport Nafeek used to enter Saudi Arabia in May 2005 stated she was born in February 1982, but her birth certificate states she was born six years later, which would have made her 17 at the time of the infant's death.

Condemning the execution, Nisha Varia, said: "Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children.”

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