Colombo (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church and the Sri Lankan government are hopeful that Rizana Nafeek might be freed. The Muslim woman was convicted for killing an infant and sentenced to death in 2007. Recently, Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud announced that he would pardon inmates on death row as a blessing for ailing King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz. His statement has revived hope among those fighting for the young woman's release. The prince is in fact the kingdom's defence minister and first deputy prime minister.
"The possibility of a pardon is a great consolation for all Sri Lankans, especially her family, who have been asking for her release for years," Sister Rita Janet, of Catholic National Commission for Migrants, told AsiaNews.
Sister Deepa Fernando, from the Holy Family Sisters, is also confident. However, the "government of Sri Lanka has to assume its responsibilities." According to the nun, the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa "has a duty to check who goes abroad to work. If they had done this, minors would not become victims of such situations."
Originally from a very poor family in Mutur village (Trincomalee District in the Eastern Province), Rizana had come to Saudi Arabia in 2005, when she was only 17, on a false passport, to work as a domestic helper.
When her employer's child died, she was accused of murder and sentenced to die in 2007 after a phony trial based on a confession written in Arabic she was forced to sign, even though she does not know that language.
The Sri Lankan government, as well as national and international NGOs, including Caritas, turned to the European Union. They also tried to clarify the situation with the dead child's family.
Fr George Sigamoney, head of Caritas Sri Lanka, joyfully welcomed the prince's statement; however, he is well aware that "the injustice meted out to vulnerable migrant women is growing day by day as many women migrate to other countries as unskilled labour for domestic work."
Saudi Arabia is one the main destinations for Sri Lankans seeking unskilled jobs. Usually, migrants are underage and sent off with false papers in order to leave Sri Lanka.
Often adult women, some with children, are forced to emigrate because they have lost their husbands and do not earn enough money at home to feed their families.
The lack of training, experience and government assistance makes migrant women very vulnerable to abusive and violent employers.
In order to put a stop to the problem, Sri Lankan authorities have cancelled contracts with more than 600 foreign employment agencies, mostly in Saudi Arabia.
About 1.8 million Sri Lankans currently work aboard, 45 per cent women.