Saudi Arabia on Wednesday beheaded a Sri Lankan woman who was convicted of killing a baby, putting the former domestic worker to death despite her young age at the time of the alleged crime.
The Sri Lankan government had pleaded with Saudi officials to spare Rizana Nafeek, who was 17 and had been working in the country just a few weeks when a baby died in her care in 2005. She was among the hundreds of thousands of migrants who flock to Saudi Arabia from countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines, toiling as domestic workers who cook, clean and care for children.
The young woman claimed the infant had choked to death while drinking from a bottle, retracting an earlier confession she said was obtained under duress, according to rights groups. Nafeek had no attorney to defend her until she had already been sentenced to beheading, they said.
"Rizana was just a child herself at the time," working in Saudi Arabia with documents falsified by recruiters, Human Rights Watch researcher Nisha Varia said Wednesday. "Saudi Arabia should recognize, as the rest of the world long has, that no child offender should ever be put to death."
Executing someone for crimes committed as a minor is a violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Saudi Arabia is a part. The country has nonetheless executed convicts for crimes committed when they were younger than 18, some as young as 13, according to Human Rights Watch.
A Saudi court upheld the death sentence three years ago despite the efforts of the Sri Lankan government and human rights groups. Under the Saudi justice system, the parents of the dead baby could have chosen to pardon Nafeek or seek financial compensation instead, averting the execution.
Efforts had been made to sway the family through a reconciliation committee, and the government could have held off to allow more time for those discussions, Varia said, but it pressed ahead anyway. The Saudi Interior Ministry confirmed the execution Wednesday, giving no other details, the Associated Press reported.
The Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs said the government deplored the execution amid "the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid." Its parliament marked a minute of silence Wednesday in her memory.
Saudi Arabia employs more than 700,000 domestic workers, making it one of the biggest employers of such laborers in the world, the International Labor Organization said in a report released Wednesday.
Most are foreigners with scant education, rendering them especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In Saudi Arabia, they routinely work more than 63 hours a week, the ILO found.
Amnesty International says their disadvantages follow them in the Saudi court system, where "a disproportionate number of foreign nationals, mainly migrant workers" have been sentenced to death in recent years.
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