Saudi Arabia executed a Sri Lankan woman convicted of killing a baby more than five years ago, despite years of protests and appeals. At the age of 17, Sri Lankan house maid Rizana Nafeek was imprisoned under suspicion of murder, after the infant of her employers died under her care. Two years later, she was given a death sentence, a decision that weighs heavily against international beliefs that no offender under the age of 18 should be subject to capital punishment. On Wednesday morning she was beheaded, ending a human rights struggle that lasted more than seven years.
Nafeek claimed that the 4-month-old boy she cared for accidentally choked on his bottle, retracting a confession she gave during police questioning. According to Amnesty International’s profile of the case, Nafeek’s passport was altered to change her birth year from 1988 to 1982, since minors are not allowed to work in Saudi Arabia. Though evidence was provided to show her actual age at the time of the incident, Saudi authorities followed through with the sentence.
The International Labor Organization recently reported that nearly 800,000 domestic workers are employed in Saudi Arabia, two-thirds of which are women. The study found that 47 percent of female employment in the country came from domestic work. Saudi domestic workers labored an average of 63.7 hours per week, the second-highest average among the 39 nations ranked. Workers are imported from poorer countries as far away as Latin America. Young, uneducated foreigners are left vulnerable within the Saudi labor system.
“Rizana was just a child herself at the time,” Human Rights Watch researcher Nisha Varia said Wednesday, according to The Los Angeles Times. “Saudi Arabia should recognize, as the rest of the world long has, that no child offender should ever be put to death.”
Led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the government of Sri Lanka made multiple attempts to arrange a pardon for Nafeek during her imprisonment. A statement from the country’s External Affairs Ministry noted that the government was heavily invested in Nafeek’s case, going so far as to arrange for her parents to visit her on two separate occasions, in 2008 and 2011.
“President Rajapaksa and the government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid,” the statement read.
“President Rajapaksa and the government of Sri Lanka convey their deepest condolences to the bereaved family and join the people of Sri Lanka who sympathize with the bereaved family on the loss of the life of Rizana.”