Image: X-ray image of nails driven into the hand of a Sri Lankan housemaid
AFP - Getty Images
An X-ray image shows several of the 24 nails and needles driven into the hand of Sri Lankan housemaid L.T. Ariyawathi.  Six needles remain in her hands, as doctors feared surgery would cause nerve and arterial damage. staff and news service reports
updated 8/27/2010 10:58:15 AM ET 2010-08-27T14:58:15

Doctors removed 13 nails and five needles from a Sri Lankan maid who says the couple she worked for in Saudi Arabia hammered them into her body.

L.G. Ariyawathi, who was hospitalized with severe pain after returning Saturday from Saudi Arabia, has said the family she worked for punished her by heating the nails and needles before sticking them into her.

X-rays showed that she had 24 nails and needles in her body, said Dr. Keerthi Satharasinghe of Kamburupitiya hospital, about 100 miles from the capital, Colombo.

The nails ranged in length from one to two inches while the needles were about one inch long. They were removed from her legs and forehead.

"The surgery is successful and she is recovering now," Satharasinghe said after the three-hour procedure.

Satharasinghe said Thursday that the woman's initial puncture wounds had healed over, but that Ariyawathi found it difficult to walk because she had two nails in her knee and two in her ankles.

Another needle was in her forehead, and the rest in her hands, he said Thursday.

After her surgery, the doctor said six needles in her hands could not be removed because the operation might damage her nerves and arteries, but that they would not be harmful to her.

'They did not allow me even to rest'
Since being hospitalized, Ariyawathi, 49, has described the alleged abuse carried out by her former employers.

"They did not allow me even to rest. The woman at the house had heated the nails and then the man inserted them into my body," Ariyawathi was quoted as saying by the Lakbima newspaper.

She told the newspaper that she went to Saudi Arabia in March but was paid only two months' salary, with her employer withholding the rest to buy an air ticket to send her home.

Image: A Sri Lankan housemaid, who returned from Saudi Arabia with 24 nails inside her body
AFP - Getty Images
Sri Lankan housemaid L.T. Ariyawathi (left) talks to a nurse while receiving treatment at a hospital in Batticoloa, Sri Lanka.  On Friday, doctors removed 18 of the 24 nails and needles in her body.

Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, deputy minister of economic development, said in a statement on a government website Thursday that the 24 nails were "inside the body due to torture meted out by her Saudi employer."

Abeywardena said the government would "report about this matter to the Saudi Government and provide her adequate compensation."

Sri Lanka's Foreign Employment Bureau said Ariyawathi had been too afraid to complain about the abuse to Saudi authorities, fearing that her employers might not let her return home.

The bureau is a government agency that oversees the welfare of expatriate workers.

Kingsley Ranawaka, chairman of bureau, told the BBC that the government has " launched a strong protest with the Saudi government through the external affairs minister, but there has been no response yet."

'They have to take action'
Nimal Ranawaka, labor counselor at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh, said the embassy had requested a meeting with Saudi officials.

"We informed Saudi authorities. They have to take action against the employer," Ranawaka said.

Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.

This "kind of story triggers the talk and debate to improve labor laws in the country," Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper columnist Hussein Shobokshi told Al Jazeera.  He added that the issue has been a topic of discussion for "quite some time now."

"You will soon see the ministry of labor, the Shariah Council and the Human Rights Commission jointly activate important rules and regulations in order to prevent such incidents from occurring again and punishing people who are responsible for it," the Al Jazeera report quoted Shobokshi as saying.

About 1.5 million Sri Lankans work abroad, many as maids or drivers, to earn more than they can in their own impoverished country. Nearly 400,000 work in Saudi Arabia alone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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