Uganda’s parliament has endorsed a motion to ban the travel of domestic workers to Arab countries following a heated debate in which legislators criticised the government for encouraging foreign companies to export young girls for work as domestic workers.

The revelation comes just months after Saudi Arabia’s Manpower Solutions Company partnered with Uganda’s HAM Property Services to bring some two million Ugandans into the country for employment on two-year contracts as drivers, housemaids and nurses.

However, Margaret Kyomuhangi, a lawmaker from the ruling National Resistance Movement, reported being told of ‘horrible stories’ by Ugandan officials in Arab countries, and asserted that her countrymen have faced exploitation, racial discrimination and violence.

She then called on the house to seize the opportunity to ban the exportation of Ugandan maids to Arab countries to rapturous applause.

The motion followed a speech read out to the parliament by Minister Suleiman Madada on behalf of Rukia Isanga Nakadama, Minister for Labour, Gender and Social Development.

Minister Madada had assured the house that in the deal with Manpower, the government had agreed to send two officials – one male and one female – to receive and handle complaints from Ugandan workers in Saudi Arabia and ensure standards were complied with.

“This is why we want to experiment with Saudi Manpower Solutions Company,” he said.

Ugandan agency partners in Saudi to employ two million people

But opposition lawmaker Betty Nambooze dismissed the minister’s proposal and initiated a motion on what she described as a “matter of urgent importance.”

She moved that the house resolve to impose an absolute ban on “all labour exportations, especially of maids, until the ministry comes up with very clear guidelines of how these people are exported.”

The commercial profiteering involved in the labour trade and illegal practices such as the confiscation of passports were cited as two of the most prevalent abuses.

Concerns against the export of Ugandan girls to work as housemaids in the Middle East date back to in 2009, when 148 girls were taken to Iraq. They subsequently lodged complaints with the gender ministry citing working without pay or contracts, long hours and other abuses.

Since then, gender ministry figures indicate that 90 Ugandans, including 73 females, have been trafficked to Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Asia for work.

The motion for a total ban was passed with a majority of votes.