Maid Abuse Sours Relations With Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR ~ Maid abuse has become the latest irritant in a diplomatic spat between Malaysia and Indonesia, as labour groups press for better protection for vulnerable migrant workers.

Pictures of Indonesian domestic worker Siti Hajar with horrific scars all over her body were splashed across newspapers recently after she was reportedly tortured by her Malaysian female employer for three years.

The 33-year-old, from West Java, says she was beaten with a cane and doused with boiling water. Her employer, 43-year-old Hau Yuan Tyung, has been charged in a Malaysian court and faces a 20-year jail term. Hau denied the charges.

Reliving her painful ordeal, Hajar said she was still haunted by the actions of her employer, who allegedly threatened to kill her if she ran away.

“I still can’t sleep well at night as I always dream of her pouring hot water on me,” she said in an interview with AFP.

“I came here three years ago after the divorce with my husband as I needed money to pay for my two children’s school fees.

“I dare not run away, despite the abuses, because she repeatedly threatened me with death,” she added.

However, Hajar finally escaped from her employer’s apartment late one night two weeks ago, and hid in a nearby drain until sunrise when she persuaded a taxi driver to take her to the Indonesian embassy.

Malaysia is home to some 1.2 million documented Indonesian workers and a further 800,000 who come here illegally to escape poverty.

The country has no laws governing conditions for domestic workers but the government has promised to draft legislation to protect them from sexual harassment, non-payment of wages and poor working conditions.

Last November a Malaysian former flight attendant was sentenced to 18 years in jail for using an iron and scalding water to inflict serious wounds on her Indonesian maid.

Yet abuses have continued and about 1,000 maids experience violence and mistreatment in Malaysia annually, Indonesian officials say.

Such incidents have sparked vocal protest from Indonesia as it considers a temporary halt to the flow to Malaysia of its domestic helpers, who work long hours but are paid just 450 ringgit (129 dollars) a month.

A senior Indonesian diplomat warned that such incidents could hurt bilateral ties unless Malaysia protects Indonesian workers.

“Relations are cordial at the government level but it can turn worse unless these issues are addressed quickly,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The bigger issue is that Malaysians tend to look down on Indonesians due to the economic disparity between the two countries,” he added.

The Indonesian government has established a shelter at its mission here and houses at least 200 women who have managed to escape their abusive employers.

“We are making an effort to seek a better protection for the maids coming to Malaysia,” Teguh Hendro Cahyono, the labour attache at the Indonesian embassy in Malaysia said.

On Thursday a meeting attended by Indonesian diplomats and officials from the manpower and transmigration ministry and police discussed ways to protect its domestic helpers.

G. Rajasekaran, secretary-general of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress, said this week the government should enforce minimum standards on working hours, living conditions and minimum wages of 600 ringgit for the maids.

“I also urge the government not to delay the enforcement of a day off every week,” he said.

“The abuse case of Hajar is just the tip of the iceberg. The mental torture experienced by maids is great. A day off to meet their friends will help them reduce stress,” he added.

Meanwhile Hajar says she hopes the court will punish her employer severely and prays for a speedy trial.

“I want her to be punished as severely as possible … I wish there will be a speedy trial as I miss my two children,” she said.

“I hope my story is a lesson to all Malaysian employers not to treat their maids as animals,” she added.

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