JAKARTA ~ The plight of an Indonesian maid who knotted pieces of cloth together to flee the 15th-storey flat of her allegedly abusive Malaysian employer was just the “tip of the iceberg”, an activist said this week.
The 33-year-old maid, Ceriyati, attempted the daring weekend escape through the window of the building as the main apartment door was locked by her employer, but she got cold feet after descending three floors.
She was rescued by firefighters alerted by concerned residents who spotted her.
Anis Hidayah from the Jakarta-based advocacy group Migrant Care said workers abroad needed better protection to prevent abuse.
“Ceriyati’s case is the tip of the iceberg – once in a while sensational cases like this one are splashed all over the media, but there are many more untold stories of neglect and abuse of Indonesian workers abroad,” Hidayah said.
“The government has always reacted to cases under the spotlight (but) not tried to make fundamental changes in migrant worker protection,” she said.
“There is no guarantee that if a migrant worker works abroad legally, their welfare will be protected … Take the case of Ceriyati – she’s not an illegal worker.”
ElShinta radio aired an emotional conference call between Ceriyati in Kuala Lumpur and her family in Brebes, Central Java.
Ceriyati told her children in her native Javanese that she wanted to come home soon.
Hidayah said that from January to June this year, 19 Indonesian migrant workers had died in Malaysia, 17 of them women.
“It raises the question: did they really die from an illness or from some other cause, such as abuse,” she said.
Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters that “the government is concerned about the incident” but did not say whether any formal action would be taken.
Amnesty International said in a report earlier this year that Indonesia was also failing to protect millions of domestic workers at home, some as young as 12, who face long hours and potentially deadly beatings and sexual abuse.
Malaysia depends heavily on foreign maids but they enjoy little protection under labor laws. The maids often work long hours under tough conditions to earn about US$100 a month.