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Rights Group Criticizes Treatment of Migrant Domestic Workers - 2004-07-22


A new report has detailed a catalogue of abuse suffered by migrant domestic workers in Malaysia. Most of the victims are young Indonesian women who are sexually abused, forced to work long hours without days off or denied fair pay for their work.

Almost all of the 240,000 migrant domestic workers in Malaysia come from Indonesia, and the new report by the group Human Rights Watch says neither country is doing enough to protect these people, most of whom are young, ill-educated women.

The report paints a picture of exploitation that begins with so-called training during which they are often forcibly confined in cramped conditions for months without enough to eat.

Once the maids get to their jobs in Malaysia, they are frequently made to work 16 to 18 hour days without a day off for years on end. For their work, they are paid around $100 a month - less than 30 cents an hour.

"We are extremely concerned about the forced confinement issue, in both the training centers and in the workplace in Malaysia," explained Nisha Varia, the author of the report. "Because women are not allowed outside of the training centers they are not able to go back home if they so wish. In Malaysia, if they are facing any other type of abuse, it's almost impossible for them to get any help because they are not allowed to leave the house."

Despite the abuse, thousands of young Indonesian women seek to become maids in Malaysia, because the salary is often much more than they could hope to make at home. According to Indonesian government data, the average factory worker earns less than $90 a month.

The report points out that domestic workers are specifically excluded from many of the bilateral treaties that protect migrant labor in other industries. Malaysia and Indonesia are currently negotiating a new memorandum of understanding on domestic workers.

Ms. Varia calls on the two nations to regulate the labor agents, make it easier for maids to claim court protection, and introduce a standard contract that allows for days off and rights of association for domestic workers.

The plight of Indonesian migrant domestic workers has recently been in the spotlight in Malaysia, where a mother of three is about to go on trial for burning her 19-year-old Indonesian maid with a hot iron and boiling water. Ms. Varia says that case is rare: most examples of abuse are never reported, let alone prosecuted.

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