News / Asia

Cambodian Women Look to Malaysia for Work

Champei came back from Malaysia traumatized from severe sexual and physical abuse
Champei came back from Malaysia traumatized from severe sexual and physical abuse

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Brian Calvert

Cambodian women are increasingly finding work as domestic labor in Malaysia. But in their rush to employment, some are finding little protection from abuse at work. Like many developing countries, Cambodia is trying to find ways to protect its migrant workers.

A team of oxen pulls a cart into the rice fields in northern Cambodia, where a rural way of life means few opportunities for work.

Now, young women in Preah Vihear province say they are finding opportunity as maids in Malaysia. But some of them are finding more trouble than they bargained for.

Sao Orn and her husband, Ros Chheoun, spend weeks at a time out here in the fields, harvesting what little rice grows in the hard ground. When their daughter, Champei, came to them with the idea of working in Malaysia, they had misgivings. Sao Orn says she asked her daughter not to go, even though the family is poor. But Champei insisted.

Sao Orn's worst fears were realized, when Champei came back seven months later, traumatized from severe sexual and physical abuse. Her daughter was not the same as when she had left.

These days Champei stays at home, taking care of the family pig, unable to work. And unable to trust people. "Now, people no good. People very bad, can beat me. No good also," she said.

Like many developing countries, Cambodia needs jobs for its growing population. And Malaysia wants maids to serve a growing class of professionals.

The number of Cambodians sent to Malaysia nearly quadrupled in the past year, to around 20,000. The surge comes after Indonesia banned its workers from going because of abuses.

Lured by promises of good pay, women sign up with local recruiters. But there are few safeguards for them in place and little communication back home.

E Saro, the governor of Champei's home district, Rovieng, says the government does not yet have a protective system in place.

The national government is drafting a new law that will aim to protect young women from dishonest recruiters and establish a fund to help them if they get in trouble in Malaysia.

But that is little consolation for Champei's parents, who now must worry for their daughter on top of everything else.

Champei's father says he is still angry with the recruiters who promised his daughter wealth but abandoned her when she was in need.

If I see them again, he says, I'll cut their throats.

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