Maid’s death in Malaysia highlights failure to protect helpers

This article is more than 12 months old

KUALA LUMPUR Trafficked to Malaysia, forced to sleep outside with a dog before dying from injuries - the latest abuse case involving an Indonesian maid highlights failures to protect domestic helpers despite repeated government pledges, critics said.

Ms Adelina Sau died this month a day after being rescued from her employer's home in Penang.

Her 60-year-old employer was charged with murder this week, and in Indonesia, two people have been arrested for allegedly using fake papers to send her abroad.

About 2.5 million Indonesians work in Malaysia - many illegally - including an estimated 400,000 female domestic helpers.

Allegations of abuse are common, and the issue is a regular diplomatic flashpoint between the neighbours.

Ms Sau's death sparked anger in Indonesia. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has branded it unacceptable, while Jakarta is reportedly considering reimposing a ban on sending domestic helpers to Malaysia.

Jakarta banned sending maids to Malaysia in 2009 after a series of shocking cases, lifting the measure two years later after negotiations that led to an agreement to give Indonesian helpers better conditions.

But exploitation is still regularly reported.

Ms Glorene Das, executive director of Tenaganita, a Malaysian rights group that deals with migrant worker cases, said there was an "utter disregard for the dignity and rights of... migrant domestic workers in particular".

It believes a major cause of the problems is that maids lack proper legal protection.

Ms Das said a Malaysian employment law that is supposed to protect domestic workers defines them as servants rather than workers.

But critics said the problems in Indonesia are also bad, with the authorities failing to protect women from illegal trafficking.

Mr Wahyu Susilo, executive director of Indonesian NGO Migrant Care, said: "There is a tendency to falsify documents to speed up the (recruitment) process and ignore rules about age limits." - AFP