Indonesia mulls ban on sending maids to Malaysia after abuse case

The death of Indonesian maid Adelina Lisao, 21, in Penang last week renewed a national debate in Indonesia on the need to strengthen protection for migrant workers.

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST, THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesia is looking into revisiting a moratorium on sending its domestic workers to Malaysia following the death of an Indonesian maid who was allegedly abused by her Malaysian employers, the Indonesian ambassador to Malaysia said.

In his response to the comments, Malaysia's Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said on Saturday (Feb 17) that the case was an "isolated" one and he hoped Indonesia would not take such a drastic step. There are about 250,000 women working as domestic help in Malaysia, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.

The death of 21-year-old Adelina Lisao in Penang, Malaysia, last week has renewed a national debate on the need to strengthen protection for migrant workers and raised questions about the need to send Indonesians to a country whose porous borders are part of a region-wide human trafficking route.

The domestic helper died of multiple organ failures a day after being rescued by a migrant workers' protection group. She had reportedly been tortured for more than a month and was forced to sleep outside the house with a Rottweiler owned by the family. She was found with wounds to her hand and legs, while her head and face was swollen.

Indonesian Ambassador to Malaysia Rusdi Kirana said President Joko Widodo is on board with the idea of halting the recruitment of Indonesian domestic workers to Malaysia, having raised the issue during an annual consultation meeting hosted by Prime Minister Najib Razak in Kuching last year.

Rusdi said he had proposed halting sending domestic workers to Malaysia and working on restructuring the employment administration process, with the aim of mending diplomatic ties between the two countries, which had been strained by repeated cases involving migrant workers.

"A moratorium is important so we can restructure our (migrant workers) employment system to prevent cases such as Adelina's from happening again," Rusdi said, referring to migrant workers in the informal sector.

He said violations against Indonesian domestic helpers had caused tension between the two countries. "In order to promote cooperation, what happened to Adelina should not happen again," the envoy told reporters in Jakarta on Thursday (Feb 15).

Rusdi argued that the government would be able to improve the current employment mechanism if Indonesia stopped sending domestic workers to Malaysia. This could be done through measures such as introducing a minimum income requirement for potential employers that shows they are capable of paying wages.

Separately, the Manpower Ministry's director for Indonesian migrant worker placement and protection, R. Soes Hindharno, said the proposal for a moratorium had not been discussed formally at the ministerial level.

In 2004, Indonesian domestic worker Nirmala Bonat was scalded with boiling hot water and burnt with a hot iron by her employer, Yim Pek Ha. Yim is currrently serving 12 years in jail for causing grievous hurt to Nirmala.

In 2010, Hau Yuan Tyng was convicted of inflicting wounds on her domestic helper Siti Hajar using a hammer, scissors and scalding water.

Another Indonesian national Suyanti was also allegedly slapped and punched every day by her employer Rozita Ali in 2016. She escaped and was found unconscious near a drain by a security guard. Her employer was charged with attempted murder.

Indonesia previously imposed a moratorium on sending its domestic workers to Malaysia in 2009. The ban was lifted in 2011.

During that period, domestic workers from Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines travelled to Malaysia to fill the shortage. But the abuse of Cambodian maids also led Prime Minister Hun Sen to ban its citizens from working as domestic workers in Malaysia from 2011 to 2017.

Datuk Seri Zahid, the Malaysian Home Minister, said on Saturday, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online news: "We (Malaysia) express deep regret if the media report about Indonesia intending to stop sending its domestic workers to the country due to the isolated maid abuse case is true.

"In fact, we know that we have certain SOPs (standard operating procedures) that must be adhered to by employers and the Malaysian government will never protect any employer who is found to have acted cruelly (against their maids)."

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