Indonesians defy ban on working as maids in Middle East

90% of 1,020 polled going there to look for jobs; government to put a stop to practice

JAKARTA • Indonesian women are defying a government ban on travelling to the Middle East to work as maids, convinced there are better prospects in the Gulf than at home despite high-profile cases of abuse, according to a survey.

Indonesia announced in May last year a permanent ban on sending women to the Middle East as domestic workers following reports of widespread abuse and the execution of two Indonesian maids in Saudi Arabia, which angered Jakarta.

However, the survey released on Thursday by advocacy group Migrant Care found that hundreds of Indonesian women are still leaving for jobs in the wealthier Middle East.

A total of 1,020 women interviewed between March last year and last month at Jakarta's main airport said they were travelling abroad for the first time to seek jobs as maids.

About 90 per cent of them were bound for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait, the poll showed.

The rest were going to Malaysia, which is not affected by the ban.

"This is a very high number. The moratorium exists only on paper," said Migrant Care's executive director Anis Hidayah on the sidelines of a forum held to mark International Domestic Workers' Day.

"In Indonesia, we have limited job opportunities. Going abroad is one alternative, especially for women, because wages are so low here," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Indonesia's moratorium, which followed a temporary suspension, affects only new domestic helpers. Maids who were already in the Middle East are allowed to stay. The move is part of President Joko Widodo's plan to professionalise the informal employment sector.

Mr Andri Hadi, a senior official at the foreign ministry, said the authorities would act to stop women from flouting the ban.

"We are aware (of this) and we will take some strong policies to stop this practice," said Mr Hadi, the ministry's director-general for consular and protocol affairs, which oversees the protection of migrant workers overseas.

"On the ground, we have to strengthen the enforcement of our law because this is illegal and against the law," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Indonesia is a major source of maids for many places around the world, including Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Officials estimate there are some 2.3 million registered Indonesian domestic workers abroad, and an equal number of undocumented workers.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesians defy ban on working as maids in Middle East'. Print Edition | Subscribe