PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It is a case of M.I.A. (missing in action) that almost every other urban Malaysian would have heard of.
About one out of every 20 maids would go missing, running away from their employers.
This estimation was given by a number of agencies that recruit domestic workers.
"There are more than 250,000 registered domestic workers in Malaysia. That would translate to 1,250 domestic workers running away," Malaysian Maid Employers' Association (Mama) president Engku Ahmad Fauzi Engku Muhsein said.
This number, he said, was substantial.
"It is a serious concern. And what about the unreported domestic workers? Even just one domestic helper running away is a big issue as it should never have happened in the first place," he said.
Engku Ahmad Fauzi cited several reasons for these maids disappearing - abused by employers, misled by agencies on job description, poor working conditions, better opportunities elsewhere and the yearning for freedom.
He said that efforts should be made to overcome the problem of runaway maids.
"The majority of them want to earn an honest income. Yes, there are some naughty ones with a different motive but some are also cheated by agencies," he said.
Furthermore, he said employers have to pay between RM12,000 (S$3,900) and RM14,000 to employ a foreign maid.
"And there is no guarantee that the person will not run away."
He cautioned that employers who hired maids through illegal agencies, which charged lower fees, would face higher risks.
"If anything goes wrong, the employer will not be able to take legal action," he said.
Agency Pekerjaan Cosmoten assistant manager Alice Leong said the possibility of maids running away from her agency was roughly around 5 per cent.
She believed that domestic helpers from bigger cities in Indonesia have a higher tendency to run away. "They have experienced city life and have mingled with various people compared to those who lived in rural areas who are more quiet."
An employee of a hiring agency in Puchong, Selangor, said domestic helpers merely wanted to earn a living.
So, if they were to run away, she believed it was due to their employers' attitude.
She cited factors such as not being paid on time, no proper meals provided, not being allowed to speak to their families and not given enough rest time.
"If we treat them as part of the family, they would not run away. There must be a reason why they are unhappy enough to run away," she said.
These maids, she said, were the breadwinners of their families, so they needed their salaries to be paid promptly.
She said that her agency brought in about 120 domestic workers in 2015.
"Of the number fewer than 5 per cent disappeared," she said.
A customer relations officer of Agency Perkerjaan Chand echoed the same sentiments about domestic helpers running away only when they were not paid.
"Sometimes the employer did not give them their salaries. And there are also misunderstandings, which is usually the problem," she said.
Tenaganita director Aegile Fernandez said Malaysians were getting more aware of abuses that occurred in a household.
"We have neighbours or relatives of these employers who report to the authorities when they see abuse happening.
"So, Malaysians are helping these domestic workers seek help," she said.
Bukit Aman CID director Commissioner Datuk Seri Mohmad Salleh, when contacted, said that cases of runaway maids were under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Department.
"We receive police reports on runaway maids but it is an Immigration matter," he added.