(Jakarta) -- Hundreds of thousands of girls working as domestics in Indonesia face physical and sexual abuse as well as gross labor exploitation, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The Indonesian government has failed to provide any oversight to protect these girls.
The 74-page report “Always on Call: Abuse and Exploitation of Child Domestic Workers” documents how Indonesian children as young as 12 work 14 to 18 hours a day, seven days a week, without a day off. They are also forbidden from leaving their place of employment or contacting their families.
Human Rights Watch documented how girls are physically, psychologically and sexually abused by their employers. Most earn less than 500 rupiah (or five U.S. cents) an hour. Labor recruiters, neighbors, relatives and others lure girls from rural areas or poor urban areas with false promises of high wages, the chance to attend school in the city, and limited job responsibilities.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 2.6 million domestic workers in Indonesia, of which at least 688,000 are children, including 640,000 girls under the age of 18.
Domestic workers in Indonesia are excluded from the nation’s labor code, which affords workers in the formal sector basic labor rights such as a minimum wage, an eight-hour workday and a weekly day of rest. Even the laws enacted to protect children from labor exploitation are not enforced by the Indonesian authorities.
“The Indonesian government has left child domestic workers at the complete mercy of their employers,” said Sahr MuhammedAlly, children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The absence of legal protections or governmental oversight leaves child domestic workers vulnerable to extreme exploitation and abuse.”
Many Indonesians believe that working as a domestic is a safe option out of poverty for children. But Human Rights Watch interviewed children who described being denied food, being beaten and raped, and refused wages. Indonesian authorities rarely investigate or prosecute abuses, and many deny that such abuses occur.
Children often become domestic workers to supplement their family’s income or because they cannot afford to complete their education. Many girls drop out of school, unable to complete nine years of education required by Indonesian law because they cannot afford school fees and other costs of education. Child domestic workers who wish to attend school must depend on the goodwill of their employers. Indonesian law fails to limit the working hours of children above the legal working age of 15 in order for them to attend school. Of the 44 domestic workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch, only one was allowed to attend formal school by her employer.
“The Indonesian government must no longer turn a blind eye to such abuse, but should take affirmative steps to protect children from the worst forms of child labor,” said MuhammedAlly.
Human Rights Watch urged the Indonesian government to:
• amend the labor law to afford domestic workers basic labor rights, such as an eight-hour work day, weekly day of rest, rest periods during the day, vacation, written contract, minimum wage;
• strictly enforce the minimum age of 15 for all employment sectors, the informal sector (which includes domestic workers) as well as the formal sector;
• limit the working hours of children aged 15 and older so that they may access their right to basic education under Indonesian law, and continue with secondary education, and;
• with the International Labor Organization, implement a time-bound program to eliminate the worst forms of child domestic labor.
Selected testimonies of domestic workers featured in the report:
“It happened three months after I started working. One day, the husband was sick so the female employer went to the store to get medication. It was 4 am, and I was still sleeping. He came into the room. I was forced to have sex with him. He threatened me. He said he would hit me if I told anyone. He told me that he would throw me out and my mother would get no money. He would come to me three times a week whenever his wife was not home. This happened for three years.”— Dian, who began working when she was 13, Medan.
“The employer hired a new domestic worker and asked me to teach her to clean the bathroom. When I was cleaning the bathroom, I could not remove the dirt—it could not be washed away. The employer got angry and poured Fixal [a cleanser] on my right hand and arm and my existing skin condition became inflamed. The skin peeled off and it was bleeding. I covered it with a handkerchief. I was not taken to the doctor. It took three months for my skin to recover.”— Putri, aged 16, Pamulang.
“My employer came from behind—she kicked me. I was kicked twice on my lower back. She was wearing wooden sandals. She shouted at me and said that I was lazy and not working hard enough. She pointed to the clothes and said they were not washed properly. She slapped me on my left cheek. I was in a lot of pain and could not walk properly. My back really hurt. My employer had slapped me before. I would apologize to her if I made a mistake, but it made no difference.”— Zubeida, 16, Jakarta.
“Sujatmi told me that I would take care of her children and would be paid 300,000 rupiah [US$33] a month. I worked at Sujatmi’s house for three months. Sometimes I did not get any food. I woke up at 4 am and slept at 10 pm. I would sweep the floor, wash the clothes, and take care of the children. Sujatmi shouted at me, ‘You are a poor person. You have to know your position, you are here to work.’ I was not allowed to go out of the house. I had not seen my family since I left home. I was not paid any salary. Sujatmi would say to me, “I have your 300,000 rupiah with me and I will take you back . . . to see your family.” She was lying. She never took me home. She hit me when she was angry. Three times she hit. Once she slapped my face and then kicked me above my right hip. It hurt and swelled up. I did not go to the doctor. She laughed when I asked that I want to see the doctor.”— Asma, 15, Medan.