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IV. Workplace Abuses in Malaysia

I worked for a husband, wife, two girls and a boy.  Sometimes I didn’t sleep….  I washed clothes, prepared food for the children, and prepared them for school, one by one.  I would prepare milk for the youngest and prepare food for cooking.  I would vacuum, mop, clean the kitchen, and water the flowers.  Sometimes the employer was not satisfied and would ask me to redo it over and over again.  My time was wasted by doing the work over and over again.  I helped to cook all the meals, and I cleaned the toilets.  I was working day and night.  I am not sure when I finished, because she would ask me to redo the jobs many times….  Sometimes the employer said, “If you can’t finish, you can’t sleep.”  I never got any rest or any days off. 

I never went out of the house on my own.  I went to the market once in my time here [in Malaysia].  I couldn’t talk to the neighbors.  My employers told me, “You can’t speak to the neighbors because the neighbors are cheaters.”  I could not use the phone or write letters.

I was under pressure.  I always stayed inside the house and I was upset because I couldn’t send a letter to my family.  My employers didn’t allow me to fast or to pray.  Last Ramadan, when I wanted to fast, the employer hit me and said, “If you want to fast, I will not give you any food [at night].”  If I didn’t finish the work, the employer would be angry with me.  Because I had to finish all the work in a hurry, I didn’t eat.

Sometimes I slept on the kitchen floor, sometimes in front of the television.  I did not have my own room.  Sometimes I just fell asleep on the kitchen floor, otherwise the carpet in front of the TV.  There was a mattress there.
─Interview with Ani Rukmonto, age twenty-two, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004

Indonesian migrant domestic workers in Malaysia encounter a wide range of human rights abuses in the workplace, including extremely long hours of work without overtime pay; no rest days; incomplete and irregular payment of wages; psychological, physical, and sexual abuse; poor living conditions; restrictions on their freedom of movement and ability to practice their religion; and in some cases, trafficking into situations of forced labor.91Conditions of confinement, workers’ lack of information about or access to institutions that could provide assistance, and employers’ government-sanctioned practices of confiscating workers’ passports present formidable challenges that often prevent women domestic workers from reporting abuses, obtaining help, or even escaping. The lack of monitoring by any independent or government agency compounds these abuses by creating an environment where employers and labor agents face little or no accountability for their treatment of women migrant domestic workers.    

Many abuses likely go unreported, but NGOs and the Indonesian Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration estimate that roughly eighteen thousand to twenty-five thousand migrants return to Indonesia each year from Malaysia and other destination countries having experienced some form of abuse.92  These estimates mostly derive from returning migrants who pass through the international airport in Jakarta, leaving the true numbers of abuse cases unknown.  A leader from a consortium of migrants’ rights NGOs in Jakarta commented, “Four to eight hundred migrants arrive each day [at the airport].  Sometimes there are twelve rape victims in one week, like in November 2003.  In 2002, 12 percent of returning migrants reported problems, and 2 percent were ill.”93

Several other groups have documented abuses against Indonesian migrant workers.  Perkumpulan Panca Karsa (PPK), an NGO on the island of Lombok, comes into contact with both documented and undocumented returning migrants, who may have returned by boat or by plane.  PPK handled 450 cases of abuse and labor rights violations in 2003.94  Human Rights Watch interviewed a Malaysian labor supplier who said, “I bring about fifty maids to Malaysia each month, and [of those,] there are usually one or two [who have abusive employers].”95  In 2003, 753 Indonesian migrant workers ran away from their employers and took shelter at the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur.  The numbers who seek refuge at the Indonesian embassy have increased each year and the majority of those seeking assistance are women.96 

Hours of Work, Rest Days, and Workload

I would wake up at 5:00 a.m. and go to sleep at midnight, sometimes 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m….  Every day was full of work, every week was like that, there was no day off….  There was no time to rest.
─Interview with Tita Sari, age twenty-four, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004

Indonesian domestic workers employed in Malaysia typically work sixteen to eighteen hour days, seven days a week, without any holidays.  Most have no significant time to rest during the day, although some are able to take one-hour breaks in the afternoon.  Indonesian domestic workers who cared for children in addition to their cleaning responsibilities reported being “on call” around the clock, as in the case of Susanti, who told Human Rights Watch:

It was all work.  I cleaned the toilet, all the rooms, the walls.  I cleaned the whole house.  I took care of the children, one was three years old and the baby was eight months.  I worked from 4:30 a.m. to midnight.  Sometimes my employer asked me to wake up at 3:00 a.m. to feed the baby.  I worked every day.  I had no rest during the day.97

A domestic worker’s typical workload included cooking three meals a day; cleaning the house, including mopping, vacuuming, cleaning windows, and dusting; taking care of children, including bathing them, tutoring them, feeding them, preparing them for school, playing with them, and putting them to sleep; washing the car every day; washing the entire household’s clothes by hand; and ironing.  Amsia Widodo told Human Rights Watch:

There were three families living together in one big house and I was the only maid.  There were seventeen people.  There were eleven children between the ages of six and fifteen.  I had to take care of the children, prepare them for school, give them baths, and make meals.  I cut flowers, did a lot of work in the garden, washed the car, washed the floor, ironed, and cooked.  I worked from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  I had no rest.  There was no day off, even when I asked for it.98

As noted above, most labor contracts Human Rights Watch obtained or those described to us by labor agents and Malaysian government officials allow domestic workers to have one day off per week, but this could be bypassed if they were paid for all seven days.  With only a few exceptions, the domestic workers Human Rights Watch interviewed had fixed monthly salaries and worked every single day without rest.  These workers typically did not receive their full salary; none reported receiving any extra payment for working every day of the week.

The contracts Human Rights Watch obtained failed to stipulate the number of hours that domestic workers should work each day.  There is no provision for overtime pay or for vacation days in these contracts or for domestic workers under Malaysian employment laws.  The employers and labor agents whom we interviewed defended these policies, often claiming that domestic workers did not know how to rest, and they could not be given a day off because they would get pregnant or bring foreign men to the house.  One labor agent explained to Human Rights Watch that if he received a complaint about excessive workload, he would simply explain to the employer that pushing the worker beyond eighteen hours per day would lead her to leave, harming the employer’s self interest:

We instruct the employers.  We tell them if the maid is not getting enough food or sleep or has too heavy a workload.  There should be at least a minimum of six hours of rest for the maid.  Otherwise the maid will run away and then the employers have to get a replacement.  They will also feel the pinch.99

Forced Confinement and Restricted Communication

If my employers went out, they locked the door from the outside and took the key.  It was very difficult because I couldn’t go out.   My employer told me not to speak to the neighbors.  She didn’t allow me to use the phone or write letters.  I asked my employer to write a letter to my family and she didn’t give me permission.  I wrote a letter once, but my family didn’t get it.  Maybe the employer didn’t send it because I am sure the address was right….  I had phone numbers for Jakarta but not for Malaysia.  I wrote them in a little book, but they burned the little book.  They are very bad and very cruel.
>─Interview with Arianti Harikusumo, age twenty-seven, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 25, 2004

Domestic workers, labor agents, and employers all reported that domestic workers confront restrictions on their freedom of movement and their freedom of association.  Employers typically forbid domestic workers from going outside of the house on their own.  Aside from some women who accompanied their employers to the market or on family outings, most were confined to the house or apartment building where they worked.  Some women reported being locked in their employers’ homes from the outside.  Many of these homes have electronic surveillance systems and the apartment buildings are in gated communities with security, making it difficult for women to leave even when their employers were out.  Latifah Dewi, a twenty-year-old domestic worker who escaped from her employer’s house said, “There is an autolock for the front gate and if someone jumps over the gate, the alarm should ring….  The employer had told me not to run because the house has a camera and alarm.  The employer made me afraid but I wanted to run away.”100 

In addition to restrictions on their freedom of movement, domestic workers are often forbidden from contacting friends or family, using the telephone, writing letters, or speaking to their neighbors.  One woman who was not allowed to go outside and who had relatives living in Malaysia remembered, “My family sent me their phone number, but my employer kept it and did not give it to me.  I cried inside.  My father sent the addresses of my family in Malaysia, but my employer kept it and only gave it to me when I returned to Indonesia.  I never visited my relatives in Malaysia.  My family thought I had died.”101  Seventeen-year-old Firuza Suprapto told Human Rights Watch,

I’m just a housemaid, I can’t ask for anything.  I am not allowed to talk to the neighbors.  The last time, I didn’t know the employer would get angry.  When I threw the rubbish out, the Indian neighbor talked to me.  The employer was angry, asked me why I talked to them.  She told me I have to check if someone is outside first before throwing out the rubbish.102

Restrictions on women domestic workers’ freedom of movement and their communication with family, friends, and neighbors have several negative consequences.  In addition to violating their rights under national and international human rights law, these restrictions made it difficult for them to seek help.  Furthermore, they deepened the social isolation of domestic workers, who told Human Rights Watch of their loneliness and depression.  Salma Wati, a thirty-four-year-old domestic worker in Kuala Lumpur said:

I will go crazy here.  They don’t let me out, the employer won’t let me speak to anyone.  I will go crazy.  I need to tell you everything quickly and speak faster, because my employer may return.  [They always tell me] I can’t hold this, I can’t do this, I can’t go there, I can’t go here.  I feel like I am in prison, I can’t make phone calls.103

Human Rights Watch interviewed labor agents, employers, and government officials who claimed that if women had days off or were allowed to roam independently outside of the house, they would either run away or get pregnant.  One labor agent said that “There is no reason for a maid to have a passport.  She could run away, get involved in criminal activities like stealing.104  Most had stereotypes of Indonesian domestic workers as naïve, gullible, or promiscuous.  One employer explained:

I think it’s no good to let them out.  If we allow them out, especially those women from the village, they get influenced, they start to fight back.  They don’t do this, they don’t do that….  Just go to St. John’s church.  There are all these men hanging out there, lots of Indian and Chinese men waiting to pick up the maids.  Lots of maids have no entertainment, they work and work and work, they have no friends, they’re homesick….  They know when the employer is not at home… [and end up with] the local men [who] are very terrible….  You can’t blame maids even if they are educated, they’re all very innocent.  It is very frightening for the employer.105

Unpaid Wages

If I asked for my salary, the employer hit me.  I never got my salary, the employer didn’t give me money.  The employer never gave even one ringgit.
─Interview with Arianti Harikusumo, age twenty-seven, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 25, 2004

Of the fifty-one domestic workers that Human Rights Watch interviewed, twenty-six did not receive their full salary, twelve received no salary at all, and most of the remaining were still working and hoping to get their salary after they finished their two-year contracts.  In many situations where domestic workers received no salary, the lack of wages combined with other factors, such as deception, amounted to trafficking into forced labor.  The legal section later in the report provides the legal definition of trafficking in persons. 

One common ploy employers use to prevent domestic workers from running away or to cheat them out of their full salary is to give them their salary only at the end of the two-year contract.  One labor agent commented, “This is because there are runaway cases, and it is protection for the employer.”106  Most defended this practice as a strategy for helping domestic workers to save money for their families.  Instead of giving domestic workers their salary on a monthly basis, employers commonly tell workers they are depositing the earnings in a separate savings account for the woman worker.  Indonesian domestic workers must leave Malaysia upon completion of their contract, and if they do not receive their full salary before their departure, they have little chance of claiming it from Indonesia.  Many of the returned domestic workers that Human Rights Watch interviewed in Indonesia reported they never received their full salary, as in the case of Amina Ipah:

I worked for my second employer for two years.  They cut my salary 2000 ringgit (U.S.$526) in order to renew my passport.  At the end of my work [of two years], I received a check for two million rupiah (U.S.$244).  They still owe me 4000 ringgit (U.S.$1052).  The employer said they want to send me money, but they haven’t sent it.  I had already finished repaying my debt.  They said they didn’t have the money but would send it later.107

Most of the currently employed domestic workers that Human Rights Watch interviewed were unaware if they had a savings account in their name, none held passbooks or other bank records, and several reported they were denied permission to withdraw any portion of their savings to send to their families in Indonesia.  Hartini Sukarman said, “I never got my monthly salary, and I never sent any money home.  I just got a check at the end.  Sometimes I would want to take my salary, but they didn’t give it to me.  The employers would ask, ‘What for?  You don’t have to go outside.’”108 

Indonesian domestic workers with little education were unable to calculate the full payment they were entitled to and were cheated out of their salaries.  Dija Susilo had an arrangement to receive 370 ringgit per month after an initial four-month withholding of pay.  After two years of work, she should have earned 7,400 ringgit [U.S.$1947.37], but instead her employers gave her 2,000 ringgit [U.S.$526.31].  She told Human Rights Watch that when she returned to Indonesia, “the labor agency checked and said I should have gotten more money….  I didn’t know I had more money, I only learned that after I came back, when the company told me.”109  In other cases, the employer deducted the cost of any purchased supplies, medicines, and phone calls during the two-year period. 

In some cases, the employer gave the worker’s salary to the labor agent instead of the worker directly.  In these arrangements, many workers were denied their full salaries.  A resident in the shelter at the Indonesian embassy observed:

In Singapore, the maids hold the salary.  In Malaysia, the agent or employer holds the salary.  If I want to buy anything, I had to borrow money from my employer.  They promised to send my salary after the Chinese New Year but it hasn’t come yet….  The employer gave my salary to the agent.  The employer said she couldn’t give it to me because she promised it to the agent….  All my friends, the same, the same.  The employers give money to the agent, only the agent is no good.  The agent told me the money is in the bank.  I never saw the passbook, I didn’t get the money.110

The tactic of withholding payment of wages until the completion of the two-year contract also deters women workers from escaping abusive conditions, as they know there is little chance they will be able to successfully claim their wages once they leave.  They often face extreme pressure to bring money back home with them to Indonesia.  Salma Wati, a domestic worker in Kuala Lumpur said:

I want to send money home, but my employer won’t let me.  Finally she gave me only five hundred ringgit [U.S.$131.58].  I want to cut the contract because I can’t stand it anymore.  They took me back to the agent and told me I could break the contract, but that they wouldn’t give me a cent.  I said I came here to work and to earn money….  My salary is 385 ringgit [U.S.$101.31] per month, but I have not gotten my salary.  I don’t know if I have a bank account, my employer doesn’t tell me.  The agent is good friends with my employer, they talked and settled everything….  If I still want to go back [to Indonesia], then I won’t get any money [from my employers] so I will have to [stay here and] work.111

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

They didn’t allow me to fast or to pray.  I asked them if I could pray, but they said only twice a day.  I had to handle pork and their three dogs….  I wouldn’t go back to Malaysia because I wasn’t allowed to pray and I felt very sad.  When I returned I went through a ritual cleansing by my family because I had touched pork.  If I go back to Malaysia, I will get dirty again.
─Interview with Silvani Setiawan, age twenty-four, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 27, 2004

Almost one third of the domestic workers that Human Rights Watch interviewed reported that they were unable to practice their religion freely.  Most of the women were Muslim and were not allowed to pray five times a day or to fast during the month of Ramadan.  Some were forced to handle pork, considered unclean and forbidden, or to touch dogs, which is also considered unclean and shunned by many of the women we spoke with.  Some reported that labor agents confiscated their Koran and other prayer materials before their arrival.  Christian women said their employers denied them permission to leave the house to attend church.  As one woman said, “There is a part of the agreement where we can choose the type of job, and as a Muslim, it is written that we don’t have to handle pork.  In the agreement, you are allowed to do prayer, but actually you are not allowed to.  When I was working I was not allowed to pray or to fast.”112

Recent proposals to place Muslim workers with Muslim families would not remedy this problem, as Human Rights Watch interviewed workers who were prevented from praying and fasting by Muslim and non-Muslim employers alike.  Similarly, there were non-Muslim employers who respected their employees’ religious freedom.  One returned domestic worker, Ulfah Aisyah, said, “My employers didn’t allow me to fast or to take breaks to pray, even though they were Muslim.  I was very hurt that they didn’t let me pray.”113

Physical Abuse, Neglect, and Mistreatment

Every day something made [my employers] angry.  Every day the woman hit me many times with a wooden stick.  Sometimes she slapped me, sometimes she hit me with a hanger or a comb, sometimes when I was cooking, she hit my head with tools.  My body got bruises, I became black from my head to my hips.  I never saw a doctor.  Sometimes I treated the pain myself with a compress, no medicine.  When the woman hit me, the man was working, he didn’t know.  She would say, “If I hit you, do not lose consciousness.  If you do, I will dig a hole and leave you there so nobody knows.”

Sometimes when I combed the children’s hair, the woman said, “You are a monkey, a donkey.”  Sometimes she said I was stupid, or like a bull.  I didn’t have anyone to turn to and I was afraid.  I was beaten every day and swollen.  I was beaten badly three times, and the third time, my head was bleeding and my body broke and then I lost consciousness.
─Interview with Ani Rukmonto, age twenty-two, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004

Almost half of the women Human Rights Watch interviewed suffered some form of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.  If one includes restrictions on movement or prohibitions on practicing one’s religion, almost all interviewees experienced some form of abuse (see appendix E).  Of the fifty-one domestic workers interviewed, eighteen experienced verbal abuse, nine experienced physical abuse, and seven experienced sexual harassment and abuse. 

Physical abuse ranged from being punched and kicked to severe beatings requiring hospitalization.  Several of the women that Human Rights Watch interviewed still bore the scars of this abuse, including burns, bruises, scars, and swollen body parts.  Many reported that their beatings came after “mistakes” in their work, but as one NGO worker in Indonesia put it, “Just because a migrant worker burns a shirt with an iron by accident, it doesn’t mean the employer should burn the worker with the iron as a punishment.”114  Twenty-seven-year-old Arianti Harikusumo said:

[My employers] were fussy and cruel.  If I washed the dishes and they were still a little dirty, she would take the glass and hit me with the glass.  They would hit me with anything I washed, the pan, the glass.  Usually it was the woman employer, but if she complained to her husband, he did the same thing.  The woman’s sister also hit me….  She hit me with her hand, a stick of wood, a steel rod, a mop, a steel glass, a big serving spoon, and a mineral water bottle when it was still full.  If I made a mistake, I had to sleep in the toilet.  The woman and the man were very cruel.

Twice I lost consciousness as a result of the beatings.  The first time it was raining and there was a leak in the house and I forgot to put a bowl out.  She hit me with a mop.  The second time, when I washed the clothes, the color ran and the employer hit me.  I said I was sorry and that I would return the cost by deducting it from my salary, but she still hit me.  She never sent me to see a doctor or to the hospital.  Once I was hit by a wooden stick and she hit me until the stick broke.  When I woke up late, after 5:00 a.m., the employer would pour hot water on me, like if I woke up at 6:00 a.m.115

Women domestic workers typically had no access to health care if they sustained injuries after beatings.  The women who received medical care did so only after running away or being removed from the house by the police in response to phone calls made by neighbors.  For example, women who escaped to the Indonesian embassy were provided with free medical care, an essential service.  Even at the embassy, however, psychological counseling services were unavailable.

Abuse also took the form of denial of food, sleep deprivation, and forcing women to sleep in uncomfortable places, including on the floor, in bathrooms, and on staircases.  Arianti Harikusumo, an exceptionally thin woman who appeared severely undernourished, said:

It was hard to work for them because there was not enough food.  I got food once a day.  If I made a mistake, for example, if we ran out of rice and I forgot to tell the employer, she wouldn’t give me food for two days.  I often got treatment like that.  Sometimes for one, two, three days.  Because I was starving, I would steal the food from the house.  Because of that, the employer hit me badly.116

Verbal abuse usually consisted of harsh insults, threats to the woman worker, and belittlement.  Tita Sari said her employer, “would threaten me and called me names.  She said, ‘I’m not afraid if I have to kill you.’”117  In the context of heavy workloads and long working hours, employers often intensified the stress and pressure that a worker felt by constantly shouting and scolding.  Many incessantly criticized the quality of the work, forcing the domestic worker to redo it.  The threats and insults were often accompanied by physical abuse.  Ulfah Aisyah, a twenty-five-year-old returned domestic worker, remembered,

The grandmother was always angry.  She never let me take a break.  She always complained about my mistakes.  She also hit me….  I told them, “I can take your hits, but don’t say bad things about my family.”  They called me a motherfucker, a bastard, an illegitimate child, swine….  I always apologized about my work.118

Sexual Abuse and Harassment

When the lady went to drop off the children to the grandmother’s house, the man would stay at home….  He raped me many, many times.  Once a day, every day for three months.  He hit me a lot because I didn’t want to have sex.  I don’t know what a condom is, but he used some tissues after he raped me. 

[After paying off my three months of debt,] I took a knife, I said, “Don’t get near me, what are you doing?”  I told the lady, she was very angry with me and said “Just stay quiet and [tomorrow] we will go to the market.  I didn’t bring my clothes, I just followed my employer because I thought she wanted to buy vegetables.  She took to me to the harbor and said she bought a ticket for me to Pontianak.  I had no money to get home from Pontianak.  I haven’t gone to a doctor.
─Interview with Susanti Pramono, age twenty, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted by their employers.  Of these, only three had reported this abuse to an NGO or the Indonesian embassy and had received any health care.  An eighth woman was raped and became pregnant by a male migrant worker also working for her employer.  The violence ranged from groping and fondling to repeated rape.  Women survivors of violence typically were unable to see a health care provider until after they left the workplace, and in several of the cases, they had not yet received medical care or been tested for sexually transmitted infections at the time of the interview. 

In several instances, men would try to buy sexual services from women domestic workers.  One woman reported,

The man [employer] teased me with money.  He offered me 50 ringgit [U.S.$13.16] and threatened to rape me.  He said he would give me the money and I would have to serve him.  I didn’t do it and he kicked me.  With 50 ringgit he wanted to rape me but I refused because I came to work, not to do that thing.  The man pulled at my skirt or would try to hold my hand.  He would try to force me but I refused.119

The women domestic workers who reported sexual abuse said that they were afraid to run away because of threats made by the employer or because of the pressure they felt to complete the first few months of their contract in which their salary was withheld to pay for their transportation and placement fees.  Nur Hasana Firmansyah, a twenty-one-year-old returned domestic worker, said that her employer fondled her, hugged her, offered to pay her money for sex, and came into her bed at night and tried to touch her.  She told Human Rights Watch that her employer, “checked my bag and looked for important numbers to make sure I was not calling for help.  The lady didn’t know.  I was afraid to tell her because the man was threatening me, ‘don’t tell my wife or you will see’….  Since I knew I had to pay back three months of salary, I tried to withstand it.”120 

Human Rights Watch interviewed some domestic workers who endured abuse for the initial three or four months of employment in order to pay off their debt before they escaped.  Nur Hasana Firmansyah, part of whose story is recounted above, left her employer’s household after completing three months of work, and returned to Indonesia without any earnings.  Susanti Pramono, whose experience in Malaysia is described at the beginning of this section, felt pressure to complete three months of employment and pay off her debt before she informed her female employer that the male employer raped her every day.

Several of the women reported that they received hostile reactions if they finally turned to the female employer for help.  Some employers blamed the worker, as in Nyatun Wulandari’s experience.  She told Human Rights Watch, “The sons would always touch me, they would call me a pig….  Whenever the elder son saw me he touched me all over my body.  While I was sleeping, the employer’s son came into the room.  He wanted to have sex with me.  I yelled.  The lady employer was angry with me.  The next day she gave me a ticket to Indonesia.”121  Several other domestic workers shared the experience of being immediately sent back to Indonesia once they reported the harassment and abuse.  Some received their wages, others did not.

Trafficking into Forced Labor

The agent said I will take care of old people.  They promised me 350 ringgit [U.S.$92.10] a month, with four months deduction.  There were four kids, the parents, and a grandma.  From 4:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., I worked at a shop.  Then I would go upstairs and clean the house, while taking care of the grandma.  From 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. I would go back to the shop.  After 5:00 p.m. I went to the other house.  At the second house I would clean until 11:30 p.m. if I was able to go fast.  If I wasn’t able to go fast, I would return at 1:00 a.m.

If I had rest time, the employer asked me to clean the house, mop, and wash the walls and windows.  There was no time off.  I was never allowed to use the phone or write a letter.  Every time I worked, the woman complained about my job.  She asked me to re-clean everything.  The family called me a dog, they told me I don’t have a brain, that I am crazy.  I am Christian and they never allowed me to go to church.  They never allowed me to walk out of the house.  For the family, the principle was that I work and work and work and don’t have time to rest.  Sometimes I was tired and I wanted to rest.  Even if I was ill I had to work. 

My employer kept my salary—350 ringgit per month.  I don’t know if they kept it in a bank account.  I asked if I could send money to my family.  I wanted to send 500 ringgit [U.S.$131.58], but they didn’t give me the money, even though I had been working one year.

I tried to kill myself, because I couldn’t stand my employer.  When that happened, she called the agency and the agent took me from the house to the agent’s house.  The agent asked whether I wanted to continue working or go back to Indonesia.  I said Indonesia.  The agent said if you go back, you get no money.  The agent said he would send me home…but when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur, he said that immigration would only let me leave Malaysia on March 19, 2004.  Now I know that is actually the expiration date for the visa, not [a government requirement, but I didn’t know that then]….  I never got a salary in all fourteen months.
─Interview with Riena Sarinem, age thirty, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 25, 2004

The use of coercive tactics, fraud, or deception to trap individuals into forced labor falls under the international definition of trafficking in persons.  Human Rights Watch interviewed nine women and girls who were trafficked into forced labor.  These women were often promised jobs in domestic work but ended up working in restaurants, retail stores, or food stalls without any payment of wages.  In other cases, they were promised other forms of employment but ended up as domestic workers, again without payment.  One twenty-three-year-old trafficking victim, Harmeni Sudjatmoko, said that, “The sponsor cheated me.  I can do massage.  He promised me I could work as a masseuse in Malaysia, but instead I worked as a maid.”122  Atikah Titi’s employers forced her to make beverages and sell them at the market the entire day, in addition to her responsibilities as a domestic worker.  The twenty-one-year-old worker told Human Rights Watch,

I was surprised because I had to do housework and then make soya bean drink also.  The first employers were cruel….  I had to do my work in a hurry, clean the bed, clean the furniture, make soya bean drink from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., then go to the market to sell from 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.  I had no rest day, and when I got home at 11:00 p.m., I had to clean the clothes and then iron.  I slept at 1:00 a.m.123

The trafficking victims Human Rights Watch interviewed typically suffered severe forms of the workplace abuses described in earlier sections of this report.  They reported that employers forced them to work eighteen to twenty hours per day, locked them in their workplace from the outside, prevented them from making phone calls, and failed to pay any wages.  These women and girls often confronted daily violence, endured poor living conditions, and received inadequate amounts of food.  Employers and agents used threats and violence to keep them trapped in these situations.  After nine months of working fifteen to twenty hours a day, sleeping on the floor, and daily beatings, eighteen-year-old Santi Kartika told her employer that she wanted to return to her agency.  She told Human Rights Watch, “I said I did not want to work for him anymore.  That is when he threatened to rape me and prostitute me.”124

Human Rights Watch interviewed NGO migrant worker advocates who felt that the Indonesian government could make significant progress in their fight against trafficking by better monitoring the training and holding centers to ensure that recruitment and placement procedures are legal and that women possess full and correct information about their jobs and rights.  One trafficking expert noted that the Indonesian authorities should also check the ages of prospective migrant workers and the validity of their travel documents:  “This would significantly affect the amount of trafficking….  No one is doing anything about the falsification of documents.  Everyone talks about it.  There are a lot of young girls….  There are different entry points, holding centers, borders, and consulates.  It wouldn’t be difficult for police to investigate.”125

The Malaysian government does not have a system in place for monitoring the placement of migrant domestic workers.  Although the immigration department investigates complaints made by neighbors who suspect abuse, or follows up on cases brought to them by the police, the Indonesian embassy, or NGOs, there are no procedures for tracking whether a woman migrant worker has been placed into the type and conditions of work that she was promised, or whether she has been trafficked into forced labor.  The nascent effort to combat trafficking by the Malaysian government and its National Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM, have focused on women trafficked into forced sex work and, thus far, have done little to identify or provide remedies for women trafficking into other forms of forced labor.

[91] Many of these abuses against Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia and other destination countries have been reported by NGOs in Indonesia to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Migrants.  Indonesian Migrant Workers:  Systematic Abuse at Home and Abroad (Jakarta:  Komnas Perempuan and Solidaritas Perempuan/CARAM Indonesia, 2002); Indonesian Migrant Workers.  See also, Sidney Jones, Making Money off Migrants.

[92] Indonesian Migrant Workers, pp. 9-10.  Authorities at the international airport in Jakarta estimate that there are four hundred returnees a day (1,650 during major holidays), and about 10 percent return with complaints of abuse.  Therefore, NGOs estimate roughly twenty-five thousand migrants return by air with complaints of abuse and the Ministry of Labor has estimated eighteen thousand complaints per year.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview with Wahyu Susilo, executive secretary, Konsorsium Pembela Buruh Migran Indonesia (KOPBUMI), Jakarta, Indonesia, January 21, 2004.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview with Endang Susilowati, executive director, Perkumpulan Panca Karsa, Mataram, Lombok, Indonesia, January 29, 2004.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 13, 2004.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Jun Kuncoro, attaché, Indonesian Embassy, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 18, 2004.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Susanti Pramono, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Amsia Widodo, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 13, 2004.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Latifah Dewi, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Hartini Sukarman, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

[102] Human Rights Watch interview with Firuza Suprapto, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 21, 2004.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Salma Wati, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 18, 2004.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 13, 2004.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with an employer, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 21, 2004.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with a labor supplier, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 13, 2004.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Amina Ipah, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 27, 2004.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Hartini Sukarman, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

[109] Human Rights Watch interview with Dija Susilo, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 25, 2004.

[110] Human Rights Watch interview with Muriyani Khadijah, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Salma Wati, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 18, 2004.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Tita Sari, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Ulfah Aisyah, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 27, 2004.

[114] Human Rights Watch interview with Dina Nuriyati, chair, FOBMI, Jakarta, Indonesia, January 22, 2004.

[115] Human Rights Watch interview with Arianti Harikusumo, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia, February 25, 2004.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Human Rights Watch interview with Tita Sari, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 26, 2004.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with Ulfah Aisyah, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 27, 2004.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Human Rights Watch interview with Nur Hasana Firmansyah, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 26, 2004.

[121] Human Rights Watch interview with Nyatun Wulandari, returned domestic worker, Lombok, Indonesia, January 24, 2004.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Harmeni Sudjatmoko, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, February 26, 2004.

[123] Human Rights Watch interview with Atikah Titi, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 25, 2004.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with Santi Kartika, domestic worker, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 19, 2004.

[125] Human Rights Watch interview with Ruth Rosenberg, program manager, Counter Trafficking Project, International Catholic Migration Commission, Jakarta, Indonesia, February 5, 2004.

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