Suspend sending domestic workers to Malaysia, Cambodia government urged

A Cambodian MP and the Malaysia NGO, Tenaganita, are urging the Cambodian government to suspend the recruitment of domestic workers to be sent to Malaysia in view of the rising number of abuses by their Malaysian employers, who are said to “act with impunity”.

The statement was issued after Cambodian opposition MP, Mu Sochua, visited some workers who were rescued by Tenaganita, many of whom are said to have suffered prolonged physical abuse by their employers.

A total of 41 Cambodian maids were rescued this year, of which 56 percent were physically abused and 20 percent were sexually abused, said Tenaganita executive director, Irene Fernandez.

“In all of these 41 cases, the workers were not given a single day-off while their passports were held by their employers,” she added.

“In a country blessed with abundant food, 25 percent of the workers rescued were badly malnourished as a consequence of being deprived of proper food,” said Fernandez (above, left) said at a press conference in Petaling Jaya.

She noted that some recruitment agents were also complicit in the abuse, by threatening the workers anytime they received a complaint from their employers, and would confiscate all contact information a worker has for the Cambodian embassy and local NGOs.

“Half of them said that on their arrival at their agency’s office, they were completely stripped off and searched. By what provision can a recruitment agency do such things?” asked Fernandez.

Her strongly-worded condemnation came in the wake of a Cambodian maid, Choy Phich, who was found dead at her employer’s house in Butterworth on July 17.

A post-mortem attributed her cause of death to pneumonia, but allegations surfaced that she was beaten to death by her employer.

Fernandez said police should persist with the investigation because “it is impossible for the girl to get pneumonia overnight”.

The recruitment process

Mu, on the other hand, revealed that the Cambodian Embassy had initially forced Choy’s family to cremate her remains in Malaysia, which she alleged would be tantamount to destroying evidence.

She said the Cambodian authorities are unable to provide protection for their citizens in Malaysia, who number up to 50,000 as of this year. Worse, they are reluctant to pursue justice for the workers.

“All of these workers come from very poor families, which are targets of the agents,” said Mu.

“If the girl is under-age, she will be asked to provide her sister’s or relative’s identification card for a passport,” she added.

“As for these agencies, some of them are owned by high-ranking government officials in Cambodia, and so they enjoy immunity [from prosecution],” she alleged.

Fernandez noted that the authorities have not addressed this issue of such entrapped workers, leading to the legal impunity of their employers.

Mu calls on the Cambodian government to suspend the recruitment of domestic workers to Malaysia until there is a legal, institutional framework that ensures the recognition of their rights.