BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Indonesia wants to stop women going abroad as domestic workers to preserve the country’s “dignity” after the high-profile case of an Indonesian maid abused and treated like a slave in Hong Kong, local media reported on Monday.
President Joko Widodo told the Hanura Party national congress that he had ordered the manpower ministry to come up with a “clear roadmap” on when Indonesia could stop providing domestic helpers to other countries. No time frame was given.
Widodo acted after a Hong Kong woman was found guilty last week of abusing her Indonesian worker, in a landmark case that triggered outrage over mistreatment of maids and shed light on the abuse that many women face in overseas jobs.
“The practice of Indonesian women going overseas to work as housemaids must stop immediately,” Widodo was quoted in the Straits Times newspaper as telling the congress at the weekend. “We should have pride and dignity.”
Former beautician Law Wan-tung, 44, a mother of two, was found guilty of 18 of 20 charges including grievous bodily harm and violence against Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and two other maids, also from Indonesia.
The court heard how Erwiana was beaten, denied food, and had her passport confiscated. Law also failed to pay Erwiana’s wages, did not allow her days off, and threatened to kill her relatives if they revealed the abuse, the court was told.
Sentencing was deferred until later this month.
Even before the trial, Erwiana’s case became a focus for human rights campaigners after photos of her, battered and with burns from boiling water, appeared online. Indonesia’s then president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, described her treatment as torture.
In 2012, the Jakarta Post reported Indonesia’s Manpower and Transmigration Ministry pledged to stop sending maids abroad by 2017, following cases of abuses, murder and execution against Indonesian workers.
However, the demand for cheap domestic help is so strong in Southeast Asia that the ban could mean Indonesian maids are simply replaced by another group.
“The implementation will be tough, given that Indonesia sends abroad around 650,000 migrant workers every year,” Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said.
Campaigners say Hong Kong’s policies on migrant workers often make domestic helpers reluctant to report abuse for fear of being deported.
Hong Kong has about 300,000 foreign domestic helpers, most of them from the Philippines and Indonesia and nearly all women, who can earn more in Hong Kong to send back to their families than they can at home.
Migrant Care, a non-governmental organisation focused on migrant worker protection, said banning Indonesian women from going abroad for work would be a major setback and it was protection they needed when working overseas.
“All Indonesian citizens have the right to seek decent work and it is the responsibility of the state to protect them, no matter where they work,” Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah told the Jakarta Post.
(Writing by Alisa Tang, Editing Belinda Goldsmith)
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