A Change of Guard

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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cambodia bans sending maids to Malaysia

ABC Radio Australia
Updated October 18, 2011

Cambodia has imposed a temporary ban on sending domestic workers to Malaysia.

The Prime Minister, Hun Sen, signed the order following numerous complaints of abuse committed against the workers, who are mostly women, sent there.

However, questions have already been raised about the effectiveness of such a ban.

Reporter: Sajithra Nithi
Speakers: Naly Pilorge, Director at human rights group LICADHO; An Bunhak, President of the Association of Cambodian Recruiting Agencies

NITHI: The ban comes after campaigns by human rights groups, focusing on the ill-treatment of maids send to Malaysia.
The cases range from women and girls being overworked and given very little to eat, all the way to being beaten and sexually abused.

Activists like Naly Pilorge from LICADHO, a rights group in Cambodia, have welcomed the ban.

PILORGE: We were quite pleased because it was so out of control, that it was necessary to stop.

NITHI: She says around 3000 domestic helpers from Cambodia are needed in Malaysia each month, but their mistreatment actually begins at home.

PILORGE : It involves falsifiyng documents, it involves lying or misleading girls and their families, it involves locking up girls and families in recruitment agencies.

NITHI: This abuse continues in Malaysia.

PILORGE: Besides the confiscation of documents that would allow them to move both within and outside Malaysia, they're often stuck with having to pay enormous debts and subjected to all kinds of abuses, ranging from poor conditions to long hours, to also violent abuses, such as rape.

NITHI: The ban was signed by Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, on October the 15th but two days later, on Monday, monitors from LICADHO saw at least 20 Cambodian maids checking in for a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

They wore shirts with the names of their recruitment agencies printed on them. One of these agencies was Top Manpower, based in Phnom Penh. Its CEO, An Bunhak, is also head of the Association of Cambodian Recruiting Agencies (ACRA) - an umbrella group for labour exporting companies.

He says the women sent on Monday had already signed contracts and so the ban does not apply to them, or the nearly 2500 others still waiting to be sent.

AN BUNHAK: All the trainees that we have recruited before 15th October [2011] , all the trainess [who] have a contract with the employer and everything, they can fly.

NITHI: He also says the number of workers who suffer abuse in Malaysia is low, compared to the total number of Cambodian women working there, and has this to add -

AN BUNHAK: I guarantee and assure that all the migrant workers will be protected.

NITHI: Mr An also says Cambodia should look at the agreement signed between Indonesia and Malaysia on the same issue, following similar complaints of abuse against Indonesian maids two years ago.

Changes under
AN BUNHAK: This is the model that we need to look in to and then probably we'll have this kind of MOU or agreement with Malaysia.

NITHI: Naly Pilorge from the rights group LICADHO says now that the temporary ban is in place, the Cambodian government can do more.

PILORGE: The ban to me is just a temporary bandage. I think in the medum term we need to have safeguards and regulate the migrant workers.

NITHI: And, because it's an issue that involves two countries, she says safeguards must be in place on both sides.

PILORGE: Even if we did the best reforms, it wouldn't make any difference if Malaysia didn't do the same.

NITHI: Cambodia has not said how long this temporary ban will be in place for.

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