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Asian Domestic Workers Fight Abuses

2014-5-8
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

Many migrant women go to work in private homes as cleaners, cooks and caretakers. They are called domestic workers.

Recently, several incidents in Asia and the Middle East have brought attention to abuse of these workers. A court in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia sentenced a married couple to death in March for starving to death a 26-year-old Indonesian domestic worker.

Another Indonesian maid, 23-year-old Erwiana Sulistyaningsih says she was abused as a worker in a home in Hong Kong. She spent almost a month in a hospital receiving treatment for her injuries. Pictures of those injuries and reports of her 20-hour workdays caused national anger.


Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is visited by her mother at a hospital on Java, Indonesia. (Ivan Broadhead/VOA)

The International Labor Organization, or ILO is a United Nations agency. It suggests there are 50 million homeworkers globally. Around 5 million Indonesian women worked in other countries last year. They sent almost $10 billion back to their families. But labor rights supporters say these migrant workers can be targets of abuse.

Audrey Guichon is with Anti-Slavery International. She says the foreign labor program in the Middle East called the kafala system can leave workers open to abuse.

"The kafala system is in place across all countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which basically ties migrants’ employment and residency to one single employer." Guichon said.

In Saudi Arabia, 42 Indonesians are awaiting death sentences. Half of them are believed to be domestic workers. Darsem Tawar faced a death sentence in 2011 for killing her employer. She argued that he was raping her at the time. Officials changed her sentence only after her supporters paid the family of the dead man.

In April, the Indonesian government negotiated better conditions for its workers in Saudi Arabia. The agreement signals the end of Indonesia’s three-year suspension of labor exports to the kingdom. However, critics say Indonesia must do more.

The ILO approved Convention 189 on domestic labor in 2011. Support for the document on labor rights is building. But only 13 countries have approved or ratified the measure. One of them, the Philippines is the world’s largest exporter of domestic labor and important supporter of Convention 189.

Archana Kotecha is a legal expert at the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Liberty Asia. She says labor export can become similar to human trafficking, especially in developing countries like Bangladesh and Burma, also known as Myanmar.

And that is the Economics Report for VOA Learning English. I’m Mario Ritter.