Accessibility links

Breaking News

Despite Ban, Cambodian Maids Still Being Sent to Malaysia

Gelia, a maid works in a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 17, 2009. At least two women have died in the custody of recruitment firms prior to scheduled departures for Malaysia.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen signed an order in recent days that bars recruitment firms from sending domestic workers to Malaysia after numerous reports of abuses.

But a prominent rights group says the ban was quickly violated when at least two firms sent more women abroad on Monday.

Rights groups have been pressuring Phnom Penh for months to combat the abuse of Cambodian maids working in Malaysia.

Last Friday Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to take action.

On Saturday he signed an order banning Cambodian recruitment firms from sending domestic workers to Malaysia.

Rights groups welcomed the ban. Maid placement agencies condemned it.

But on Monday, Naly Pilorge, the director of rights group LICADHO, says that two firms sent at least 25 young women to Malaysia on the early morning flight from Phnom Penh.

“I mean Friday and Saturday I was encouraged, but after my colleagues reported that at least 25 women were seen leaving to Malaysia this morning, it’s clear to me that the authorities, the companies are defying this ban," said Pilorge. "So no, I’m not encouraged.”

For months opposition legislators in Cambodia have highlighted serious abuses against domestic workers in Malaysia.

Pilorge believes the government has banned the flow of migrant workers now, in part, because officials worry that Washington may downgrade its human trafficking status, putting it at risk of losing U.S. foreign aid.

The 2011 State Department Trafficking in Persons report said that Cambodia has made no improvements to identify or protect trafficking victims.

Around 300,000 young people enter Cambodia’s job market each year, but there is no paying work available locally for most.

That is why tens of thousands cross - legally and illegally - into Thailand and Malaysia each year seeking employment.

At least 30,000 Cambodian women are employed as domestic workers in Malaysia.

Many more men and women work or are trafficked into other jobs such as factories and plantations or suffer in slave-like conditions on fishing vessels and brothels.

Pilorge estimated around 3,000 Cambodian women aged 18-24 leave for Malaysia each month.

“What happens in reality is that documents are falsified, lies are said to families, to girls, recruiting agencies are detaining girls, indebting them - all these criminal acts just to meet the quota of being able to send 3,000 girls and women to Malaysia,” said Pilorge.

Just last week Cambodian police raided a recruitment firm and freed 35 underage recruits. That firm has since been closed - the first time a Cambodian labor company has been stripped of its operating license.

Pilorge says the ban is a start, but only that.

“A ban is just a temporary bandage. What really needs to happen is that no Cambodian women are sent to Malaysia until proper safeguards and other mechanisms are put in place to protect domestic workers and other Cambodian workers,” added Pilorge.

Late Monday, Malaysia’s The Star newspaper quoted the Malaysian foreign minister as saying his country will offer Cambodia an apology should the allegations of torture and abuse be found true.