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Despite Ban, Thousands of Maids May Go To Malaysia

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011, Cambodian maid Hok Pov, 31, cries as she speaks during an interview in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hok Pov may be poor but she had never been beaten or gone hungry until she came to work in Ma

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the suspension of domestic workers traveling to Malaysia, after reports of serious abuses there, but a Labor Ministry official said Tuesday thousands of them might still be allowed to go.

Seng Sakada, director-general of the Ministry of Labor, said he was considering allowing about 2,500 would-be maids to travel to Malaysia because they were already recruited, trained and contracted before the Oct. 15 ban.

Many maids returning from Malaysia have complained of abuse at the hands of their employers, and Cambodian firms have been accused of recruiting underage women and forcing them to live in poor conditions before sending them abroad.

Police are currently searching for the head of one recruiting firm, T&P, Co., after a raid on his facility freed around 30 underage girls.

“The process of recruitment, training and sending women to work as maids in Malaysia will be resumed after the government finds new information,” Hun Sen said in his suspension order.

A high demand for labor in Malaysia and a low number of jobs in Cambodia have led to a boom in recruitment firms in the past few years. The Ministry of Labor estimates at least 34 companies now operate here legally.

An Bunhak, president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said all its members would follow the ban.

“We’ll strengthen our protection mechanisms and cooperate with our partners in Malaysia, as well as the Malaysian government and non-governmental organizations,” he said.

Malaysian Embassy officials declined to comment on the ban.

Chan Saveth, head of monitoring for the rights group Adhoc, said he supported the suspension order.

“As a human rights activist, I think that if the royal government sees one country full of human rights violations, the government should not send its laborers to that country,” he said. “We absolutely oppose sending underage Cambodian girls to work outside the country.”

Meanwhile, underage girls say it is easy to fake their identification documents to meet age requirements, in hopes of earning high salaries after several years of work in Malaysia, which saw Indonesian workers banned by their government for similar complaints.

“Village, commune and district chiefs must be responsible for the forgery of IDs,” said Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “If the perpetrator is not fined or tried, he or she will continue these human rights violations.”