By Amy Lieberman
Monday, July 18, 2011
Cambodian women who go abroad to Malaysia to work as domestic workers find the work fraught with abuse. Much of the mistreatment starts right away, in recruitment pre-departure training centers in Phnom Penh.
Opportunities for Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia have expanded rapidly since 2008, when Indonesia stopped sending migrant workers there because of human rights abuse allegations. Only 2,654 Cambodian domestic workers went to Malaysia that year, according to the U.S. State Department.
There are now more than 40 recruitment agencies in Cambodia, which all follow a basic formula.
"They target the poorest among the poor," said Moeun of the Community Legal Education Center. "They say you can earn $180 a month, and if you pass a basic test your family automatically gets $50 and a 50 kg [bag] of rice. So, for a very poor family living in a small village, when they hear all of this, it is no problem for their daughter to have to spend a few months in the center."
CARAM conducts regular public forums on migration in targeted villages and in training centers. The frank sessions rarely persuade prospective workers to consider another option.
"We tell them that it will be very difficult, but they still choose to go," said Ya. "If they stay here, they can't find a job."
So Tay, 53, has worked in Malaysia in three capacities since 1999, and has spent time in recruitment centers both in Cambodia and holding centers for workers in Malaysia.
On her first trip, So became sick and was sent back to Cambodia after four months without any pay. On her second trip, in 2001, she was forced to work more than 18 hours a day and was physically abused.
During her last work trip in 2005, she tried to quit and was placed in a detention center run by a Malaysian-counterpart agency. She remained there for three months, before being flown back to Cambodia without any money.
So now lives in Phnom Penh and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic intestinal problems that prevent her from holding a steady job.
Bruno Maltoni, project coordinator for the International Organization for Migration's office in Phnom Penh, which does not work directly with domestic migrant workers, says he does not think all migrant domestic workers have negative experiences.
"There's a lot of hammering in the media about this and a lot of emotions, which is quite right, but I don't think it is as widespread and as common as it is made out to be," he said.
He said that by 2020 he expects to see at least a 4-percent increase in the migrant work force in Cambodia. Thailand is another major destination for migrant domestic Cambodian workers.
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Amy Lieberman, currently reporting from Southeast Asia, is a correspondent at the United Nations headquarters and a freelance writer based in New York City.
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