Death of maid treated 'like a dog' casts spotlight on migrant abuse in Malaysia

Beh Lih Yi, Reuters

Posted at Feb 13 2018 06:49 AM

KUALA LUMPUR - An Indonesian maid forced to sleep outside next to a dog has died after suspected abuse by her employer in Malaysia, sparking calls from activists to end poor treatment of migrant workers. 

The 21-year-old woman died in a hospital on Sunday, a day after she was rescued from her employer's home in the northern state of Penang, according to state media.

A 36-year-old woman and her brother are under investigation for suspected murder, police told the state news agency Bernama. The couple were not named as no charges have been filed.

Campaigners said the death of the maid, who had worked in Malaysia for two years, highlighted a lack of protection for migrant workers in the country amid reports of widespread abuse.

Hundreds of thousands of women – mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar – work in homes throughout Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur-based rights group Tenaganita said the case is "symptomatic of a widespread and deep-seated malaise". "These cases are not isolated in nature," Tenaganita's Executive Director Glorene Das said in a statement on Monday.

The woman was rescued from her employer's home after someone reported her situation to the office of a local parliamentarian.

"We arrived at the house and found her sitting at the porch," Por Cheng Han, staff member for lawmaker Steven Sim, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Penang. "There were wounds on her hands and her face covered in bruises."

The woman had been forced to sleep in a covered car parking area attached to the house next to a dog, according to Por.

"She was so terrified and couldn't speak a word, she just shook her head," added Por, who lodged a report with police. Officers rescued the maid and took her to hospital.

But police said the woman died the next day due to multiple severe injuries, according to Bernama news agency.

Malaysia has introduced regulations to protect domestic workers in recent years after a series of highly-publicized abuse cases, including the 2014 conviction of a couple who were found guilty of starving an Indonesian maid to death. 

The regulations include a minimum wage and mandate one day off each week, but rights groups say enforcement is rare. 

Reports of abuses remain common, including torture of domestic helpers and others among Malaysia's 2 million migrant workers, many of whom are believed to be victims of trafficking. 

Last month, the government said it would set up a special court to hear human trafficking cases, which are on the rise.