An older Malaysian couple has been sentenced to hang for causing the death of their Indonesian maid. Fong Kong Meng (58) and Teo Ching Yen (56) were sentenced to death after their 26 year old maid died working for them. The judge ruled that the maid died after the couple refused to provide her with food and proper medical care.
Details emerging from the case are nothing short of horrific. When the Indonesian maid started working for the couple, she weighed just over 100 pounds. By the time she died, the maid weighed only 57 pounds. Her death was discovered when the couple took her to the Universiti of Malaya hospital where she died.
The abuse of maids has been gaining attention in Malaysia and Singapore, two countries that rely on imported domestic help. This most recent case is only one of the dozens of cases reported each year, and most likely, many more cases go unreported.
Abuse common for maids around the world
When done right, hiring a maid can benefit both the family and the maid herself. Generally speaking, maids often earn higher wages while working abroad and enjoy comparatively high living standards. As most costs, such as food and housing, should be paid for by the “host” family, the maid should be able to save up before returning home.
Unfortunately, theory often doesn’t translate well into practice and maids sometimes find themselves being abused. Maids working abroad run the risk of having their passports confiscated and finding themselves with no authorities to turn to. This puts them at an even higher risk of being abused as they cannot simply leave the country, and local law enforcement agencies may not be willing to help them.
Just yesterday, a Singaporean couple was found guilty of abusing their maid after she had lost over 40 pounds worth of weight in six months while working for the couple. Last year, a Singaporean woman was jailed for 21 months after she was found guilty of beating her maid on several occasions.
Last year, another Malaysian couple was sentenced to 24 years in jail after starving their Cambodian maid to death. The maid weighed just 57 pounds when she was found dead by paramedics and had bruises on her body. The couple avoided facing the death penalty when charges were reduced.
Maids are becoming scarce in Malaysia and Singapore
Finding a maid is growing more difficult for Malaysians and Singaporeans. Most Singaporeans would no longer even consider working as a domestic helper, while paying a local Malaysian to provide help around the house is possible, but expensive.
Traditionally, Malaysians and Singaporeans have relied on the Philippines, Indonesia, and other poorer countries to supply maids. Years of abuse, unscrupulous hiring agencies, poor working conditions, and other things have caused many would-be maids to reconsider heading abroad for work.
Last year, a group of Filipino international job recruiters actually stopped sending maids to Singapore due to high fees (up to 8 months salary) being charged by placement agencies. In Malaysia, high demand and low supply has led to some recruitment agencies charging double the legal fees for placing a maid. Placement companies are allowed to charge only RM7,800 but fees as high as RM14,000 are now common.
Add into the fact that economies are now booming in many countries that supply maids, and people have less reason to head abroad for work. The Philippines has emerged as one of South East Asia’s fastest growing economies. Up until this past year, Indonesia was growing at breakneck speed, though currency troubles have slowed growth. Either way, people are now finding more opportunities at home and opportunities abroad are looking less attractive.