Rethinking the export of maids

JAKARTA, INDONESIA—The world’s maid supplier has had enough.

Begin forwarded message:____From: "Colbourn, Glen" __Subject: Emailing: 20150509-AMX-QUANTIFY-KHOSLA091__Date: 11 May, 2015 8:58:15 PM EDT__To: Photodesk - Toronto Star ________Begin forwarded message:____From: "Colbourn, Glen" __Subject: Emailing: 20150509-AMX-QUANTIFY091__Date: 11 May, 2015 8:58:36 PM EDT__To: Photodesk - Toronto Star ________Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 23, lies on a hospital bed in Sragen district in central Java island on February 5, 2014. Sulistyaningsih, 23, who was allegedly tortured by her Hong Kong employer left hospital on February 5 after a month, tearfully expressing the hope that her case would prevent future abuse of "small people like us".  AFP PHOTO / ANWAR MUSTAFA        (Photo credit should read ANWAR MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Begin forwarded message:____From: “Colbourn, Glen” __Subject: Emailing: 20150509-AMX-QUANTIFY-KHOSLA091__Date: 11 May, 2015 8:58:15 PM EDT__To: Photodesk – Toronto Star ________Begin forwarded message:____From: “Colbourn, Glen” __Subject: Emailing: 20150509-AMX-QUANTIFY091__Date: 11 May, 2015 8:58:36 PM EDT__To: Photodesk – Toronto Star ________Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 23, lies on a hospital bed in Sragen district in central Java island on February 5, 2014. Sulistyaningsih, 23, who was allegedly tortured by her Hong Kong employer left hospital on February 5 after a month, tearfully expressing the hope that her case would prevent future abuse of “small people like us”. AFP PHOTO / ANWAR MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read ANWAR MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)


After two of its citizens were executed in Saudi Arabia last month, the government of Indonesia has announced it will stop sending maids to 21 Middle Eastern countries. The ban, Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri said, will target countries that “fail to provide protection” to domestic workers. It will go into effect in three months.

The move follows a warning from President Joko Widodo that it would soon stop sending domestic workers abroad. “We must have pride and dignity,” he said.

Both Indonesians beheaded in Saudi Arabia were maids. One was convicted of murdering a child in her care, the other of murdering her employer. Neither the embassy nor their families were given notice prior to the execution. About 40 other Indonesian maids face the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. Migrant Care, an Indonesian nongovernmental organization campaigning for migrant workers abroad, says most of the convicts acted in self-defence against extreme sexual or physical abuse.

Indonesia had already implemented a moratorium on sending additional maids to Saudi Arabia in 2011, after one was executed. But this time, the ban is expected to be permanent.

According to the authorities, some 6.5 million Indonesians work overseas, mainly as domestic workers in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Cases of abuse, torture, starvation, and slavery-like work conditions are routine and well documented by human rights organizations.

Last year, the story of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a 23-year-old maid who came home in a wheelchair after having been tortured for months by her employers in Hong Kong, outraged Indonesians. The news of her case spread throughout the world.

But Migrant Care and other similar organizations have called the Indonesian plan unconstitutional and “discriminatory for women.”

“All Indonesian citizens have the right to seek decent work and it is the responsibility of the state to protect them no matter where they work,” Migrant Care Executive Director Anis Hidayah said after the plan was revealed.

Indonesia itself has recently executed foreigners, despite international outcry. Many have called the Indonesian double-standard on the death penalty an “extreme hypocrisy.”

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