[Blog] Maid abuses and human exploitation: the highest form of dehumanization and barbarism by Jose Mario De Vega

Maid abuses and human exploitation: the highest form of dehumanization and barbarism

by Jose Mario De Vega

I refer to “‘Slaves at home’, really extended family” by Frankie D’Cruz, The Malay Mail, Being Frank, October 31.

D’Cruz has once again highlighted two important social issues that affect the public interest as a whole. October 24th, he wrote “I’ll fight, thump burglar anytime!” said piece deals with the mind-boggling application of the death penalty concerning the case of two Indonesian brothers who were engaged in a self-defense. Instead of absolving the siblings of any criminal liability they are ironically are facing execution. What adds up to the imbroglio, the state, instead of going hard against the true criminals had begun the discussion on decriminalizing the death penalty. Said article generated much discussion amongst our people and expanded in a no small way the public discourse.

Last week, D’Cruz has stroke again on his piece, “Slaves at home”. This time, he brought to our collective attention the horrible and harrowing plight of foreign maids, specifically of those coming from Indonesia.

As an ardent observer of our society and constant reader of our paper, I would like to congratulate the said writer for his no-nonsense approach, hard-hitting beats and truly humanistic acts in reporting these issues of public, human and universal interest.

As D’Cruz has stated:

“THE appalling flyers — “Indonesian maids now on SALE” — fastened on structures in Kuala Lumpur have provoked yet another rift between Malaysia and Indonesia and revealed attitudes of astounding decadence on our part.

“It comes amid a moratorium involving prospective domestic help — whom we should rightly call extended family members — from Indonesia, banned from leaving for Malaysia until their safety can be assured.

“It comes in the wake of recent allegations of maid abuse, hijacking a traditional Indonesian dance, claims of organ harvesting and accusations of police violence.”

I join him in condemning the sheer absurdity of the “Maids for Sale” advertisement by a foreign manpower agent. Such act has clearly shown the moral depravity and indeed the “worrying intensity of heartless that has continually seized our mind-set towards foreign workers”.

I do not believe that it is merely a sales gimmick on the part of the said agent. To say so is to admit one’s disregard of human values and utter disrespect of inherent human worth.
Maids are human beings, like you and me; they also have feelings, they have rights and privileges that is recognized and protected by law. They may be working for us, but they are not our properties or commodities. They have humanity and dignity which money can never ever buy nor acquire. They are not slaves. They are human beings, too!

I overwhelmingly concur with the admonishment of the writer, especially when he asked us to have an internal moral examination of ourselves:

“Look inward. Are we vultures who peck at the meat until they reach the driest of bones?
Further, he continued his direct query and morally quizzed us:

“But maids? In fact, the very word “maids” should be dropped as national policy and replaced with “extended family members”. Maids are old colonial mentality. Maids, some people think, are to be exploited.”

Undeniably, D’Cruz’ contention is beyond dispute. To call those people who work for us domestically as maid is to betray our corrupted colonial mentality, our preposterous sense of being a master, an absentee landlord and our inhumanity.

Indeed, there is no iota of doubt that ““Maids for Sale” ad is shameful, disgraceful and completely without conscience. It betrays a giving Malaysian society that is consumed voraciously by kindness.”

Finally, D’Cruz talked about the worst form of exploitation:

“I can’t resist taking the issue of “slavery” into our throbbing nightlife. As a nocturnal creature, I can steadfastly vouch for the transgressions against the very people (women) who pulsate our club scene.

“What if I told you that foreign bargirls here have to pay their agents a penalty of RM75 for each kilo they gain in weight while working?

“What if I told you the girls have to maintain the exact weight when they were brought in and don’t necessarily get the fine refunded if they shed the fat?
“These agents want to maintain quality among their girls but at the same time force them to drink and eat excessively for their benefit and that of their clients (club owners).
“Does it make sense that these girls drink beer, eat fatty foods all night long and are expected to keep their original lean shape?

“Does it make sense that these girls are dragged into a police or immigration van when their agents or club owners aren’t locked up too?

“Does it make sense that the girls are deported and the very people who brought them here on the pretext of office jobs and the people who hired them to work in nightspots are not charged with human trafficking?

“That to me is pure slavery, pure exploitation of the flesh. But only one party, in this case, the girls, pay for it. Where are the human rights activists in such circumstances in Malaysia?”
I completely concur with the indictment of the writer that such horrifying and undeniably inhumane act is pure slavery. Sad but true, this slavery of the worst kind; not simply of economic exploitation but also sexual degradation and physical abuse.

I reecho the question of the writer, where the hell is the human rights activist in such circumstances in Malaysia? Further, I would like to also ask where are the various NGO and different cause oriented groups that fights for the rights of domestic workers and preventing the numerous cases of human trafficking?

The Amnesty International (AI) stated that “governments must improve working conditions for tens of millions of domestic workers around the world. This is after the adoption of a new treaty setting global standards for domestic work.”

Last June 16th, the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s annual conference overwhelmingly adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers. Said law extended a range of measures to protect labor rights that have been abused or have gone largely ignored in the past.

This is indeed, without a doubt a landmark treaty to further protect domestic workers’ rights.
According to Michael Bochenek, International Director of Law and Policy for Amnesty International:

“Abuses against domestic workers – the vast majority of whom are women and girls – are all too common in many parts of the world, but until now we’ve lacked good measures to stop them…
“All countries should ratify this landmark treaty, which lays a strong foundation for a global legal framework to put an end to such abuses.”

Further, Amnesty International’s “research in many countries has shown that large numbers of domestic workers, particularly those who are migrants, are exploited economically and denied their rights to fair conditions of work, health, education, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement.

“Lured overseas by the promise of work, migrant domestic workers are often easily exploited, both as racial and ethnic minorities and because they may depend on their employers to maintain their immigration status. Employers commonly withhold passports and use the threat of deportation as a form of coercion.”

Hence, based on reason, humanity and the dictates of international law and treaty stipulations, Malaysia are a member of the international community has a moral responsibility and legal obligation to see to it that the rights and welfare of its foreign workers, especially the most vulnerable among them which is no other than the domestic workers must be recognize, defense and protected.

Lastly, how Malaysia treats its foreign workers will undeniably show what kind of society and country it is. Her acts towards the least of the member of her community will incontestably reveal what kind of soul she has.

Are we a rich nation known as a maid abuser or are we a prosperous country known as a haven and refuge for foreign domestic workers?

To put it in a personal manner, do we treat our maids as our slaves or do we treat and consider them as member of our extended family?

That is the question!

Jose Mario Dolor De Vega
Lecturer IV
College of Arts
Department of Humanities and Philosophy
Polytechnic University of the Philippines
Sta. Mesa, Manila, Philippines

The writer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a law degree and a degree in AB Political Science. He was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in Nilai University College at Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

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