A Cambodian maid is recuperating at a hospital in Malaysia after being severely beaten by her employers, highlighting the plight of women from some of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia who seek work abroad, only to find themselves held captive and abused with little recourse.
Chea Phalla, 28, is being treated in a hospital in the capital Kuala Lumpur after having her jaw broken and being tortured by the couple that hired her to clean their home, according to an official with the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia who met with the victim.
Third secretary at the Cambodian Embassy Chhay Kosal told RFA that Chea Phalla’s employer, hairdresser Tan Mong Huwai, had tried to send her back to Cambodia so that he and his wife, Eng Lay San, could get away with their crime.
“When she arrived at the embassy, her condition was already critical. At first she could barely speak. Her boss slapped her in the face until her jaw was broken,” Chhay Kosal said.
“They wanted to finish by sending her back to Cambodia, but the company that recruited her [Cambodia Labor Supply] knew about the torture and stopped them,” he said, adding that the company was assisting the embassy in bringing the case to court.
“We will not accept this. We will file a lawsuit against her boss.”
Chhay Kosal said that Chea Phalla is recuperating after having rested in the hospital.
The couple that employed Chea Phalla, both 36 years old, has been charged with “causing grievous hurt” to the housemaid between August last year and May.
They allegedly beat Chea Phalla with an empty bottle, a pair of shoes, a weighing scale, an iron, an aluminum rod, a kitchen knife, a plastic chair, and a pail at various times during her employment, Malaysia’s The Star newspaper reported.
In addition to refusing her food and making her work long shifts without rest, the maid claimed that her employers forced her to eat and drink her own feces and urine.
The charge of “causing grievous hurt,” under Section 326 of Malaysia’s Penal Code, provides a maximum jail sentence of up to 20 years and a fine or whipping upon conviction.
History of abuse
Malaysia employs about two million foreign workers, mostly from less developed regional countries in jobs that local workers prefer not to take, including on construction sites and in plantations. Another two million are thought to work illegally in the country.
Thida Khus, executive director of Cambodian women’s rights group Silaka, said there are no accurate statistics of how many Cambodian women are currently working Malaysia.
“The companies often dispatch maids to work without monitoring their conditions,” he said.
“We don’t know how many women are working in Malaysia because they don’t maintain contact with embassy officials.”
Some estimates put the number of Cambodian women employed in Malaysian households at around 50,000.
A string of similar cases of abuse has led to strained ties between Malaysia and some of its Southeast Asian neighbors in recent years.
Cambodia imposed a freeze on sending domestic workers in October last year after activists exposed dozens of cases of sexual abuse, overwork, and exploitation among Cambodian maids in Malaysian homes.
Indonesia, which is the largest provider of domestic workers to Malaysia, had a similar ban in place since 2009, but lifted it recently after Malaysia pledged better protections for maids, including granting them one day off a week.
In May, the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia assisted 10 Cambodians who had been ill-treated by their employers.
And in March, a Malaysian couple was charged with killing domestic worker Mey Sichan, 24, who was allegedly subjected to repeated physical abuse and starved.
Reported by Mao Sotheany for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.