A Cambodian maid who recently returned home from work in Malaysia fell ill and died over the weekend, highlighting ongoing concerns over the treatment of impoverished Southeast Asian women who seek work abroad but are often abused by their employers.
Kuy Lyda, 17, died at a hospital in Phnom Penh on Sunday from complications associated with a stomach ulcer, gastritis, a kidney infection, and an intestinal infection, doctors said.
She had been admitted in May, shortly after returning from Malaysia where she worked as a maid for one year in a bid to provide extra income for her destitute family.
But a labor rights group and Kuy Lyda’s family members suspect the young woman’s health problems were linked to abuse by her employer.
Moeun Tola, the head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said Kuy Lyda had likely been overworked and underfed during her time in Malaysia.
“We have observed that many maids who worked in Malaysia have experienced similar problems,” Moeun Tola said.
“Some maids who receive medical treatment in time are able to survive. Otherwise, they end up just like Kuy Lyda.”
He said that 15 Cambodian maids have died either while working in Malaysia or upon their return to Cambodia between 2011 and early 2012.
“We are very concerned by this problem,” he said, adding that his organization has received many complaints of abuse from Cambodian maids in Malaysia.
Investigation under way
Chiv Phally, deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s Juvenile Protection and Anti-Human Trafficking department, said authorities have launched an investigation into the case.
“We are collecting information from the hospital and from her parents,” he said.
“We won’t ignore the case.”
Kuy Lyda had been offered her position through T&P Co., a Cambodian labor supply firm that was shut down by authorities in October last year.
The company was the target of a raid that freed 35 underage girls who had been detained with plans to traffick them to Malaysia.
At her daughter’s funeral on Monday, 47-year-old Chea Nang, told RFA that she regretted the decision to send Kuy Lyda abroad for work.
“We had hoped to be able to purchase a house and some land, but now we have nothing,” she said.
“I am very sad to have lost my daughter.”
Maids are common in middle-class households in Malaysia due to a large migrant labor population who total up to 2 million people or 21 percent of the country's workforce.
Women’s rights groups say there are no accurate statistics of how many Cambodian women are currently working in Malaysia, though some estimates put the number at around 50,000.
They say that these young women typically have little recourse against abuse through local law enforcement because they do not speak the local language or have entered the country illegally.
In addition, labor firms that recruit them in Cambodia rarely provide support once the women are employed.
Earlier this month, a 28-year-old maid was admitted to a hospital in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur after suffering a broken jaw and being tortured by the couple that hired her to clean their home.
The woman’s employer had tried to send her back to Cambodia so that he and his wife could get away with their crime.
She said that she was refused food and made to work long shifts without rest, and that her employers had forced her to eat and drink her own feces and urine.
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 Sok Serey for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.