The Cambodian government will stop sending laborers to work in Malaysia following reports of abuse, slave-like conditions and deaths of women working as housemaids there, an opposition lawmaker said Friday after talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mu Sochua, a member of parliament for the opposition Sam Rainsy party, told RFA that Hun Sen confirmed the ban at the meeting that also included Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] ordered His Excellency Sok An to halt dispatching maids to Malaysia,” Mu Sochua said in an interview following the sit down.
“I requested Samdech not to allow maids to work in Malaysia and he said he understands the women’s difficulties. I welcome Samdech’s decision to have Deputy Prime Minister Sok An look into the issue.”
Sok An declined to elaborate on the government’s decision, saying he was too busy to speak with reporters.
The ban follows disturbing reports from Cambodia's Community Legal Education Center, a non-governmental organization which claimed three maids had been killed in Malaysia while two were raped and held in solitary confinement without access to their passports.
Maids are common in middle-class households in Malaysia due to a large migrant labor workforce who total up to 2 million people or 21 percent of the country's workforce.
Reuters news agency quoted An Bunhak, president of the Association of Cambodian Recruiting Agencies, as saying that his organization would honor the ban.
Malaysian embassy officials in Cambodia said they had not received any official notification about the decision from the Cambodian government.
The ban also comes after Cambodian authorities on Oct. 11 raided a local labor supply company where 35 girls were being detained with plans to traffick them to Malaysia. Police arrested four employees in the raid and are still hunting for the company’s director, thought to be on the run in Kompong Chhnang province.
The parents of the girls had filed a complaint with the Ministry of Interior’s Juvenile Protection and Anti-Human Trafficking department saying that the company’s representative had lured their underage daughters with the promise of jobs.
Kompong Chhnang Anti-Human Trafficking Police chief Prack Saony told RFA that an investigation into the trafficking ring is underway.
“Girls were being recruited from the across the country. We need to conduct a further investigation, but our initial findings show that the girls were cheated … most came on their own, but some were brought by their parents,” she said.
History of abuse
There are currently more than 20,000 Cambodian maids in Malaysia. Some 50,000 Cambodian maids have sought work in Malaysia since 2009 when Indonesia placed a similar ban on sending laborers to the country.
That ban was put into place after several highly-publicized cases of physical abuse by Malaysian employers triggered anti-Malaysia demonstrations in Jakarta.
Both countries held discussions and reached an agreement in April this year after Malaysia pledged to improve working conditions, but Indonesia has yet to allow hiring to resume.
In August, the Malaysian rights group Tenaganita urged Cambodia to ban maids from coming to Malaysia until tougher laws were enacted.
The group claimed it had helped 41 Cambodian maids, some as young as 15, since February after they were rescued or ran away from their employers because of abuse or unpaid wages.
Impoverished Cambodia is one of Asia's biggest exporters of maids abroad, a valuable source of foreign exchange. The country commonly sends domestic workers to Thailand, South Korea, and Indonesia.
Cambodian recruitment agencies also this year decided not to send maids to Kuwait after complaints by human rights groups of abuse by employers there.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.