Thursday, March 21, 2013

Life in Malaysia: The Horror of Domestic Helpers

"Life in Malaysia" will be an on-going series about how/what living in Malaysia is like for me. Of course, it is presented solely from my perspective and personal experiences. It does not represent the whole of Malaysia and Malaysians, in general. In fact, I was told by several people that I am not a typical Malaysian (whatever that means).

Map of Malaysia
I live in Kuala Lumpur...well, most of the time, anyways. I travel quite a fair bit. Kuala Lumpur or KL, as it is affectionately known, is the capital city of Malaysia. So, whenever I mention that I am from Malaysia - most people always imagined paradise islands, sun, beach and shopping malls like Pavilion, KLCC Suria and of course, the Twin Towers. After all, these are the very things tourist come to visit in Malaysia.

Although I am a Malaysian but I did not actually grow up in Malaysia. I had studied abroad all my life, and only came home during the holidays. Naturally, whenever one comes home only for the holidays, it is always fun and wonderful. Coupled with the fact that I was much younger then, and was not plagued with life's real problems. So, yes, my childhood was totally awesome. However, please bear in mind that the Malaysia then is not the same as the Malaysia now. With this, I mean mostly the people. People were much nicer back then. First and foremost, there wasn't as much crime back then as compared to now. For example, I could easily cycle on my own from my house to the nearby shops without incident. Today, I think people are extremely wary with the cases of child abductions on the rise. We shall get into that in another post. Today's post is directed at the "Horror of Domestic Helpers in Malaysia". Because at this day and age with both parents working full time jobs, it is very common to find that many households in KL have foreign domestic helpers/maids.

A Maid Recruitment Agency training the new group of foreign maids
One of the things that bugs me about living in Malaysia is the pains of hiring a domestic helper for our households. Most Malaysians do not work as a domestic helper anymore. They are as rare as finding a diamond in a sack of rice. With the total lack of local maids, most households have to rely on hiring foreign maids. There are about 230,000 foreign maids who work in Malaysia. Most of them are largely from Indonesia and Philippines. However, there is also a growing number of foreign maids coming into Malaysia from Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The cost of hiring a foreign domestic helper is not cheap, regardless of what is being advertised and publicised. Here, I do not mean just the expenses you have to incur at the maid agency. I am referring to the over-all costs - those which we cannot measure by ringgits/dollars and cents.

1) The pain of waiting for the maid to actually arrive into the country after making the application and paying the maid agency upfront. This could take 3 to 6 months, if you are really lucky. Some could take even longer - such as when the agency bungles up your maid's application, or decides to give the maid to someone else who's willing to pay a higher price. Yes, it happens.

2) The effort and time it'll take to train the maid when she actually arrives. It will take many more months before the new maid becomes acquainted with your household and your family's way of life. Even then, she may still get it horribly wrong at times. So, it is an on-going training process.

3) The pain and costs to re-hire and re-apply if the maid ran away. Yes, this is also very common in Malaysia. Sometimes, the maid may have even "emptied" your whole house of its valuables before she ran away. This actually happened to my uncle. His maid of 24 years took all their jewelry, money and priceless items when she ran away. And get this - the employers are the ones who would have to pay for the cancellation of the missing maid's visa, etc. On top of that, the employers have to cover the costs of re-hiring and re-applying for a new maid to replace the one who ran away. There is no such thing as getting that maid black listed or stopped at the Immigration when she attempts to leave the country. Because there are no such laws or regulations in Malaysia.

4) The maid agency is only interested in taking your money. They will not do anything unless you have paid them their fees. Currently, to hire a Filipino maid is about RM12, 000(USD3,750) and about RM8, 500(USD2,656) for an Indonesian maid. If your maid has ran away, they would require YOU to pay the fine, as well as, the cancellation of the maid's visa and lodge a police report. The police report is a formality rather than an actual resolution or aid to your case of the missing maid. To hire a new maid, you would have to start the process all over again and then fork out the $$ yet again. You would have to write-off the payments which you have made previously. It does not count. Period. You can read more about the laborious procedure and costings of hiring a maid in Malaysia in here and here.

5) The maid's monthly salary is not included into the costings that I have just outlined above. So, you have to factor that in as well. It differs for the maid from each country. At present, the Filipino maids have the higher monthly salary than the rest of the foreign maids.

These are just some of the issues one would have to seriously think about before even hiring a maid. Not to mention, there is no guarantee that the maid you chose or get will be an experienced maid. You can disregard what the maid agency tells you, or the maid herself. The final proof will be in her actual work performance at your home.

Of course, there are cases where the maids themselves have been abused. To the point that the New York Times released an article entitled, "Malaysia Urged to Protect Domestic Workers" on December 3, 2012. You can read all about it here.

There are also cases whereby maids have been raped by their employers. As much as the foreign maids do not have protection against their employers, the employers also do not have much protection against them. Because there are just no stringent laws, regulations, and policies to ensure that the maid agencies are doing a proper job in the first place. Some agencies have taken many people's monies and just disappeared overnight. In addition, there are no penalties issued to the maid herself when she runs away, especially when there is a pattern or history of maids running away in this country. The employers are the ones left with burden and costs.

But nothing, and I do mean nothing can ever prepare a family for the shock and horror of the "crazy" maid. I refer to them as such because I cannot ever imagine that a sane person would do such despicable acts to another human being, namely a child. And these are the very stories which you may not get to see or read in the New York Times or Huff Post. The damages that an insane or seemingly crazy maid can do to a home or family are just god awful.

There have been so many cases of maids abusing elderly folks and young children. Be it putting bleach into their drinking water, or making some black magic spells over the family, or hitting the kids and so on. The ones at the highest risk are the babies. The latest case which went viral due to the CCTV video that documented an Indonesian maid's violent abuse towards a 4 month old baby was leaked to youtube. This maid tossed the baby, repeatedly, onto the ground. I shared the video link below. However, I caution you that it is graphic. Viewer discretion is thus advised and warned. Personally, I could not sit through it.

The Malaysian Court sentenced the Indonesian maid to 15 years in jail. Although the baby has been released from the hospital, the mother of the baby is still very concerned about any possible internal injuries. And the mother has sworn never to hire a maid again. Who could blame her?

This is my personal experience with maids - I've had both the good fortune of getting wonderful maids, and the utter bad luck of having the "nightmare maids from hell". Since 2009, I have decided NOT to have a live-in maid in my home - foreign or otherwise. My ex-maid of 7 years ran away. This was someone who became very much a part of our family, and I had helped her with her father's medical fees and etc. She did not take anything when she ran away. I did, however, had a break-in to my home back in November 2008. This occurred before she ran away. The police suspected that it was her and "her friends". I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Then sometime in January 2009, she ran away. Coincidence? May be. But that was the last straw for me. No more live-in maids, only part-time cleaners who would come to clean and leave.

Obviously, there are good maids and bad maids, just as there are good employers and bad employers. They say that everything is dependent on your luck. Or may be it is just karma. So, the fear is a real burden carried by both parties. Neither the maid nor the employer knows who they will actually land up with.

From the employers' side, there is always the risk of bringing someone into your private lives and family. We never know what could happen and how that person will be like. The last thing an employer need is a horror that gradually unfolds in their own home. 

Similarly, it is the same for the maids - women who leave their hometowns or countries to travel into foreign lands to find employment. In addition to homesickness and being totally alone in a foreign land, there is the real fear of being exploited and abused as well. Hence, protection needs to adequately cover both the parties and not just one. Above all, it is not about protecting one party at the expense of the other.  

Personally, I think that it is seriously about time for the government to step up in their regulation of maid agencies all over the country and establish some stringent laws/policies regarding the hiring of foreign maids.

1) Health and mental screening of all maids should be priority and mandatory.

2) Agencies which have a high case of maids running away or breaking their contracts should be penalised and have their licence revoked.

3) Maids who have repeatedly ran away or broken their contracts should be identified, fined and documented in every country. Especially, those who stole or have committed serious crimes against their employers.

4) The employers who have a track record of mistreating maids should not be allowed to hire any maids. All maid agencies and Embassies around the world should be alerted and notified. 

5) Proper training should be given to the domestic helpers and there should be a formal certification that follows. This would give the maids a clear idea of what is expected of them, and the employers the assurance that the domestic helper has basic skills/training. 

Lastly, I would seriously advise that every Malaysian household that has a maid, be it foreign or local, to install CCTVs in their homes. It is not cheap, I know, but it could seriously give you some pertinent information about your domestic helper and what they do when you are not around. At the same time, it could also record what the employers do to their maids. 

Today, this is what I choose to share because I care.

Peace to all.

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