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Horrifying tale all too familiar

121119_06

Sothea, an 18-year-old former domestic migrant worker whose name has been changed to protect her identity, holds her infant child at their home in Kampot province. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Her story is sickening: The 18-year-old former maid says that after she found herself alone on the streets in Malaysia, having fled an abusive employer, she was kidnapped and repeatedly raped, finally giving birth to the rapist’s child while locked up in a detention centre.

Yet such grisly cases are no rarity, and more than a year after the Cambodian government banned the sending of domestic workers to Malaysia, they keep coming, in what rights groups say is an unabated trend.

Malaysia and Cambodia have been in negotiations to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to lift the ban, but while officials discuss the terms intended to protect Cambodian maids from endemic abuse, many remain stranded abroad and face serious risk of abuse.

Sothea, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is so riddled with shock and trauma she can barely remember exactly what happened to her after she went to Malaysia in January 2010.

Clutching her then 5-month old baby earlier this year after her repatriation in February, Sothea told the Post of how, as an under-age migrant, she was left defenseless on the Malaysian streets after fleeing employers who beat her, locked her in a bathroom for two days and made her work with almost no rest.

“I fled from my boss’s house around 9pm, and I walked alone along a quiet road that I never knew the name of,” she said, adding that she never even knew her precise location in the country.

“At about midnight, a black man appeared from somewhere and abducted me and pushed me into his car and drove me to his home,” Sothea said.

For about a month, he kept her as his sex-slave, raping her over and over again until police finally raided his house in June, she said.

But instead of taking the traumatized victim to councillors or a shelter, Malaysian police treated Sothea with a callousness rights groups say is typical when authorities deal with migrant worker abuse victims, imprisoning her in a detention centre for two months.

Sothea has never received a cent in compensation and has no idea if any action has been taken against her alleged attacker.

Muhammad Sha’Ani Bin Abdullah, commissioner of the independent Malaysian Human Rights Commission, who has been pushing the police on Sothea’s and at least 11 other Cambodians’ cases, said yesterday they had still told him almost nothing about any investigation.

“We are also very outraged about the situation, and we are following up on the case so that there is real change and the authorities are actually accountable for these incidences,” he said.

Chiv Phally, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, told the Post months ago he was looking into the incident, but could not be reached yesterday.

Repeated attempts by the Post to contact the relevant departments of the Malaysian police have been unsuccessful, while officials at the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur have not responded to requests for information.

One person who has is Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, deputy chief of mission at the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh, but he told the Post after investigating the matter that he simply could not find a case file with a matching name.

That is perhaps because Sothea said the Saga Service Training Centre, which until recently was listed as a part of the company Human Resources Development Ltd, falsified her passport.

Just after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the moratorium last year, the Post exposed cases of widespread under-age recruitment, forced detention and connections between high and mid-level officials at the Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Interior, National Police and Interpol.

This included Osman Hassan, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, who owned Human Resources Development but later said he had passed off the company to a relative. Calls to Human Resources Development and Osman Hassan have gone unanswered and the specific training centre has since shut down.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Cambodian Legal Education Center, said that a long-awaited Memorandum of Understanding to protect Cambodian migrant workers’ rights in Malaysia needed a raft of measures to ensure legal protections were robust.

Cambodia announced the MoU would be required after a moratorium was made on sending domestic workers to Malaysia in October last year following a spate of serious abuse cases.

“There’s still the violations, abuses, both physical and mental: rapes are still continuing,” he said, adding a draft of the MoU he had seen that was submitted by Malaysia earlier this year would change nothing.

Hou Vudthy, deputy general director at the Ministry of Labour, said yesterday that the ministry of labour had no plans to talk about the MoU with Malaysia yet but had “prepared some ideas to discuss with them if we get a green light from the government”.

Back at the tiny tin shack where Sothea’s entire family lives in Kampot province, her father, Preoun, told the Post – speaking behind the house so his daughter could not hear – that his child’s behaviour had become disturbingly strange since she returned.

“She did not look at me, talk to me or have meals with me and my son. She always left home when she sees only me or her brother were at home without her mother or sister,” he said, adding he deeply regretted letting his daughter go.

Sothea is now left with the tormenting decision of what to tell her son, who she says she will not give up for adoption, about his father when he grows older.

“I will not [give] my son to anyone. I will feed him forever. I will tell my son that his father passed away when he was born. I will keep my history from my son until I die,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Boyle at david.boyle@phnompenhpost.com
Mom Kunthear at kunthear.mom@phnompenhpost.com

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