In an encouraging sign for domestic workers who have suffered abuse abroad, a Malaysian couple has been sentenced to 24 years in prison each for actions that lead to the death by starvation of their Cambodian maid last year.
The high court in the northern Malaysian state of Penang passed down the sentence yesterday on hardware store owners Soh Chew Tong, 44, and wife Chin Chui Ling, 42. Malaysian authorities arrested the pair on April 1, 2012, charging them with culpable homicide in the death of 23-year-old Mey Sichan, their maid of eight months.
The prison sentence starts from the day they were arrested last year.
Sichan, from Kampong Thom province, was discovered on March 31 weighing a mere 57 pounds. Police believe she went without food for a long period of time, resulting in the acute gastritis and ulcers that likely killed her.
Her body was cremated in Malaysia, because her family did not have enough money to bring her home.
There have been no shortage of horror stories from Cambodian maids toiling under abusive employers in Malaysia, a major factor behind the decision to stop sending maids to the country.
In February of last year, a Cambodian maid returned home with a story of being kidnapped, raped and then sent to prison, where she gave birth to the child. She returned with the baby.
Huy Pich Sovann, program officer at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, said he appreciated the sentencing of the Malaysian couple but pointed out that many outstanding cases of mistreatment remain unresolved.
“It is justice for Mey Sichan, a year after her death in Malaysia from starvation from her employer, but there are many cases of Cambodian maids who have not gotten justice,” he said. “Other maids work without salary, are mistreated, beaten and raped. Up until today, they have not gotten any justice or found any solution.”
Chhay Kosal, second secretary at the Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, could not be reached for comment.
Additional reporting by AFP