Cambodian domestic migrant workers Tieng SaSa (l), 18, and Men Chan Veasna, 30, speak to the Post in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week. Photograph: Sen David/Phnom Penh Post
Chased out of the house by her Malaysian employer, fresh-faced Tieng SaSa, 18, found shelter with an NGO, escaping alleged abuse at the hands of her employer that included binding her hands and beating her feet with a metal club until her bones broke.
Three months later, Tieng SaSa is still in Malaysia.
She is one of eight maids residing at the NGO Tenaganita in Kuala Lumpur, stuck in limbo as they wait for their cases to be processed in Malaysia’s courts.
Although at liberty to return to Cambodia, they are awaiting court-ordered compensation, says Ya Navuth, executive director of the NGO CARAM, a Cambodian partner of Tenaganita.
“If they go back now, they will not get anything, so they have to wait in the shelter,” he says. In the meantime, the maids get training and English lessons to help them find jobs when they return.
With her high ponytail, painted nails and dangly earrings, Tieng SaSa is youthful but unable to walk unsupported, hobbling after surgery on her crippled ankles.
Two years ago, the Kampong Cham native faked her age to be sent abroad by T&P Co Ltd, which has since been closed down for recruiting under-age girls.
She says mistreatment began the moment she arrived in her employer’s household.
“She slapped my face. I could not eat and sleep enough. When I hurt so much, she put chili in my eyes and threw hot water on me,” she says, showing scars of burns and broken bones. Her employer has not been arrested, she says.
She misses her family but is holding out for what she hopes will be a legal victory.
“I can endure for the court to find justice and compensation to go home. I do not want to go home without any money,” she says.
Beside her, Men Chan Veasna, 30, almost breaks down as she recounts her three years of abuse and unpaid labour in Malaysia.
This includes mistreatment at the hands of two employers and a recruitment agency when she sought help.
"When I hurt so much, she put chili in my eyes and threw hot water on me"
Her case in court has dragged on for more than six months, because her second employer appealed against a court order to pay wages totalling about 8,000 ringgit (US$2,600).
Men Chan Veasna enlisted the help of CARAM and filed a suit against her employer after he allegedly faked her signature on slips acknowledging payment of wages.
“I want to prove my honesty, that I did not sign to receive the money . . . please give the salary to me,” she says.
Chhay Kosal, an official at the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia, says many such cases of complaints against employers are pending in the courts.
According to CARAM’s Ya Navuth, such cases can take as long as a year to settle.
To Men Chan Veasna, the past six months have been a happier time, as the memories of her ordeal recede into the distant past.
“But I do not want to stay here forever,” she says.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sen David at [email protected]
Reporting from Kuala Lampur