In U-turn, Indonesia says will continue to send maids abroad

Beh Lih Yi
Domestic helpers in Singapore. AFP file photo

JAKARTA, March 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesia
said Monday it would continue to send domestic helpers overseas,
in an about-turn welcomed by campaigners who said it would help
prevent women falling prey to human trafficking.

Thousands of Indonesian women travel to places like Hong
Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia every year to become maids,
attracted by promises of higher salaries despite reports of
widespread abuses and near slave-like living conditions.

Jakarta had previously said it would stop sending maids
overseas from this year, on the grounds of protecting the women,
sparking concerns it would push more poor Indonesians desperate
for jobs into illegal migration.

However a senior official at the Manpower Ministry told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation that Jakarta would not go ahead with
the ban but it has been in talks with countries to ensure
Indonesian maids are treated in a "humane" way.

"We are not stopping Indonesians going overseas to become
domestic workers but we want better protection for them," said
Soes Hindharno, director for the protection and placement of
Indonesian migrant workers abroad.

He said this includes preventing what he called
"multi-tasking work" by Indonesian maids to reduce exploitation.
"If they are housekeepers, they are housekeepers - they
clean, cook and iron. If they are babysitters, they are
babysitters - you can't ask a babysitter to bathe your dog."

Currently, Indonesian women who work as maids abroad are
required to stay at the home of their employer, handling tasks
from cleaning to looking after children or the elderly - a rule
activists say making them vulnerable to abuse.

Migrant activists welcomed the decision, but said more
needed to be done to combat human trafficking including ensuring
women aware of their rights when leaving for work overseas.

"It is a basic right to go abroad to work. If the government
stops this, we will only see more human trafficking cases," said
Mulyadi, a co-founder of rights group Migrant Care, who like
many Indonesian goes by one name.

Indonesia since 2015 has banned women from going to 21
Middle Eastern countries following a series of abuse cases but
high-demand for maids has encouraged traffickers to find ways
around the curbs.

Hindharno said the Middle East ban would stay in place.
Domestic helpers make up more than a third of the six
million Indonesian working abroad.

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Ros Russell;
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