Sat, 21 Jun 2003

Bill prepared on woman and child trafficking

Sari P. Setiogi, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Mauwanatul was 17 when she decided to leave her village to work as a domestic helper in Singapore in 2000. She harbored a reasonable expectation -- to be able to earn enough money as possible to support her parents back home.

But the reality turned out to be nothing close to her dream. In December 2001, Mauwanatul was found with around 200 wounds all over her body. Her blouse was soaked with her own vomit.

There were cuts, bruises, punctures, stab wounds, scratches, burns and several open wounds on her body. Her weight had dropped to 36 kilograms from the 50 kilograms she had weighed when she first left Indonesia.

Her employer, 47, treated her very badly. He punched, whipped and slashed her, when not burning her with cigarettes. Mauwanatul was also asked to work almost 24 hours a day with no day off.

With only a little food, mostly instant noodles, she was often left hungry. One time she was suspected of stealing baby food. For that she kicked hard on her stomach, which left an open wound.

It was shortly after this that she was found dead by police.

Mauwanatul's story is only one of hundreds, or even thousands, of traumatic experiences suffered by Indonesian migrant workers abroad.

It is estimated that there are between 1.4 million and 2.1 million Indonesian female migrant workers currently working abroad, including the undocumented.

Like Mauwanatul, many of these women and girls left their home villages with high hopes of earning enough money abroad to support their families.

Many of them are lucky, but some experience bad treatment at the hands of their employers. Some are even forced into the sex trade.

A 2001 report by ILO-IPEC said that there were around 1.4 million domestic workers in this country, with up to 23 percent of them being children under 15. Many of them are certainly deprived of the opportunity to continue their studies and enjoy their childhoods.

The government has been working hard to reduce the number of women and children trafficked as cheap labor and sex workers. If earlier Indonesia was categorized as a third tier country as regards women and child trafficking -- meaning the country was considered to have no awareness of the problem and virtually no law enforcement against women and child trafficking -- the country has recently been reclassified as a second tier country.

"Indonesia is now considered as a second tier nation, which means we have the awareness but are not yet implementing the laws," said State Minister for Women's Empowerment Sri Redjeki Sumaryoto on Friday.

Sri said her ministry was preparing a bill on eradicating women and child trafficking, which would soon be submitted to the House of Representatives (DPR) for further discussion.

In the meantime, Minister Sri has assigned Dewi Hughes, host of popular television program Mimpi Kali Yee! to be the spokesperson for the national campaign to eliminate the trafficking of Indonesian women and children.

As part of her new job, Hughes will travel to several high- risk areas for women and child trafficking to hold dialogues and educate local people on the dangers of becoming illegal or undocumented migrant workers.

"I will try to develop people's awareness about what they might face as migrant workers -- not just the tempting promises of big money," said Hughes.

However, for those who have already decided to try their luck as migrant workers, Hughes reminded them to make sure about what job they would have abroad, keep their passports with them and avoid fake IDs.

"Also for parents, I would humbly ask them not to demand that their children go out to work before they reach the age of 18," said Hughes.