21 October 2016
Indonesian domestic helpers stage a protest outside an employment agency in Hong Kong in this file picture taken on March 17, 2015. Photo: AFP
Indonesian domestic helpers stage a protest outside an employment agency in Hong Kong in this file picture taken on March 17, 2015. Photo: AFP

Many migrant domestic helpers victims of modern slavery: survey

Forced labor among migrant domestic workers is widespread, with many women exploited even before they have left their home country and later abused by their employers abroad, a survey of modern slavery in the sector has found.

More than 70 percent of 4,100 women surveyed, citizens of the Philippines and Indonesia, said recruiters in their home country had confined them, confiscated their documents, or abused them verbally, physically or sexually, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports, citing the survey conducted by Farsight, an international social enterprise, and released on Thursday.

Many received false information about their future work, wages and living and working conditions, and were told they had built up debts of between US$1,600 and US$1,800 each in the process of getting a job.

More than 60 percent of them said their employers then restricted their movements and communications, or abused them.

“We never expected the problem to be as widespread as it is,” Farsight chief executive Jacob Townsend said.

“Some [recruitment agents] … hold women against their will, take their passports, put them in debt and mislead them about the circumstances they will be working in,” he added.

The women surveyed were prospective, current or returned domestic workers, interviewed in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

There are between two million and five million migrant domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines at any given time, with many returning and re-migrating on a continuous basis, the researchers said.

They said their findings disproved the stereotype of women choosing to work overseas to save money and return home with a cushion of wealth, an idea held by many migrants and foreigners.

“This is not temporary migration to save for one’s family – it is recurring participation in an overseas labor market to maintain a subsistence income,” the study said.

In parts of the Philippines and Indonesia, wives and daughters are now expected to migrate for work, and feel they have no alternative, it said.

“Not all people become migrant workers because of an economic problem. Many of my friends, including me, are forced to leave because of social pressures,” one 24-year-old woman from Indonesia’s West Java region told the researchers.

“A family whose daughter does not work abroad is considered a weird family,” she said.

Nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labor globally, 11.7 million of them in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the International Labor Organization.

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