Indonesia will continue to send domestic helpers overseas after saying it would stop sending maids abroad from this year on the grounds of protecting the women.
The about-turn was welcomed by campaigners who said it would help prevent women falling prey to human trafficking, Reuters reports.
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.
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.
Since 2015, Indonesia 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 six million Indonesians working abroad.
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