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Seeking justice

JAKARTA (AFP) – Beaten, forced to eat animal faeces and chained to a dog cage – the abuse of an Indonesian maid highlights the government’s failure to protect domestic workers at home even as it moves to help those abroad, critics said.

Siti Khotimah left her Central Java hometown for capital Jakarta last year when she found a maid job on Facebook to help her parents with debt.

After months of torture by her employer, the 24-year-old now walks with a limp and has visible burn scars along her legs.

“My head hurts every time I think about what happened to me,” she said, sobbing.

Khotimah’s case is not unique in Indonesia, the largest democracy without a bill to protect domestic workers, leaving more than four million people – mostly women – vulnerable to abuse.

Her wealthy 70-year-old employer in south Jakarta was jailed for four years for physical abuse last month, while the woman’s husband, daughter and six other maids were all handed three-and-a-half years.

Demonstrators demanding Parliament to pass a law to protect domestic workers, in Jakarta. PHOTO: AFP

Khotimah told AFP she was also sexually abused during her employment, but was unable to initially talk about it. She has since informed police who advised her to file a separate lawsuit for sexual abuse.

“I am very disappointed, the sentence is so light compared to what happened to me. They should have felt what I feel,” she said.

A domestic worker bill has remained in limbo for nearly two decades and activists accuse the government of dragging its feet.

Under the current legal framework, maids are not classified as workers, forcing them to operate in an informal and unregulated economy.

Even if the law does go ahead, it would mainly help those recruited by agents to work overseas, according to advocates.

“The law is very discriminatory,” lawmaker Willy Aditya, who heads the bill’s working committee, told AFP.

Women’s rights activists said the government must do more to support domestic helpers within Indonesia.

“Khotimah’s case is not the first. The government’s response has always been slow,” said Tiasri Wiandani of the National Commission for Eradication of Violence against Women.

“Demanding protection from other countries while we have not fulfilled the responsibilities ourselves is like a slap in our face.”

Despite the risks and horrifying stories of abuse, women from rural areas like Khotimah feel compelled by poverty to keep moving to big cities for work.

“We owed money in our village. There was no other choice,” she said.

She told AFP the abuse began a few weeks after her arrival in April 2022 when another worker accused her of petty theft.

Khotimah was accused of more theft, which she denied, and the abuse continued until December.

She recalled her employers forcing her to drink their dog’s urine and eat its waste.

“I got hit by multiple people, my boss poured boiling water on me. They later chained me,” she said.

During eight months of work, Khotimah said she did not get a salary except for a IDR1.5 million (USD99) payment before she was taken home to Central Java.

“I was afraid the driver would just leave me on the roadside because I no longer looked like a human,” she said.

Khotimah’s mother found her at 3am, whimpering on the floor with her hair chopped short. Blood and pus were flowing from the wounds on her legs. Both her arms were peppered with cigarette burns.

“She was crying soundlessly. I woke my husband up and told him ‘Our child is home, but she is dying’,” Khotimah’s mother Eni Sopiyah told AFP. The family called the police.

The suspects were arrested while Khotimah was transferred to a Jakarta hospital where she spent four months recuperating.

While she is still physically recovering, she pledges to carry on fighting for justice for herself and other maids.

With the help of rights group Jala PRT, she is filing charges against her employer under sexual abuse and human trafficking laws.

“I hope the domestic workers’ protection law will be passed immediately so there will be no other Khotimah,” she said.

“Let me be the last to suffer.”

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