On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Only fair to be humane toward maids

But the fact is that such abuse has occurred, not only in
Malaysia but
also in countries where foreigners from poor countries have to put up with
indignity and even vicious assault.

In Malaysia,
statistics show that there were 66 cases of maid abuse in 2001, 39 in 2002, 40
in 2003, and 13 reported cases from this January until March.

While the figures could be considered relatively low, no
one should tolerate any form of maid abuse.

In some West Asian countries, Filipino maids have been
raped and murdered. In some instances, the assaults involved employers with
powerful connections and they escaped prosecution.

The odds are stacked heavily against these maids who are
forced to leave their homes to work as domestic help. Coming from poor
families, they are alien to the demands of modern living and often find
themselves pressured.

Most of us expect our maids to instantly adapt to our
lifestyle, forgetting that many of them come from remote places where there is
no vacuum cleaner or oven.

We can take a few lessons from Singapore,
where the authorities and people have more experience in dealing with foreign

According to Singapore's
Straits Times, primary school teacher Heng Kwee Huang was jailed 10 months and
fined RM6,000 after she slapped, punched and scalded her Indonesian maid with
hot water in 1999.

A psychiatrist who testified in court said Heng suffered
from severe depression. She underwent fertility treatments, had to grapple with
her demanding job, did not sleep or eat well, had attempted suicide twice and
her marriage was on the rocks.

The judge agreed that Heng faced tremendous pressures but
these were "not good excuses" for abusing her maid.

Adult bullies aside, pampered children were also found to
be abusers in an essay-writing survey of 2,000 children in 40 schools in the
republic. Loneliness at home was highlighted as the main cause for kids abusing
their maids.

With their parents at work, many children seek the
attention of their maids by making unreasonable demands.

Child psychiatrist Dr Brian Yeo Kah Loke was quoted in a
news report as saying that "today's child may be in a more powerful position
and the child often knows this. Some even abuse their power."

The Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre expert said some kids
were "condescending" and "when the maids did not entertain them, the children
deemed them as lazy and bad".

Recently, the biggest story in Singapore
was the case of an opposition MP who had sex with his young Indonesian maid
when his pregnant wife was away. He apologised after the news broke out this
year but the pictures of them in compromising positions are still in

Similarly in Malaysia,
the line between an employer and master is sometimes blurred. Living in a
foreign environment, they are vulnerable to abuses because their choices are

They have plenty to lose if they have to return home
without any earnings. If they develop a reputation for being a lousy maid, they
risk being sent home.

Abusers of maids, to put in bluntly, are sick people.
They need psychiatric help because they feel that their action is righteous and
justified – which explains their continuous rage at those who fail to carry out
their instructions correctly.

Some may even consider such actions to be a class
struggle, where the abusers perceive themselves to be the masters who own the

Although there are laws in Malaysia
to protect maids, the Government should consider imposing non-monetary support
for domestic help, such as rest hours, meals and minimum standard of

Instead of sleeping in the kitchen or the hall, maids
should be given a room and a cupboard, for example. These could be quantifiable
benefits agreed upon by employer and maid.

This is better than the suggestion by Deputy Human
Resources Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Bakar who proposed house-to-house checks
to prevent maid abuse.

We can enhance our laws to prevent abuses but ultimately
it's our attitude as employers that will be of paramount importance. It's a
question of how fellow human beings should treat each other and vice-versa.

Some of us, I am sure, have also heard stories of their
maids taking advantage of them.

But I know of many Malaysians who spoke of friendships
forged with maids and how many of them continue to keep in touch by mail after
their contracts have ended.

In one case, the employer named his newborn child after
his maid because of the genuine joy and love of the husband and wife for their
Indonesian maid.

In yet another case, a husband and wife took their
Filipino maid on holiday every year, travelling business class with them. After
they migrated to New Zealand,
they went to great lengths to get the maid to join them in their new home.

To the couple, she is more than a maid – she is a family