Modern Slavery: Domestic Helpers of Indonesia

By N Mark Castro


Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 22, returned home to Indonesia and was admitted to hospital in a critical condition in Sragen, on the main Indonesian islands of Java. According to reports, she had suffered months of abuse in Hong Kong as more details of her alleged mistreatment emerged.

Dita Indah Sari, spokeswoman for the Indonesian minister of manpower and transmigration, visited her in hospital with other officials, and said that the maid had suffered “psychological trauma” due to the abuse, which left her with “pus-filled wounds” on her hands and legs, and unable to walk.

Sulistyaningsih “told us that she was hit in the head, and two of her front teeth were broken after she was punched in the head. She also had a black eye,” the spokeswoman said.

She was not given a day off and was only allowed to call her family once for four minutes, and her employer still owes her five million rupiah ($420), Sari added.

Reports in Hong Kong have said Sulistyaningsih could have been abused for up to eight months during her employment with a local family after arriving in May last year.

The Philippines is one of the largest exporters of domestic helpers. Despite its progress and supposedly high ratings in investment, people still seek better pay for their families. As early as the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even 2000s, abuse has been made against these dedicated workers. They even posted on lifts NO DOGS, NO FILIPINOS, associating the word “Filipino” for “maids”, until the Philippine government stepped in and ensured that every domestic helper that left the country is secured with a proper contract, get insurance benefits, spoke English (or their language of destination), and duly registered in the embassy of their destination. Despite such government efforts, some isolated cases of abuse continued to happen with global awareness. Some have even been pushed to commit murder (SG, Saudi, among others), but as a whole they knew that the government was with them by providing legal representation and other benefits they could receive from their insurance. Right now the collective remittance of the Philippines as of 2012 was US$ 23 BILLION or 8.5% of the country’s economic output, majority of which came from the domestic helpers. Even though we cannot stop people from seeking their own opportunities elsewhere, as it is their right, the least that the government can do is to protect them as it is their duty.


Currently, Indonesia receives US$ 7.2 BILLION from its remittances. More than half of Indonesia’s 6.5 million migrant workers currently work in only two countries — Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, both legally and illegally. Yet the numbers keep growing. In HK, there are at least over 148,000 Indonesians working, majority of which are domestic helpers.

Isn’t it about time that the government shapes up its Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration?


About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on January 16, 2014, in General, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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Charlotte Setijadi

Anthropologist & Contemporary Historian of Chinese Diaspora in Southeast Asia


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