Wednesday, 17 September 2008

RI workers, children 'enslaved' in Malaysia, commission says

note: Indonesian loggers and illegal gold miners in south-west Kalimantan (I suspect elsewhere as well) trap young girls into working for them and/or becoming prostitutes.

RI workers, children 'enslaved' in Malaysia, commission says

Erwida Maulia, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta 17th September

"Slavery practices" at palm oil plantations in Sabah, Malaysia, have affected thousands of Indonesian migrant workers and their children, the National Commission for Child Protection has announced.

Commission secretary general Arist Merdeka Sirait said Tuesday a fact-finding team sent to plantations in Sabah discovered tens of thousands of Indonesian migrant workers and their children had been "systematically enslaved".

"They are placed in isolated barracks with no access to transportation, making it impossible for them to leave the plantations. Nor do they have access to clean water, lighting and other facilities," Arist, a team member, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

About 72,000 children of Indonesian migrant workers at the Sabah plantations were forced to work without regulated employment hours, meaning they were made to work all day long, he added.

The children were not provided with birth certificates or any other type of identity documents, effectively denying their right to formal education, among other rights, Arist said.

"It is done deliberately so they'll remain illegal and continue to serve as migrant workers, just like their parents. We call this 'bonded labor' (a means of paying off debt by direct labor rather than by currency or goods), and it is a modern kind of slavery," he added.

Citing figures from the Indonesian consulate general in Sabah's Kota Kinabalu, Arist said there were about 200,000 legal migrants from Indonesia -- as well as 134,000 illegal workers -- employed by at least 103 palm oil plantations in Sabah.

"Bonded labor" was common at all the plantations, he said.
In addition to suffering, illegal workers were paid very little and often extorted by Malaysian security officers who checked their documents, Arist said.

He accused the Malaysian authorities of deliberately allowing such conditions to persist, adding the commission would report its "very serious" findings to the Malaysian and Indonesian governments.
An official at the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta told the Post local authorities have been jointly investigating the case with the Indonesian consulate general in Kota Kinabalu.

An official statement on the issue will be publicly released in the next few days, he said.

The commission sent a fact-finding team to the Sabah plantations after a group of Indonesian teachers working there reported an alleged case of child exploitation as well as several cases of physical and sexual harassment of children of Indonesian migrant employees.

A spokesman for the teachers, Sahrizal, said children between the ages of six and 18 had to work for hours collecting sacks of oil palm seeds scattered on the ground, in return for a minimal amount of pay.

The children were often forced to work by their own parents or by plantation managers, he added.