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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Malaysia maids 'routinely abused'
Filipino maids
Domestic staff in Malaysia are typically paid less than $100 a month
Thousands of foreign domestic workers in Malaysia are suffering sexual abuse and other forms of physical abuse, an international human rights group says.

Human Rights Watch says many of the maids, mostly from neighbouring Indonesia, work 18-hour days, seven days a week, and are often denied pay.

It says it is especially concerned about legislation that excludes domestic workers from legal protection.

Up to 90% of the 240,000 foreign workers in Malaysia are maids.

In a report for the US-based group, researcher Nisha Varia says about 18,000 Indonesian maids fled their Malaysian employers last year.

Complaints included not being allowed to sleep for more than five hours a night and not being allowed to leave their employers' home or contact their families.

"Indonesian domestic workers are treated like second-class humans," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Legal reform

The report calls for laws to be brought in to ensure that maids are allowed holidays, guaranteed pay, that violent and abusive employers are punished, and that employment agencies are properly regulated.

However, Malaysia's home affairs minister said there would be no move to change the law.

Azmi Khalid said that less than 1% of maids suffered abuse.

"Maids are very personal and they are part of the family. The normal law is enough if there is a report of abuse," he told Reuters news agency.

In May, the Malaysian public was shocked by the case of Indonesian maid Nirmala Bonat.

Newspapers published photographs of the 19-year-old scarred face, back and breasts, the alleged product of five months of abuse by her employer.

Malaysia and Indonesia are expected to sign a memorandum on the treatment of maids later this year.

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