A life is worth more than three (3) years salary. The tragic case of the foreign domestic worker

Until both Malaysia and Indonesia improve the laws protecting domestic workers (maids), more deaths will occur. 

It was reported in The Jakarta Post, that Adelina Lisao‘s family is demanding that her former employers settle the three years salary which they claim, had not been paid to her . The 21-year-old Indonesian domestic worker, died in the Bukit Mertajam Hospital, allegedly after being abused by her employers. She had been rushed to hospital  with severe, infected wounds, burn marks and animal bites, on her limbs.

Three years salary

I understand what Adelina’s aunt is trying to say, and of course, Adelina’s wages should be handed to her family; however,  they should also demand the maximum punishment, stiffer fines and compensation as a result of her death.

They should also demand a concerted effort by the authorities in both Malaysia and Indonesia to crack down on agencies, government departments, institutions (both government and non-government), and individuals, who condone human trafficking and the abuse of domestic workers.

Glorene Das, the director of Tenaganita, a human rights NGO which helps migrant workers, said that there is a lack of legal protection for the maids  because the Employment Act 1995 which is meant to protect the rights of domestic workers, does not recognise maids as workers, because they are defined as servants.

Das told the BBC, “Many employers feel that they can subject their domestic workers to sustained abuse and torture with impunity, which sometimes end tragically, as in the case of Adelina”.

Tenaganita staff who saw Adelina just before she was admitted to hospital said, “Her condition was so severe that she was afraid to tell us what happened to her.”


Adelina’s death has outraged Malaysians. Recently, a couple who killed their maid, through starvation and mistreatment, appealed their sentence, and will now, only serve ten years in prison.

Many women who come to Malaysia to work as domestic workers have suffered appalling physical injuries and mental health issues from being abused by their employers. Many have died. The lax punishment for abusing maids, does not act as a deterrent.

Adelina comes from the village of Ebi in the district of Oenino, which is located in the regency of South Timor Tengah, Indonesia. Her aunt, Petronela Koa said that her niece probably never received her salary despite having worked since 2015. She said, “We demand that Adelina’s salary for three years be paid. Don’t justify withholding her salary because she was unregistered. The amount of money does not matter. But it is still her right [to be paid].”

Victim’s families also need help

The families of maids who have suffered abuse probably do not know who to approach or what to do, when they are told that a relative who left home, to seek work in a foreign country has been abused, or have died.

They know that it is expensive to hire a lawyer or a private investigator to find out how their relative died. 

Are they aware that there are NGOs or organisations, which offer free legal aid, or advice?

Adelina’s employers, two siblings in the late thirties, and their 60 year old mother have been arrested. They deny abuse.

Adelina will be buried on Sunday, 17 February 2018.

How many more deaths will prick our conscience, before we demand that our MPs pass laws for safe working environments? 

Wounds suffered by Joramie Garcia Torres, a Filipina maid who worked in Malaysia

In 2004, Nirmala Bonat, was burnt with a hot iron on her breasts and had boiling water thrown at her. Credit Asian Correspondent

Rebuilding Malaysia

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