Kuala Lumpur. A Malaysian couple have been charged with causing “grievous hurt” to their Cambodian maid, their lawyer said on Wednesday, in the latest case of alleged abuse of domestic helpers.
A string of such cases has strained ties between Malaysia and some of its Southeast Asian neighbors, leading to Cambodia and Indonesia to temporarily stop sending workers until better protection was granted.
Hairdresser Tan Mong Huwai and his wife Eng Lay Sang, both 36, pleaded not guilty in a district court in the capital Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday to causing “grievous hurt by dangerous weapons” to their maid, lawyer Hue Kok Chung said.
He declined to give further details. The Star daily reported the couple allegedly hit their maid, Cheah Phalla, 28, with an iron, an aluminium rod, a kitchen knife and other household items between last August and this May.
The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison. Tan and Eng, who is pregnant, were released on bail with the next court date set for June 29, Hue said. They have two other children.
Malaysia employs about two million people from mainly poorer regional countries to fill jobs shunned by locals on construction sites, in plantations and elsewhere, in addition to an estimated two million more who work illegally.
Cambodia imposed the freeze on sending domestic workers last October after activists highlighted dozens of cases of sexual abuse, overwork and exploitation among an estimated 50,000 Cambodians in Malaysian households.
Indonesia, the main provider of domestic workers for Malaysia, announced a similar ban in 2009 but lifted it recently after Malaysia pledged better protection, including granting maids one day off a week.