Every month, tens of thousands of Indonesian women are sent to Asia and Saudi-Arabia to work as domestic helpers.
Young girls dream of better lives and unknowingly become pawns in the modern machine of human trafficking.
Let me tell you the story of a journey followed by so many undereducated Indonesian girls. A journey that starts in a small village in Indonesia, will lead you through training camps in the city, immerse you in a life of servitude, dept bondage, and low pay, far from any known reference, and will end back home, in joy or in tears.
After secondary school, these women are often mislead by sponsors who travel across the country selling dreams of adventures overseas, and fantastic monetary prospects. The girls often sign up hoping to find a way to help their families and replicate the success stories they keep hearing about. Local recruiters in Indonesia (called sponsors) have told me that they pay the families to get their permission to bring the girls to Training Camps. This is disguised as an encouragement bonus they call “pocket money”.
The girls are sent to carry out their mandatory training in one of the accredited Training Camps, where they are supposed to learn how to use household appliances, cook, do the laundry, and learn languages. Sadly, most courses are far from adequate leaving them unprepared for the high expectations of their future employers.
Thanks to Ringo Wong, in charge of an agency in Hong Kong, with whom I travelled, I was able to witness the sad machinery of training centres through my lens. What hurts the most is to understand that these centres are built solely to squeeze as much profit as possible out of each girl, with the participation of the Indonesian government.
They leave their homeland with high hopes and aspirations, but more often than not the reality at their destination turns their dreams into nightmares…
Life doesn’t get much better once they are sent off. In some cases, there have been reports and testimonies depicting horrible work environments, exploitation, and rough physical and physiological treatments.
Through my interviews, I keep getting the feeling that these girls are not prepared for this life. They don’t have the tools to know how to react if their employer gets too close, or intrusive. Most girls I have talked to barely know when their rights are violated.
Ironically, the younger inexperienced girls are called “New Borns” by agencies. New Borns get the worst jobs in the worst destinations since they are easier to influence.
Most of these young helpers come from poor villages and belong to the poorest social class in Indonesia. Since they aren’t educated enough to know their rights as workers, it’s easy for sponsors and agencies to take advantage of them.
The standard contract lasts two years in Hong Kong, giving them the possibility to come home to make babies before taking on the next job. They have no choice but to leave their children and husbands behind when they leave.
They may come back to their communities as heroes, but at what price?
A young future domestic helper poses for a video shot by a Hon Kong recruiter seeking new maids to fill the high demands of local employers. The recruiters make them place their hands in this fashion to prove they still have their ten fingers. There is an estimate of 8 million Indonesian migrant workers abroad (including undocumented workers) 75% of them are women working as domestic helpers. Every month, thousands of women travel to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia. Their primary goal is money. The hope to make a better living and help their families. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Students from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Center rotate by small groups and learn how to perform household tasks such as washing floors and windows. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Students from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Center learn how to use a vacume cleaner. Some of them have nerver used any before starting the training. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Evelyn Lam Ling, a recruiter from Hong Kong, is giving a last speech to all the 60 girls from the training center selected to work in Hong Kong. She reminds them about the basic expectations their employer will have. They must remain tidy, efficient, and forget about their pride. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Winnie Leung , a Chinese recruiter interviews potential maids for Hong Kong in a training center. Sometimes, she loses patience during the interviews. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
In this training center, a Chinese recruiter shoots the video of a young maid for the potential employers in front of a fake background of a kitchen. The future helper has the opportunity to show her language skills in English and Chinese and talk about her overall abilities. This potential maids says goodbye to the camera when she is finished. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Two students practice how to use a wheelchair. Many will have to take care of elderlies on a daily basis. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Window of Kasa Maid agency in the area of Tsuen Wan. In Hong Kong there are over 1000 employment agencies dedicated to Filipino and Indonesian maids . This building alone contains 31 agencies. Hong Kong – November 26 2012.
Some students from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Center wait to be interviewed by some Chines recruiters that came to visit the training center to recruit new maids for their Agencies in Hong Kong. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Winnie Leung , a Chinese recruiter interviews potential maids for Hong Kong. Each maid has a number that is associated to her profile. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Ringo Wong sits in the train that links Surabaya to Madiun (East Java, Indonesia). He plans to visit a training camp in Madiun in order to recruit new maids for his agency. Once every two months he goes to Indonesia for such visits. East-Java, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Ringo Wong, a Chinese recuiter takes a snapshot of a future helper from a training center while sweeping the floor. These ‘posed pictures’ will be used to help future employers pick their maid from a catalogue. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Students learn to use washing machines and dryers. Many of them have never used such appliances before their training. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Reception desk of the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Camp. Dozens of new girls hoping to be maids show up at that desk every week. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Future maids are introduced to agency recruiters from Hong Kong. If they are chosen and get a job, they will have to pay the agency a fixed fee of HKD 13,500 (USD 1742). Since they do not have that money upfront, they all sign a loan agreement with a financial institution in Indonesia. The money is then shared by the Training Camp, the Indonesian government, and the agency in Hong Kong. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
December 4, 2012, in Madiun, Indonesia: three students from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Camp practice baby care in the nursery. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Students from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Camp learn to use obsolete household appliances. They usually do not meet the Hong Kong standards. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Students from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Center learn English for Hong Kong and Singapore and Mandarin for Taiwan. They have about two months to do so. Most of the foreign langage teachers are former maids. Their skills are far from meeting the destination countries’ standards. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
The Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Camp can host 300 girls. There are hundreds of training camps for domestic helpers throughout the country. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
Sakilah, 19. After only 2 weeks and a half in the training center she was sent to work in Jordan as a domestic helper. Her sponsor promised her twice what she made in reality. She wants to go to Singapore now. Next week she will start a new training in a center in Jakarta. She wants to help her parents financially. Her dad feels proud of his daughter working abroad. Indramayu, Indonesia – February 5 2013.
Bunda Pitin and Milyanto, 42 years old. They both work as sponsors. They have managed to recruit 400 migrants workers for the past for years. Indramayu, Indonesia – February 5 2013.
Bunda Pitrin 42 years old, used to be the sponsor of Sodah. Sodah doed not knwo her real age anymore. Her age was falsified on her passport when she started working as a domestic helper. According to her documents she should be 36. She knows she is not. Indramayu, Indonesia – February 5 2013.
Sodah is posing with her sponsor and her son. Her husband stands in the foreground. After working 4 years abroad, Sodah has managed to build her own house. For all the neighbors, the house is the symbol of success whatever she had to go through for this. Indramayu, Indonesia – February 5 2013.
Evelyn Lam Ling, a recruiter from Hong Kong, interviews the girls in small groups. Her goal is to evaluate their language skills in English as well as in Cantonese. Most of these girls have past experience in Malaysia or Singapore. Nevertheless, they have again to go through the 600-hour training since the only way to work abroad is via an agency. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
One of the most important aspects of the interview is to check the tidiness of the future help. Evelyn Lam Ling checks the hands of a student. Madiun, Indonesia – December 4 2012.
A young future domestic helper poses for a video shot by a Hon Kong recruiter seeking new maids to fill the high demands of local employers. The recruiters make them place their hands in this fashion to prove they still have their ten fingers. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Bethune House, a shelter, in the area of Jordan. Iva 22, comes from East Java in Indonesia. She spent 3 months and a half in a training center in East Java with 100 other girls. She was not allowed to use her phone except on Sundays. “We could not talk to outsiders. Teachers were always angry”. When she arrived in Hong Kong, Eva worked for a Chinese familly with three kids. She worked for three months without receiving any pay. Her Agency tried to convince her not to say anything in order to keep a good relashionship with the employers. She ran away and found refuge at Bethune House. She has been waiting for her case to go to trial for 2 months. Hong Kong – December 19 2012.
At the end of the Hong-Kong recruiters’ visit, the selected maids from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Camp are made to sign a work contract in advance even though the future employer is not yet known. They basically sign a blank contract not knowing the type of work they will do, their salary, and the type of accomadation they will get. This will allow the agency to process the recruitment quickly.Competition is high for agencies in Hong Kong and employers expect to get their domestic helper as quickly as possible. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Photo of a passport from a young Indonesian. Before their departure,the maids each get their first passport. It is common in the corrupted Indonesian administration that the age of the girl is modified in order to meet with the minium required age of 23 years old in Hong Kong. This passport is generally illegally held by the agency untill the girl has finished paying her HKD 13,500 fee. Hong Kong – November 13 2012.
A young Indonesian student from the Putra Indo Sejahtera Training Camp is dreaming of a better future in Hong-Kong, Singapore, or Taiwan. Madiun, Indonesia – December 5 2012.
Hong Kong: 7 millions inhabitants, 300 000 domestic helpers, 150 000 Indonesian maids. The labor cost of migrants is considerably cheaper than hiring locals. On September 2012, the minimum wage for a foreign domestic helper is raised to HKD 3,920. (USD 505). Hong Kong – December 12 2012.
Rollick, Indonesian staff of Kasa Maid agency, has just picked-up new helpers from Madiun (Indonesia) at the Hong Kong International Airport. Hong Kong – December 12 2012.
Wakit is 25 years old. She just arrived from Madiun in Indonesia this morning after more than 12 hours of travel. This is her first day in Hong Kong. She does not yet know for whom she is going to work. She says “I don’t know them, but they know me, they chose me out of a video and photos”. She speaks english because she has already worked for two years in Singapore but can hardly speak cantonese. She hopes her employer will talk to her in english. Hong Kong – December 12 2012.
The Indonesian girls, upon arrival, are taken to the boarding house of the agency Kasa Maid. This is one of the requirement made by the Indonesian consulate: an agency must have a suitable boarding house for the first nights of the maids, or in case problems arise with the employer. There are no beds, the girls will have to sleep on the floor like in most of the Indonesian rural areas where the girls come from. Hong Kong – December 12 2012.
The Indonesian consulate organizes a welcoming package for the newly arrived maids. They are reminded what is expected from them as domestic helpers, with an emphasis on their attitude, as well as their rights. They are entitled to a minimum wage as well as one day off per week. About 1000 indonesian girls arrive every month in Hong Kong. Many agencies do not send the girls to the consulate at their arrival as the priority is to hand the domestic helper to the employer as quickly as possible. Hong Kong – December 13 2012.
Wikit and Winarti arrived two days ago from Madiun in Indonesia. They must apply at the Immigration Center in Hong-Kong to receive a local ID. Domestic migrant workers have been placed under specific legal rules and policies that are set by the Immigration and Labor Departments regarding conditions of stay, rights of residence, and minimum rate of pay. They must go back home every two years, they cannot drive a car in Hong Kong (since 2003 ), and are not allowed to live outside their employer’s house. Hong Kong – December 13 2012.
Wakit is meeting her employer for the first time at Kasa Maid Agency. She finds out here that she will be in fact taken to China Mainland to work for the daughter of this Chinese woman. She will have nothing to do except for some general cleaning. No kids or elderlies to take care of. No cooking. No friends. Hong Kong – December 13 2012.
Bethune House, a shelter, in the area of Jordan. Fatika 22, arrived in Hong Kong a week ago. Two days into her contract she was physically abused by her employer and ran away. Thanks to the help of another Indonesian girl, she went to the police who called an ambulance and did a medical report to be kept as piece of evidence. Hong Kong – December 23 2012.
Fatika, 22 years-old, fills out complaints in the labor department of Hong Kong after being physically abused by her employer, two days into her contract. Regardless of their destination (Asia or Saudi Arabia), Maids are exposed to potential violations of their human rights. Hong Kong – November 29 2012.
Enny has been working for two years with this elderly couple. She speaks perfect Cantonese since she previously worked for five years in Hong Kong. She is taking her employers to their favorite Dim Sum restaurant, a daily ritual. Hong Kong – December 22 2012.
Enny helps her female employer to dress. A daily routine. Hong Kong – December 22 2012.
Enny, 33, shows me a picture of her 14 year old daughter she sees once every two years since she started working 7 years ago. Her husband died many years ago, and her daughter lives with her parents in Indonesia. Hong Kong – December 22 2012.
Every day at 12, Enny gives her elderly female employer a bath. Hong Kong – December 22 2012.
Enny gets her employers ready to go out. A slow routine she carries out every day. Hong Kong – December 22 2012.
A “family portrait”. Working with elderlies can be trying. Enny once told me that she had trouble coping with the terribly slow routine she had to go through daily. Hong Kong – December 22 2012.
Several times a year, hundreds of Indonesian domestic helpers exercise their right to demonstrate in Hong Kong. The main topics they are fighting against are: Denial of Rights on Direct Hiring by the Indonesian Government, the Prohibition to Change Agencies before the end of a 2 year contract, Dept Bondage, and Poor Quality of Services by the Indonesian Consulate in Hong Kong. Hong Kong – December 16 2012.