Two suspects arrested recently to facilitate police investigation into the death of an Indonesian maid, Adelina Lisao, 21, in Bukit Mertajam, Penang. Pix by RAMDZAN MASIAM/ NSTP

MALAYSIA is being given a bad name by some monster employers of domestic workers. Adelina Lisao, from Nusa Tenggara Timur, Indonesia, who died on Sunday as a result of injuries sustained while in employment in Bukit Mertajam, is sadly the latest case that has sent shockwaves among Malaysians. There have been others before who have suffered in silence like Adelina. They only come forward when they reach a breaking point, or, like Adelina, when they are taken to hospital for treatment. Although they form a very small percentage, there are others like Adelina who are abused and neglected. Injuries on the head and face as well as wounds on Adelina’s limbs were evidence of such abuse and neglect. But, what is worse is the internal pain, the pain of one who could not cry out for help. Adelina must have cried a lot in silence. Perhaps, the dog that kept her company heard her cries. But, her heart must have shed tears, too; sadly, she appeared not to have told anyone.

How could people be so cruel to one of their kind? Are all Malaysian employers of domestic workers this heartless? We do not think so. There will be domestic workers who sing the praises of some Malaysian employers. But, that is not the point. The scary thing is that there are, amidst us, sadistic employers. And such menacing monsters must be dealt with swiftly and severely. For some strange reason, these monsters seem not to have learnt from the Nirmala Bonat case. In 2004, the 19-year-old was burnt with an electric iron, beaten in the head with kitchen utensils and scalded with boiling water by her employer, a 36-year-old housewife, who is serving a 12-year jail term for causing grievous harm. The housewife was also ordered to pay RM349,496 in damages for Nirmala’s civil claim against her. More recently, in May 2013, a Malaysian couple were sentenced to 24 years in jail for starving their Cambodian domestic worker to death.

Some have complained that the problem is with the terminology of “domestic help” and “maids”, which creates a master-servant relationship. We may dismiss this call as toying with semantics or even making a distinction without a difference. But, they may have a point. Labels do make a difference. Social scientists call this “labelling theory” psychology. Simply put, this theory says people tend to adopt behaviourial patterns that reflect how others label them. And, in the case of the employers of Adelina, Nirmala and the Cambodian lady, the labelling leads to a type of thinking that breeds monsters. Calling people servants, it must be admitted, licences the roving hands of menacing employers to bully, abuse, torture and even murder. It is time we called them domestic workers and spelt out their rights in the Employment Act 1955. It is also time that we made it mandatory for employers of domestic workers to attend courses that teach them how to treat a fellow human being with the dignity they deserve. One abuse is one too many.

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