Malaysian couple jailed for starving maid to death
KUALA LUMPUR, May 16, 2013 (AFP) - A court on Thursday sentenced a Malaysian couple to 24 years in jail for starving their Cambodian maid to death, one of many such abuse cases straining ties between the country and its neighbours.
Hardware store owners Soh Chew Tong, 44, and his wife Chin Chui Ling, 42, were found guilty of culpable homicide at a high court in the northern state of Penang, said prosecutor Tan Guat Cheng.
The prison term will run from the day of their arrest in April last year, shortly after their maid Mey Sichan was found dead by paramedics.
She weighed just 26 kilograms (57 pounds) and had bruises on her body.
Police said she died from acute gastritis and ulcers likely caused by lack of food over a long period. The 23-year-old had been working for the family for eight months.
High court judge Zamani Rahim was quoted by local media as saying the case had damaged Malaysia's image, scaring away other domestic workers. The evidence showed the maid was denied food over a long period, he said.
"In totality, the deceased did not receive enough food and had sustained injuries that were inflicted over time," Zamani said.
The couple initially were charged with murder, which carries the death penalty in Malaysia. But the charge was reduced to culpable homicide punishable by a maximum 30 years in jail, Tan said.
The couple's lawyer could not immediately be reached.
Cases of abuse of domestic workers, who come from poorer regional countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia, have frequently surfaced in Malaysia. It is heavily dependent on foreigners as domestic helpers as locals shun the work.
"It should be a lesson for all other employers. One of the violations that are increasing is deprivation of food... as a form of punishment. This is worrying," said Glorene Das, an official with migrant labour rights organisation Tenaganita.
In response to a series of abuse cases, Cambodia stopped sending its citizens as domestic workers to Malaysia in late 2011, while Indonesia for years suspended sending maids.
Malaysia has promised to improve their welfare and protection, including giving them one day off a week. But activists say the hundreds of thousands of women remain vulnerable to sexual abuse, overwork and exploitation.
They say many maids, who live with the families where they work, still do not get a day off and many are not allowed to leave the home.
Tan, the prosecutor in the case of the Cambodian maid, told AFP she was not confined to her employers' home. There was no explanation in court as to why she did not leave to buy food or seek help.
Malaysian labour laws do not cover domestic workers. Activists say that while some 200,000 women work in Malaysia legally, many more have been smuggled into the country. - Rappler.com