Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New program empowers domestic helpers

National News - February 17, 2007
Indra Harsaputra, The Jakarta Post, Surabaya

The Sanggar Alang-Alang and Save the Children social groups have set up a "Guidance Course for Young Female Workers" education program, designed specifically for domestic helpers working in a number of up-scale housing complexes in Surabaya.

The program was established in the hope that the knowledge and skills acquired could help minimize violence against child workers and raise their ambitions for a better life.

As part of the program, Irma, 19, a maid from Nganjuk, intently listened to English lessons conducted by Natasya Cassinath, 33, a volunteer teacher from the Canadian-based Street Kids International. The lesson was delivered in a meeting hall in an upper class residential area in Darmo, Surabaya.

After finishing junior high school, Irma worked as a shop attendant in Mojokerto, earning a monthly salary of Rp 200,000 (about US$23).

Her poverty meant she began working at a young age rather than continue with her studies. Irma's father is a farm hand who earns around Rp 600,000 per month, a meager sum to provide sustenance for four children. Her mother is a housewife.

"I prefer living in the village because it's more peaceful there compared to life in the city. But I've no skills in farming and there is a lack of job opportunities in the village. I set aside some of my salary for my family at home," she told The Jakarta Post.

A man once offered Irma an opportunity to earn a higher salary as a migrant worker in Malaysia, but her parents prevented her from pursuing this option after learning about migrant workers from the village who had been abused overseas.

Irma now works as a babysitter in an up-scale housing complex in Surabaya, earning a monthly salary of Rp 400,000, and is provided with three daily meals.

Like Irma, Susilawati, 18, another housemaid from Ploso, Jombang, East Java, was an elementary school graduate forced to work at a young age due to economic hardships at home. She had no farming skills and her parents also prevented her from becoming a migrant worker.

She does household chores, such as cleaning furniture, and has to be ready to meet her employers' every need all day round. She gets Rp 320,000 per month, plus three daily meals. Despite the lack of a fixed working contract, she receives an Idul Fitri holiday bonus once a year.

"I'm glad about the education program because I can acquire skills and knowledge. I wish to become a rich person so that I can help my family at home. But I prefer to work more so than study so I can earn money," she said.

The education program's director, Didit Hape, said the idea of setting up the course was brought about by the large number of abuse cases against child workers in Surabaya.

On Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, Didit visited a domestic maid who had to deliver a baby without help from a doctor or health worker in a hut in a slum area along the Wonokromo River. The 17-year-old woman was dismissed by her employers after they learned she was pregnant. She was given no money for the delivery. She did not return to her hometown due to the shame of being pregnant out of wedlock, while the man who impregnated her had shunned responsibility.

"In the squalid hut, the woman groaned in pain. I tried to call the doctor, but she died after giving birth to the baby before the doctor arrived," Didit said.

The baby is in Didit's care now. "I named it Mohammad Galang Valentino. The Mohammad came from Prophet Mohammad who was born an orphan, and Valentino indicates the baby was born on Valentine's Day," Didit said.

Yuliana Acut, 11, from Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, was exposed to abuse as a child after becoming a domestic helper at her own uncle's house. Yuliana was rushed to the hospital suffering wounds to her head after her uncle, who is also her employer, had beaten her. She now stays at the Sanggar Alang-Alang shelter in Surabaya.

"Yuliana's is a tragic case because both her parents do not care to know her whereabouts. They have 15 children and live in poverty in Flores. I'm still probing the case which I believe involves child trafficking," Didit said.

Didit said underaged workers were not protected by law. "As a worker, she should be paid according to the regional minimum wage, but the Child Protection Law doesn't allow children below the age of 17 to work," he said.

"We have a number of maids who are still below 17 attending this program. It's very difficult to gather and organize a group of maids to participate because most of the employers are uneager to allow their maids to group together and attend the course due to their workload. They are afraid they would reveal family secrets and wealth outside," Didit said.

Some 90 participants are now enrolled in the program. They should attain written approval from their employers before joining the course. The program, initiated in February 2006, teaches participants English, as well as general knowledge and sewing skills.



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