From village to victim, Myanmar women fear foreign maid work ban puts them at risk

FALAM, CHIN STATE, Myanmar: Van Biak had only been away from her family in Leilet in north west Myanmar for two weeks, but her mother was in tears as they embraced on the veranda.myanmar

Biak and her older sister Van Hnem left to find work as maids in Singapore with few job opportunities in their remote village in Chin State, the poorest region of Myanmar where 73 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Biak and Hnem were aware of the risks. Another maid from Leilet has been working in Saudi Arabia for six years without pay or hope of return – and this was not an isolated case.

A number of high profile cases of worker abuse prompted the government in September 2014 to put a temporary ban on women going abroad to find work as maids.

But with few economic opportunities at home, the number of women leaving to get jobs abroad as domestic workers has not abated and more do so illegally, prompting calls for the newly appointed government of Aung San Suu Kyi to lift the ban.

“I’m ready to work hard and face difficulties abroad in order to help my family,” said Biak, who, at age 15, was too young to get a passport and so returned home.

Hnem, who is 18, made it to Singapore with six other girls from Leilet, lured by the chance to make up to US$370 (S$500) a month compared to Myanmar’s minimum wage of about US$67.

“I am so scared they will be used as slave labour,” said her mother, a fear echoed by all parents whose daughters are now working abroad illegally.