A Legacy of Neglect
The recent execution of Indonesian maid Royati binti Sapudi in Saudi Arabia has sparked anger and deep sorrow in her home country. The public has blamed the government of not doing enough to protect migrant workers.
Officials condemned Royati’s beheading, accusing Saudi Arabia of breaking diplomatic protocol by not informing Indonesia of the execution.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently declared a temporary moratorium, starting Aug. 1, on sending migrant workers to Saudi Arabia. It will be removed once there is an agreement in place with Saudi Arabia that offers greater protection of Indonesian workers. It’s a step in the right direction, it’s not enough.
What Indonesia needs to do instead is to ban permanently the sending of unskilled workers abroad, especially to Saudi Arabia.
Why? Most of the Indonesian household maids don’t speak Arabic nor do they understand the country’s customs and traditions. So sending these unskilled household maids to a country that doesn’t recognize women’s rights, and where capital punishment is still very much in use is very risky and dangerous.
This rationale is shared by Indonesia’s leading public figures and most Islamic scholars familiar with Saudi Arabia, such as Prof. Dr. Din Syamsuddin and Prof. Azyumardi Azra.
According to former intelligence chief AM Hendropriyono, the majority of Indonesian maids that have worked in Saudi Arabia return home telling horror stories of excessive and inhumane treatment, including sexual abuse.
Yudhoyono has previously issued two decrees dealing with this topic- one in 2006 addressed the protection of migrant workers and the other, in 2010 led to the formation of the formation of BNP2TKI, a national governmental body overseeing the protection of migrant workers.
And he just announced the establishment of another task force designed to help defend the remaining Indonesian maids on the death row. But, in order to be more effective than the previous task forces, this one must include qualified advocates, lawyers and government officials. It should only be given the task of defending those who have legal cases abroad, and not working out ways to send maids to Saudi Arabia again.
Seventeen Indonesians are currently on trial in Saudi Arabia. Three others have been released, six have been granted clemency after receiving death sentences and two have been executed.
The sending of household maids to Saudi Arabia marks decades-long legacy of neglect. Previous Indonesian presidents have never learned the lesson and unaware of the dire consequences. Earning foreign exchange from the migrant workers and providing jobs for millions was their only concern. The Constitution guarantees the protection and care of Indonesian nationals wherever they are, whatever condition they are in. But the Constitution never approved sending unskilled workers overseas, especially to a country where women’s rights are not respected.
There must be a very clear distinction between skilled migrant workers and household maids. But unfortunately they all come under Tenaga Kerja Indonesia or known as migrant workers.
Traditionally, Indonesia has felt a sense of inferiority whenever it has had to discuss an issue or dispute with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom an imposing figure across the negotiating table; it is the home of Mecca, the holy destination for Haj pilgrims, it is a country that spreads in influence all over the Islamic world and also uses petrodollars to provide all kinds of assistance to Indonesia.
But times have changed. Indonesia is now the world’s third-largest democracy and has the largest Islamic population in the world. Indonesian democracy is now a model for the Arab world. In this respect, Indonesia must rise to defend that recognition as the largest Islamic democracy in the world.
Learning from past experience, Indonesia should no longer send household maids to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Singapore. But Indonesia should be encouraged to send skilled migrant workers to South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan where they are appreciated and treated more humanely.
The ball is in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s court. It is not too late to implement a permanent ban. And by doing so, he will leave a legacy which will be remembered by generations to come.