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Indonesian maid recovering after alleged beating by Saudi employers

By Moni Basu, CNN
  • Sumiati binti Mustapa Salan was hospitalized in Medina
  • Indonesian consulate official says she was beaten badly
  • She arrived in Saudi Arabia last July to work as a maid
  • Her case is not uncommon, human rights groups say
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Indonesia
  • Medina

(CNN) -- She arrived in Saudi Arabia from a small fishing village in Indonesia, a cheery 23-year-old eager to work as a maid to support her family back home. Four months later, Sumiati binti Mustapa Salan was recovering in a Medina hospital after being severely beaten by her employer, an Indonesian consulate official said.

"We are asking for justice," said Didi Wahyudri, Indonesia's citizen protection consul in Saudi Arabia. He said Indonesian officials have reported the case to Saudi police.

Wahyudri said he visited Sumiati at the King Fahd Hospital in Medina, where she has been hospitalized since November 6. She told Wahyudri she had been tortured since the first day of her employment in a Medina household.

"She was beaten badly," he said. "But she is recovering."

A migrant rights group and Indonesian officials have said Sumiati also suffered from cuts to her face and possibly burns from a hot iron.

He said she asked for a meal of rice and was happy to be eating a familiar food that was denied her by her employers.

CNN was not able to reach Saudi officials for comment Wednesday. Offices were closed because of Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

Her case is one of several involving Asian migrant workers in Middle Eastern nations that have made headlines in recent months. Last summer, doctors removed nails that had been hammered into the body of a Sri Lankan maid, allegedly by her Saudi employers.

Human rights groups have expressed alarm at the poor treatment of these workers, though it has been difficult to document abuses of domestic workers that take place behind closed doors in private homes.

A Human Rights Watch report earlier this year said migrant domestic workers often face isolation and forced confinement that contribute to psychological, physical, and sexual violence, forced labor, and trafficking.

Nisha Varia, a senior researcher for women's rights at Human Rights Watch, said the problem is compounded by the fact that Saudi labor laws do not cover migrant workers and often in such cases, justice has been slow or nonexistent.

"The overall justice system is riddled with problems," Varia said. "It's not good for Saudis. It's much worse for migrant women."

On top of that, once a woman reports a case of abuse, she is then held at a shelter in her nation's embassy until the case is resolved, said Varia, who has visited such shelters in several Middle Eastern nations.

Often, a woman could be held for months, maybe years, without being allowed to work, which deters many women from reporting cases of abuse, Varia said.

Millions of workers from Asian countries travel to the Middle East solely to make money and shed lives in their homeland that are rooted in poverty.

Sumiati was one of them, according to the Jakarta Globe newspaper. It reported that her parents were unable to support her and her four siblings and in July, after she graduated from high school, Sumiati left for Saudi Arabia with the help of a labor recruiting agency.

She traveled with $112 in her pocket, the newspaper said.

A statement from a migrant rights group said Sumiati's abusers ought to be punished. It urged the Indonesian government to take appropriate action on her behalf.

"This is not the first time that an Indonesian migrant worker has become a victim, but apparently, the Indonesian government doesn't think that this issue is so serious and that they need to pay attention and take action to stop more victims," said a statement from Migrant CARE.

The Indonesian government said it plans to send to Sumiati's uncle to Saudi Arabia to be with her for moral support, the state-run Antara News Agency reported, adding that the government will help bring her back home.

CNN's Lucia Isman contributed to this report.