Re: Women's groups demand action on forced marriages

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Tue, 4 Aug 1998 14:35:10 EDT

Dear Scarlet: There appears to be a need in this discussion to distinguish
between "forced" prostitution and voluntary prostitution; between "forced'
marriage and voluntary marriage. Certainly it makes a difference if the
person involved is, or feels herself to be, enslaved. However, there are many
instances in which the nature of the situation is such that, while the worker
enters the scene on a voluntary basis, the end result is less than a position
of equality and control. One can become a slave without even realizing it has
happened to them. One can accommodate to slavery in what appears to be their
own self-interest if that is the only choice open to them. Many so-called
"voluntary" choices are the result of coercion. Is a coerced choice a
voluntary one? There were black slaves in the US one time who would have told
you that they chose, indeed preferred, their indenture to the freedom that
would have cast them into an insecure, even hostile, world. Something to
think about.... GBDiaspora
From Wed Aug 5 09:18:35 1998
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From: Jyothi Kanics---Global Survival Network <>
Subject: news: Singapore's Foreign Maids Sruggle

Singapore's Foreign Maids Sruggle
By Jasmina Kuzmanovic
August 2, 1998

SINGAPORE (AP) -- In this rich, sleek city-state, tens of thousands of
imported housemaids toil up to 90 hours a week and lead severely restricted
lives, all to grab a tiny piece of the island's prosperity.

Every day at 7:30 a.m., Cristina has porridge and coffee in the kitchen
waiting for her employers, a family of three, to get up. The rest of the
day she takes care of the toddler, cleans and cooks. She goes to bed at

The 29-year-old gets a half-day off on Sundays, when she goes to church and
meets with other maids. But she doesn't complain about her work because it
brings her 350 Singapore dollars (nearly $220) a month, far more than she
could earn in her native Philippines.

``They don't kick me around, and I can eat whenever I'm hungry,'' she says
with a shrug.

Hundreds of thousands of Asian women try to escape financial hardship by
working as maids abroad. Governments encourage the practice, which brings
in foreign currency because maids send most of their earnings to families
back home in the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin of the Philippines, whose country is
perhaps best known for exporting maids, once called the millions of
Filipina women working far from home ``heroes'' for providing for their

Yet, those heroines must put up with daily indignities, ranging from
walking a few steps behind their employers to virtual bans on the use of
swimming pools at fancy apartment complexes.

Once in Singapore, a maid cannot leave easily.

Dozens of agencies serve as intermediaries between prospective maids and
interested employers, often advertising their latest scouting in Indonesia
or the Philippines as ``the best of the crop.''

A maid is responsible for an agent's fee of about 1,000 Singapore dollars
($588), which she pays in monthly installments from her salary. Agents hold
maids' return plane tickets, and in some cases their passports.

Agencies often advertise maids as ``shorthaired,'' ``fair'' (as opposed to
dark-skinned) and ``obedient.''

``Look at her, she's so tiny,'' an agent recently praised a maid to a
prospective employer during a meeting witnessed by a reporter. ``You don't
have to worry that she'll eat a lot.''

Many maids feel they have little choice but accept their fate, considering
poverty and unemployment at home.

``Work is hard, but if you are careful, you can save some money,'' says
Rita, 34, who came to Singapore in 1993, leaving behind a husband and two
children in the Philippines.

When her current two-year contract with a Singaporean family expires, Rita
hopes she can afford to return home for good.

Like the other maids interviewed for this story, Rita asked that her last
name not be revealed for fear of offending her employer.

The maids' lot is in stark contrast to that of the chic Singaporean women
who make up more than 40 percent of the island's work force, in large part
because they can leave their homes and children in the care of foreigners.

A maid must promise not to get pregnant or marry a citizen while working in
Singapore; if they do, the government will deport them. They are regularly
screened for pregnancy as well as for venereal and other diseases.

But a maid's working hours and living conditions are not regulated. As a
result, maids often work double shifts and some have to accept a mat on the
kitchen floor as their bed.

Authorities are trying to wean Singapore, a nation of 3.1 million people,
from relying so much on maid labor.

Yet, the convenience of having an inexpensive, live-in servant is so strong
that the number of maids in Singapore has doubled over the last several
years to about 100,000.

Physical and sexual abuse of maids by their employers also has sharply
increased, legislators say. In April, Parliament passed legislation to
increase penalties for employers who abuse their maids.

In a rare display of public criticism, several members of Parliament urged
Singaporeans to try to see maids as lonely, overworked human beings.

That's hardly the case now, since some Singaporeans view their maids almost
as slaves, said the home affairs minister, Wong Kan Seng. He painted a
nearly Dickensian picture, saying most maids in Singapore are illiterate
and come from rural areas.

They are ``isolated from society nearly all the time, dependent on their
employer for food and housing,'' Wong said. ``This makes them more
vulnerable than other workers.''

Some Singaporeans readily admit they want it that way.

Phyllis Tan, a beauty salon manager, employs two maids from neighboring
Indonesia, one for taking care of the house, the other for gardening and
car washing.

Her credo: ``Never give your maid a day off. Pay them extra, take them out
for a meal, but a day off, never.''

The reason, Tan says, is that on their days off ``maids congregate with
other maids. Then they will get ideas, get arrogant and talk back.''

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