PhotographerGratiane de Moustier
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

There is an estimate of 8 million Indonesian migrant workers abroad (including undocumented workers) 75% of them are women working as domestic helpers. Every month, 25 000 Indonesian women travel to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia. Their primary goal is money. The hope to make a better living and help their families. Beforehand, they are forced to go through a training in one of the 500 centres in the country. That’s how their are recruited by agencies from the destination countries and then “sold” to their future employers.


The massive migration of Indonesian women started in the mid 90’s. It was part of a large program established by the Indonesian government to send unskilled workers overseas. Nowadays, the migration of migrants constitutes the second resource for the Indonesian government after oil and gaz. There are an estimated 8 million Indonesian migrant workers abroad. Two thirds of them are women working as domestic helpers mainly in Asia Pacific and in the Middle East. According to the Indonesian Labour Department, Every month about 25,000 Indonesian women leave their family behind to work abroad. By working abroad as domestic helpers these women can make up to 4 times as much as they would in an Indonesian factory (100 euros per month versus 400 euros per month). This is a tempting opportunity, but what price will they have to pay? The Indonesian Government decided to outsource the recruitment and training of the migrant workers making them pawns of the modern machine of human trafficking. Most of these young helpers come from poor villages and belong to the poorest social class in Indonesia. Since they aren’t educated enough to know their rights as workers, it’s easy for sponsors and agencies to take advantage of them and make huge profits off them with total and legal freedom. The girls are sent to carry out their mandatory training in one of the accredited Training Centres, where they are supposed to learn how to use household appliances, cook, do the laundry, and learn languages. Sadly, most courses are far from adequate leaving them unprepared for the standards of the destination countries. Every day young Indonesian women take the risk of ruining their lives because of a lack of local opportunities. They leave their homeland with high hopes and aspirations, but too often the reality at their destination turns their dreams into nightmares. The standard contract lasts two years in the destination countries, giving them the possibility to come home to make babies before taking on the next job. They have no choice but to leave their children and husbands behind when they leave. Once they start working overseas and in particular in Hong Kong, the young domestic helpers have to give up on 60% of their salaries for the first six months in order to reimburse the entire cost of their training. They are therefore trapped in debt bondage. Ironically, the younger inexperienced girls are called "Newborns" by agencies. Newborns get the worst jobs in the worst destinations since they are easier to influence.. According to the Ministry of Labour in Hong Kong, every year, 10% of the maids sue their employers. Through my interviews in a shelter in Hong Kong, I keep getting the feeling that these girls are not prepared for this life. They don’t have the tools to know how to react if their employer gets too close, or intrusive. Most girls I have talked to barely know when their rights have been violated.  Both Indonesia and the receiving countries are accountable for these crimes against domestic helpers. By giving impunity to the culprits and by remaining blind in front of corruption, these governments fail at protecting the victims from exploitation and trafficking.