A 16-year-old Cambodian girl from Mondulkiri province has been hospitalized in Malaysia with a nearly severed ear after allegedly being beaten and threatened by a woman who employed her as a maid, Cambodian officials said on Thursday.
The girl’s plight came to light after a video of her describing abuse by her employer and showing her injuries was circulated on Facebook last week, after the child had fled her employer’s home.
“[My employer] took a big long stick to beat me repeatedly,” the girl, Sothea*, which is not her real name, says in the video.
“I want to go to hospital, but I don’t have money,” she adds.
The Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia told VOD on Thursday that Sothea was admitted to a hospital there and was receiving treatment for her ear.
“Her employer is an unidentified woman and already ran away,” the embassy said in an email, adding that police were searching for Sothea’s alleged abuser.
According to a police report, Sothea was abused on December 7, and then ran away from her employer’s house, the embassy said.
The girl told the embassy that “she came to Malaysia illegally with an unidentified woman broker in November 2018,” the embassy said, although Sothea says in the Facebook video that she has been in the country for four years.
The video, which shows the girl revealing her various injuries, was posted online at least as early as December 8, and was shared more than 200 times as of Thursday evening.
In the less than five-minute clip, the top of the girl’s left ear is seen nearly severed off and hanging. Her face and lips appear bruised and swollen. She pulls up a pant leg and shirt sleeve to reveal more injuries on her left leg and arm.
Speaking in Khmer to an unidentified woman, whose face is not seen, Sothea says her employer repeatedly hit her with a large stick and threatened to cut her throat.
The woman, who encourages Sothea to share her story, asks the girl if her employer poured hot water on her, causing scars on her arm.
Sothea answers that the burns healed on their own.
The girl says in the video that she left her grandparents in Cambodia and has been in Malaysia for four years, after she was told by an “auntie” to go and stay with the family so she’d have time to study with the employer’s children.
But Sothea says she did not study. Rather, she was told to look after her employer’s children, cook and wash clothes.
A report on the National Police’s website says the girl was “tortured” by her employer who cruelly cut her ear.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong said Sothea was living in Selangor province’s Klang district, west of Kuala Lumpur.
He said he was not aware whether the girl was being paid, since she was living in Malaysia illegally.
After Sothea is treated for her injuries, Malaysian police will question her at a “victim center” and then prepare documents so she can return to Cambodia, Kuong said.
Chiv Phally, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection department, said Sothea’s case was being investigated by Malaysian authorities, after his department got information from the National Police and via Facebook on December 8.
The following day, the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia and Malaysian authorities were able to help Sothea, Phally said.
“We just knew through the social network only,” he said of the injuries.
Phally said when Sothea returns to Cambodia, his department will interview her in an attempt to find those who trafficked her.
“Authorities have their own procedures as well as the measures to find the perpetrator.”
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, Suhakam, said in an email on Thursday that the government body had not received “any case of alleged abuse of the said Cambodian domestic worker.”
A report from the Social Affairs Ministry issued on December 2 says 199 Cambodian trafficking survivors and those vulnerable to trafficking have been repatriated from abroad this year, including 11 people from Malaysia. Three of the 199 were survivors of sex trafficking, 54 of forced labor and 94 of forced or unwilling marriages, the report says.
According to the U.S.’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report for Cambodia, the Social Affairs Ministry reported processing 262 Cambodian trafficking survivors returning from abroad, including 209 women, the previous year.
Cambodian domestic workers have faced serious abuses from employers in Malaysia over the years, to the point that the Cambodian government banned the legal migration of maids to the country in 2011. The following year, a Cambodian maid, Mey Sichan, was found dead, with her Malaysian employers convicted of starving her.
Sichan, 24, was found dead at her employer’s shophouse in Penang, with injuries on her body, according to Amnesty International. Her body weighed only 26 kg.
Sichan’s employer was initially convicted of murder, but upon appeal, Malaysia’s Federal Court lessened the charge to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Cambodia resumed sending migrant domestic workers to Malaysia in 2018, with labor rights advocates at the time voicing concerns for their safety.
Additional reporting by Mech Dara