August 11, 2008
The Lure of Foreign Husbands
By Audrey Vijaindren; Nurris Ishak
AN increasing number of young Malaysian girls are being trafficked out of the country. Some are lured into becoming trophy wives. While some are spirited away, others go voluntarily. Why is this happening? How many girls have fallen victim? AUDREY VIJAINDREN and NURRIS ISHAK look for answers.
Nurul Wahida Hamzah was 17 years old when she was reported missing from her home in Chenderong Balai, Teluk Intan, in 2005 by her family.
It was said that Nurul, who had just completed her SPM examinations, developed a relationship with a 40-year-old Indonesian construction worker, M. Yusup, and followed him to Lombok Timur in eastern Indonesia.
According to a family friend, Nurul had married the man soon after they went to Lombok Timur in 2005 and had changed her name to Putri Sofia. She also had a baby boy who died after 18 months due to breathing difficulties.
Her worried parents searched high and low for her and sought the help of various people. Finally, an international non-governmental organisation called Migrant Care traced Nurul to a Lombok Timur village. She was brought back and reunited with her parents earlier this month.
The same NGO was successful in locating another missing Malaysian, Che Siti Nor Azreen Che Ishak, 13.
Migrant Care, with the help of Malaysian-based NGO, Kijang Care, recently located another girl, Normalisa Abd Ghani, of Bahau, Negri Sembilan. Efforts are now being made to bring her back from Indonesia.
Nurul and Azreen were lucky not to have been be exploited. In many other instances, according to NGOs, Malaysian girls have been taken to Indonesia and later sent to the Middle East to work as "Indonesian maids". Some of these girls are physically and sexually abused.
Nurul and Azreen are among hundreds of Malaysian girls who are being trafficked to other countries, especially Indonesia, or who get attracted to Indonesian men working in Malaysia and follow them home.
No one has any figures as to the number of Malaysian girls who have been spirited away or who had been lured by foreign men working in Malaysia to become their wives.
A spokesman for the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta said there were no official statistics.
But Migrant Care Malaysian representative Alex Ong says his organisation was aware of at least 47 Malaysian girls in Lombok, Indonesia.
Only two of the 47 had emigrated to Indonesia after marrying their Indonesian spouses here. The rest, he said, had been spirited away by Indonesian labourers who had been working in Malaysia.
"Most of them are between the ages of 13 and 30," he said.
A five-year study conducted by a group of researchers from universities in France, the United States, Australia, Scandinavia and Spain, in collaboration with three top universities in Indonesia, found that matters of the heart play a key role in women emigrating to Indonesia.
The team of researchers included volunteers from Migrant Care who were doing their masters programmes in fields such as sociology and cultural anthropology.
According to date from the Indonesian Human Resources Ministry, one million of the 4.5 million men on Lombok island are working as labourers in Malaysia. Only about about half of them entered Malaysia legally, according to official data.
The study revealed that Malaysian girls were taken to Indonesia by illegal immigrants. Most of the girls were in their teens and from lower-income families.
It found that the girls were spirited away on boats used to smuggle items such as cigarettes and textiles.
Ong said many of the Indonesians, especially from Lombok, would jump at the chance of bringing back a "trophy" wife.
"It is an age-old head-hunter mentality where if you dare run away with a girl from the next village, you are seen as a hero.
"Some girls follow these men because they are truly in love and want to be with their husbands. But others have been lured by false promises. It is difficult to tell the difference when it comes to matters of the heart."
Once these girls were taken to the villages in Lombok, Ong said, it was difficult to get them out.
In certain parts of Indonesia, especially in Nusa Tenggara, marrying foreigners has become part of the culture.
Upon marriage, regardless of the bride's age, her connections with her family in Malaysia are severed by their husbands and in- laws. Her identity is also changed to hide her origin.
Ong said most of the men were sweet talkers and that in many cases, the men even gave part of their salary to these girls.
"It is very tempting for young women, especially those from broken homes. These men also treat them better than the local men. They are more gentle, patient and generous."
Tenaganita programme officer Florida Sandanasamy said there were two issues involved.
"One is of underage girls being 'trafficked' out of the country by foreign men. These girls are young and vulnerable. And although they are willingly following these men back to their home country, it is still considered trafficking.
"The other issue involves girls of a legal age who leave the country hoping for a better future. Some of these girls are in love and wish to stay with their husbands.
"But because the legal process in Malaysia is rather prohibitive, these girls prefer to leave the country with their spouse.
"Any marriage of children below 18 years is trafficking. These girls are victims of traffickers. If the marriage is done after giving the girls a false identity, then that marriage is not valid. They become even more vulnerable."
She said the implementation of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act was crucial in at least reducing the trade in Malaysian women.
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