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By Zigor Aldama. Ernawati made great sacrifices for the well-being of her family. She was married at 14 to a man six years her senior and became the breadwinner two years later, when she first travelled to Saudi Arabia, to work as a domestic helper.
She never complained, we are told, and earned enough to pay for one of the best houses on the rural outskirts of Sukabumi, a chaotic city of , people in West Java, Indonesia. Ernawati now spends her days chained up in a small storeroom in the house she worked so hard to build, bound in such a way that she cannot properly stand. Now 23, she has no window or light and the door to her room remains closed for most of the day.
She is forced to relieve herself where she lies, and most of the time she eats nothing other than rice and vegetables. Her crime? According to a report by Human Rights Watch, more than 18, people with mental illnesses are chained or locked up in the country.
This practice even has a name — pasung. It was banned in but authorities admit that it still continues and have drafted a plan to fully abolish it next year, a plan that appears doomed from the start. She was happy and made a good deal of money. A month later, I got a call from the consulate. They told me she was unwell and that she would be sent back. Doctors thought she might have been a victim of abuse at the home she was working in, but still diagnosed her as schizophrenic.
Her mother opens the storeroom and Ernawati greets us with a broad smile. Her room smells. I ask whether something happened in Saudi Arabia. Sexual abuse, slavery-like working conditions and even cases of murder have ensured the ban stays in place. Between January and July last year, 39 Indonesian domestic workers died in the Middle East and Africa, according to Indonesian government statistics, but many still find their way to those regions, assisted by traffickers.