Protect Cambodian girl, don’t place her in detention centre, says Tenaganita

Tenaganita co-director Aegile Fernandez says the girl needs protection, not detention.

PETALING JAYA: Civil society group Tenaganita has raised concern over the detention of a Cambodian girl in Juru, Penang, citing reports of abuse and torture of detainees.

Tenaganita co-director Aegile Fernandez was referring to a magistrates’ court ruling today for the girl to be handed over to the Immigration Department for detention until she is deported.

The girl, named simply as “Mon” in a Tenaganita statement today, will be held at the Juru immigration detention facility, for a deposition to be taken from her before she is deported.

Aegile, an expert in anti-trafficking in persons issues, said there had been several reports, both local and international, about the “abominal conditions at immigration detention centres” in Malaysia.

With credible allegations of abuse, torture and degrading treatment of those held there, she said the detention of a child in such a place went against treaties such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“The CRC proclaims that ‘no child shall be deprived of her liberty arbitrarily’ and asserts that all institutions should ensure that ‘the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration’,” she said.

“Tenaganita’s previous experience has shown that this process may take several weeks, if not months before the child is sent home,” she added.

Aegile said Mon was a victim of human trafficking, which the deputy public prosecutor (DPP) for her case did not agree with, and which subsequently led to Mon being handed over to the Immigration Department.

Tenaganita heard about Mon while handling another Cambodian case, and Tenaganita requested the police to find Mon and rescue her – which they were able to do, Aegile said.

Mon was no more than 14-years-old when she was brought to Malaysia by labour agents with a promise of a job with a salary of RM1,000 per month and with an opportunity to learn English.

On arrival in Malaysia though, she was forced to work in different homes and in a beauty parlor where she had to provide massage services to both men and women clients – not what she had expected.

Her passport was taken away by the agent and she was abused on several occasions, Aegile claimed. When she asked to be sent back home, she was told by the agent that she would have to complete her three-year contract or pay her agent.

At that time she had worked for two years and had not been paid her wages, Aegile added.

Once Mon was found by the police, she was placed in Tenaganita’s shelter under an interim protection order (IPO) as provided for by the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007.

But on expiry of the IPO on March 27, it was determined that Mon was not a victim of human trafficking, and therefore ordered by the magistrate to be handed over to the immigration to be deported.

“Tenaganita is highly perplexed that the DPP did not find any indicators of human trafficking in this case, and we are distraught that the child will be detained together with adults in dehumanising conditions,” she said.

“Over the last one year or so, a number of human trafficking cases handled by Tenaganita have not been identified as such by the AG’s chambers and the victims, instead of being given protection, have been sent to detention centres.

“Some of these victims have subsequently informed us of the abuses that they suffered while in detention.

“Tenaganita is now highly concerned that Mon who is a child can be legally sent to an immigration detention centre,” she said, adding those involved in child protection needed to act swiftly on this.

“This girl child needs protection, not detention,” she added.