Kuala Lumpur - A Malaysian couple has been sentenced to hang for murdering their Indonesian maid by starving her to death, according to reports on Friday that said she weighed just 26kg when she died.
In the latest case of abuse against the legion of Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia, the High Court ruled on Thursday that 26-year-old Isti Komariyah died of deliberate starvation in June 2011.
Judge Noor Azian Shaari said Fong Kong Meng, 58 and his wife Teoh Ching Yen, 56, consistently withheld food from the young woman during the three years she worked for them.
“She was 26 and weighed barely 26kg when she was taken to the University Malaya Medical Centre with bruises and scratch marks on her back, arms and forehead,” The Star newspaper reported.
Isti was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. She had weighed 46kg when she first started working for the couple.
The court and the couple's lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.
Malaysia relies on an estimated two million Indonesians who toil in plantation, construction, factory and domestic work - both legally and illegally.
Allegations of abuse against foreign labourers have included overwork, beatings, sexual abuse and torture.
A Cambodian maid was starved to death in 2012 by her employers, earning them 24 years in jail. Cambodia had stopped sending maids a year earlier over other abuses.
But poor Indonesian women have continued to arrive.
Malaysia has taken some steps towards improving the welfare of domestic workers, including requiring at least one day off per week and nearly doubling minimum monthly salaries to 700 ringgit ($210).
But activists say it is difficult to enforce these requirements.
The Indonesian embassy estimates 400 000 women work in Malaysia as maids - about half illegally. Indonesian workers account for roughly half of all foreign labourers.
The two Muslim neighbours' closer scrutiny of the issue has slowed processing of legal domestic workers, causing a shortage that has fuelled the efforts of traffickers bringing in illegals, activists say.