INDONESIA - As their economic lot at home improves, more Indonesians are heeding the government's call to steer clear of working in the foreign maid trade.
In 2010, some 451,000 Indonesians left home to be domestic workers abroad. Last year, only around 238,000 did so.
The government wants to end all Indonesians going abroad as maids by 2017 - a goal many feel is unrealistic.
But rising minimum wages back home and tougher competence standards have reduced the number of people leaving their families to take up menial jobs far from home.
"The decline in the number of maids going overseas reflects our current policy, that is to encourage overseas Indonesians to take formal jobs," said Ms Reyna Usman of the manpower and transmigration ministry. "We prefer seeing quality over quantity."
Ms Reyna, the director-general for overseas labour placement, said her ministry has been encouraging vocational training for anyone willing to work overseas, teaching skills to help them secure formal jobs instead in fields such as nursing.
The move came after the government faced mounting criticism over reports of the horrific abuse of Indonesian maids abroad.
In 2010, a 36-year-old maid working in Saudi Arabia was reportedly thrown into a dumpster.
The story came to light just days after another maid, a 23-year-old, was said to have been badly beaten by her Saudi employer.
Such reports splashed on television and in newspapers angered Indonesians. Rallies were held outside the Saudi embassy in Jakarta, with protesters acting out scenes of a maid being beaten and kicked by a person in Saudi garb.
In 2009, Indonesia banned maids from going to work in Malaysia after abuse cases there and reports of maids not being paid.
The ban was lifted in late 2011 after Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur hammered out an agreement on measures to better protect maids working in Malaysia.
Bans on Indonesian maids going to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Syria are still in place.
The declining foreign maid trade has been felt all year by Mr Rusjdi Basalamah, who owns an agency that sends maids overseas.
"We are trying to figure out exactly what caused this," he said.
"Tough regulations - more red tape - and better economies in the (maids') stronghold regions could be among the reasons."
Manpower and transmigration ministry spokesman Suhartono said: "The pay is greater overseas but living costs are also higher.
More and more people prefer to stay and work with less risk and near families."
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