A Malaysian court on Thursday sentenced a couple to 24 years in jail for starving their Cambodian maid to death, one of many such abuse cases straining ties between the country and its neighbours.
Hardware store owners 44-year-old Soh Chew Tong and his wife 42-year-old Chin Chui Ling were found guilty of culpable homicide at a high court in the northern state of Penang, said prosecutor Tan Guat Cheng.
The 24-year jail term is to run from the day of their arrest in April last year, shortly after their maid Mey Sichan was found dead by paramedics. She weighed just 26 kilograms (57 pounds) and had bruises on her body. Police said she died from acute gastritis and ulcers likely caused by lack of food over a long period.
The 23-year-old had been working for the family for eight months.
The couple initially was charged with murder, which carries the death penalty in Malaysia. But the charge was reduced to culpable homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail, Tan said.
Cases of abuse of domestic workers, who come from poorer regional countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia, have frequently surfaced in Malaysia. It is heavily dependent on foreigners as domestic helpers such locals shun the work. In response, Cambodia no longer sends its citizens as domestic workers to Malaysia, while Indonesia for years suspended sending maids.
Malaysia has promised to improve their welfare and protection, including giving them a day off. But activists say the hundreds of thousands of women remain vulnerable to sexual abuse, overwork and exploitation.