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Unseen and unheard: the radicalisation of domestic workers

Being a domestic worker is no easy job. Domestic workers have to work long hours each day often doing gruelling work. Some receive their mandated rest days, others do not Some suffer grave abuse at the hands of their employers. As a result, so many domestic workers feel side lined by the rest of mainstream society. While these problems pose a great threat to the mental wellbeing of domestic workers, it is causing an unprecedented problem: some domestic workers are being radicalized and recruited by militant and terrorist groups.   

A recent CNN article [1] reported that ISIS recruiters were preying on vulnerable domestic workers in Singapore and Hong Kong. The article detailed the case of Indonesian domestic workers detained by Singaporean authorities for promoting terrorist activities. They first believed that the Islamic State was fighting for Islam. however, their radicalization deepened when they joined multiple pro-ISIS social media channels [2], where they built a network. Cases like these were reported in Hong Kong in 2017. At least 45 domestic workers had forged ties with the Islamic State. Like in Singapore, these women were either “drawn in by jihadi boyfriends they met online” or “joined ISIS as a path to empowerment” [3]. 

We can see a pattern emerging here. What we don’t realise is that the way our legal system is treating our domestic workers is creating the perfect breeding ground for radicalisation. 

Take for example the ‘live-in’ rule. A survey conducted in 2019 found that 70% of domestic workers worked for 13 hours a day [4]. According to Professor Raees Begum Baig, “the live-in nature of the job made it hard to define working hours” [5]. Furthermore, 5.9% of domestic workers reported that they do not receive their mandatory day off per week, a violation of the standard employment contract [6]. Other female workers reported working for 43.3 hours a week on average, significantly less than that of domestic workers [7]. 

With working conditions like this, it is no surprise that certain domestic workers would feel tempted to buy into radicalisation. Militant groups are preying on them because they face “isolation, discrimination, and exploitation” [8]. They are looking for meaningful connections or a purpose that could let them feel a little less lonely in our harsh city, a little more heard in our city. 

Why can’t we understand the impacts of this draconian rule? Why can’t we treat them as humans?

[1] Zaugg J, 'Asia's Lonely Cities Are A Ripe Recruiting Ground For ISIS' (CNN, 2019) <> accessed 12 November 2019

[2] ibid.

[3] Carvalho R, 'Indonesian Domestic Workers Radicalised While In Hong Kong' (South China Morning Post, 2019) <> accessed 12 November 2019

[4] The Research Centre on Migration and Mobility at CUHK, 'Survey Findings On Migrant Domestic Workers In Hong Kong' (The Chinese University of Hong Kong 2017) <> accessed 12 November 2019

[5] ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lok-kei S, 'What Turns A Hong Kong Maid Towards Islamic State?' (South China Morning Post, 2019) <> accessed 12 November 2019

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