“When my husband won the lottery, I thought it would solve all our problems and be a huge blessing for my family. We could pay off all our debts and provide for the future of our four children. But then he was arrested due to drug offences. So I had to leave my kids with my mother-in-law and work in a plantation. But after working non-stop, day and night, without seeing a single cent of my salary, I am now regretting my decision. We’ve almost broken our backs working like slaves in that house, and now he wants us to work in the plantation. And it’s evening time already! How are we supposed to do all that work when we can’t see and when there are no lights? But he doesn’t care. He just forces us to finish the job, or else we won’t get to eat.”

Asha

Trafficked Survivor

Illustration by Thineswari G

Thineswari Govindasamy always felt that there is something more than the world represents and it is from here her artistic journey as a self taught artist began.

Thineswari loves to explore whimsical, mythical and feminine attributing artworks which led her into believing ‘Flow’ – in seeking essences of forming creativity and supreme fancies. This very foundation lead her into multi-disciplinary art projects and industry experience. Her journey in producing illustrations and paintings has given the platform to share her artistic beliefs, expanding through exhibitions thus gaining global recognition. Such humbling, accumulated experience allows Thineswari to embrace, continue and share her artistic path further towards ‘Flow’; not just in art but also in her life.

Facebook : Thineswari G Creations
Instagram : thineswari_g

Human traffickers like to target those who are desperate, alone and in financial need. It is during these moments, we tend to make the poorest of decisions. In the story, Asha was promised a job that will help her provide the financial means to support her family at the point when she was struggling most to make a better life for those she loved most.

But how do victims like Asha get trafficked in the first place?
Human trafficking doesn’t happen overnight. There is a process. Traffickers lure victims by offering jobs that are too tempting to reject and with low barriers to entry.

Oftentimes, those who tell them of such opportunities are people known to them; who build the trust and convince them that they can earn decent wages with work permits, relocation expenses and immigration matters sorted out for them. Once taken in, the victims are moved from one trafficker to another; hiding from the authorities through means of fraud and corruption.

So why don’t victims like Asha run away or say no?
How do you run away when you are made to feel powerless and placed in a location that is alien to you? How do you say no when through fraud and coercion told that you have a debt bondage that seems insurmountable to overcome? How do you not comply when traffickers are perceived to have the authorities on their side?

Victims like Asha, after months and months of working day and night without pay are desperately holding on to the false promises of being paid their overdue wages. They comply because they have a lot to lose if they don’t. Think about it, how do you return back to your family empty handed when you have hungry expectant mouths to feed?

Why do we get involved?
Fear, fraud and coercion work together to control trafficking victims. These methods cause immense psychological long term damage. Victims grapple with shame, grief, fear, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and an inability to trust even after they have been rescued.

Knowing this, how can we not be involved?

My name is Asha.

I’m from Negeri Sembilan. When I was very young, I moved to a town down south so that I could go to school there. I stayed at my aunty’s house. A lot of my cousins and aunties and uncles were all nearby. I used to talk to them all the time, and I remember playing lots of games with my cousins almost every day. My family taught me how to cook as soon as I was in school. That’s why I enjoy cooking so much nowadays. 

Everybody in my family is very poor. My aunties and uncles all have to go far away to work, and they leave the house very early in the morning and come home very late at night. When I was in standard six, my aunty told me that I would need to stop school at the end of the year, so that I can start working and start earning money to support our family. That made me sad, but I wasn’t sad for very long because I love my family very much and I want to help them as best as I can.

I have been working in a lot of places since then, but I stopped for a while after I got married. My husband said that it would be better if I stayed home to take care of our children. He told me that he has found work at a nearby estate. He promised me that he would work hard so that he can support all of us. A good family is very important to me, so I agreed.

It’s been a few months, and I have no choice but to go back to work. We owe too much money to too many people. My husband and I are very worried about our young children, but we have no choice. We need to pay off some of the debts, and the only way that can happen is if I earn some money also. Reluctantly, my husband agrees. 

I’ve gone back to the estate where I used to work. It’s very difficult work, but at least it helps. And…. What’s going on? Who is that screaming and jumping and laughing? It’s my husband! What’s wrong with him? What is he holding in his hand?

I can’t believe it! He’s won the lottery! He can’t believe it also! He’s won so much money that we can pay off all of our debts! We can have so much money for savings, and I won’t have to work! This is the best news we could ever receive! I’m so happy! He tells me that he will collect the money tomorrow, and then we can sort everything out soon after that. Oh my god, I am so relieved!

Sometimes, having too much money is not a good thing. I have four children now, and my family members are all healthy. But I have to go back to work. My husband was arrested yesterday for taking drugs and even selling drugs. The police officer told me that this is the second time he’s being arrested for the same offence. I never knew this about him. I was so angry that I wanted to scream my head off at him and slap him. But that wouldn’t solve anything. My children have to depend on me now. So I’ve asked my mother in law to take care of my children while I work. She agrees, as long as they can live with her in Pahang. It’s far away from me, but as long as they’re safe and can go to school, I’ll be happy. I ask her to give me a few days to send them there. 

I end up at an estate in a small town. At first, my bosses tell me that I’ll be working there. But now, the boss’ relative tell me that I’ll be working at another palm oil plantation in a nearby village. He will drive me there now. When I arrive there, I meet an old man, his wife, his children and other relatives. He tells me that he will pay me RM45 per day of work. He will also provide me with daily things, such as soap, shampoo, eggs, sardines, chilli powder, onions, and so on. I will be staying in the house where all the workers stay. There are 18 of us in this house.

I have been working at this palm oil plantation for eight months, but I have not seen one ringgit of my salary. I started asking the boss for the money a few weeks ago, and he told me there’s no such thing. He told me that all the money has to be used to buy our provisions. I tell him that I need the money to support my children, but he doesn’t care. Every time I ask for my salary, he just ignores me and tells me to go back to work.

This has been the worst Deepavali of my life. At first, I was so happy when the boss told me that they’re taking me to someone’s house nearby. All of the workers and I thought that we would be having a nice meal and we would have a nice time celebrating Deepavali. But that is not true at all. As soon as we arrived there, the house owners order us to clean up the house and to do chores like washing plates. One worker from my house tries to escape, but they have locked all of the doors and gates. We have done so much cleaning today, as though we’re maids for this house, for this person we don’t even know.

I am so sick and tired of this. We have been working like slaves for the past five days in this house. We work day and night, and the owner doesn’t let us rest. We keep telling him that we are not his maids and that we want to go back to our house at the plantation. But that just makes him angry, and he shouts at us. I can’t believe my boss is doing this to us. First, he won’t pay us our salary; now he’s forcing us to work like slaves for someone else. This is worst week of my life.

After another day of working like slaves, our boss is finally back to take all of us back. We don’t say anything in the lorry. We just want to go back to our house to rest. But as soon as we arrive, they demand that we do some work on the plantation. There is a lot of fertilizer that needs to be spread out, and the palm oil trees need to be maintained. I cannot believe this. We’ve almost broken our backs working like slaves in that house, and now he wants us to work in the plantation. And it’s evening time already! How are we supposed to do all that work when we can’t see and when there are no lights? But he doesn’t care. He just forces us to finish the job, or else we won’t get to eat.

The workers and I have had enough. We work non-stop for days, we don’t get our salaries, and we are not even allowed to phone or visit our families. Two of my friends are going to try to escape the compound tonight so that they can make a police report. We agree that this is the best thing we can do not just for ourselves, but also our families. We want them to tell the police that this man exploits us, doesn’t give us our salaries, and doesn’t provide us with tap water and electricity. We want the police to know how horrible he is to us.

In the middle of the day, while we’re all working, we see a few police cars drive in to the plantation. Our boss rushes over to meet them, and all of us also go nearby to see them. The police officer asks our boss to explain the situation. We try to explain to the police, but they won’t listen to us. They will only listen to our boss. But all he did was lie – he explained that the salaries were only late because other people haven’t paid him yet. And he said that there are some broken pipes and cables, which is why our house doesn’t have water and electricity. He tells the police that he will fix everything and ensure that all of us will get our money soon. We know he is lying, but the police believe him. So they leave. 

The same two friends who managed to escape and who made the police report heard from us that our boss has not been arrested yet. So they decide to make another police report, but this time to higher-ranking officers. We tell them all about the lies he told the police officers when they came, so that the high-ranking officers will know the entire story. We need the police to know that all of us here are like slaves, and that we need to get out of here as quickly as possible. I know that I need to escape here, because I haven’t seen or talked to my children for so long. I hope and pray that they’re all okay.

At long last, we are free of that horrible man. The police just came to arrest him. The police are now taking us to Rembau, where we will live in a shelter. They tell us that we can help them with this case, so that he will be punished properly. I am just relieved to be free of him and that plantation. But I hope that this case will be over soon, so that I can go back to be with my children again. I love them so much and will teach them how to be good people and how to be successful and respected members of society. I never want to leave their side again.

“When my husband won the lottery, I thought it would solve all our problems and be a huge blessing for my family. We could pay off all our debts and provide for the future of our four children. But then he was arrested due to drug offences. So I had to leave my kids with my mother-in-law and work in a plantation. But after working non-stop, day and night, without seeing a single cent of my salary, I am now regretting my decision. We’ve almost broken our backs working like slaves in that house, and now he wants us to work in the plantation. And it’s evening time already! How are we supposed to do all that work when we can’t see and when there are no lights? But he doesn’t care. He just forces us to finish the job, or else we won’t get to eat.”

Asha

Trafficked Survivor

Illustration by Thineswari G

Thineswari Govindasamy always felt that there is something more than the world represents and it is from here her artistic journey as a self taught artist began.

Thineswari loves to explore whimsical, mythical and feminine attributing artworks which led her into believing ‘Flow’ – in seeking essences of forming creativity and supreme fancies. This very foundation lead her into multi-disciplinary art projects and industry experience. Her journey in producing illustrations and paintings has given the platform to share her artistic beliefs, expanding through exhibitions thus gaining global recognition. Such humbling, accumulated experience allows Thineswari to embrace, continue and share her artistic path further towards ‘Flow’; not just in art but also in her life.

Facebook : Thineswari G Creations
Instagram : thineswari_g

Human traffickers like to target those who are desperate, alone and in financial need. It is during these moments, we tend to make the poorest of decisions. In the story, Asha was promised a job that will help her provide the financial means to support her family at the point when she was struggling most to make a better life for those she loved most.

But how do victims like Asha get trafficked in the first place?
Human trafficking doesn’t happen overnight. There is a process. Traffickers lure victims by offering jobs that are too tempting to reject and with low barriers to entry.

Oftentimes, those who tell them of such opportunities are people known to them; who build the trust and convince them that they can earn decent wages with work permits, relocation expenses and immigration matters sorted out for them. Once taken in, the victims are moved from one trafficker to another; hiding from the authorities through means of fraud and corruption.

So why don’t victims like Asha run away or say no?
How do you run away when you are made to feel powerless and placed in a location that is alien to you? How do you say no when through fraud and coercion told that you have a debt bondage that seems insurmountable to overcome? How do you not comply when traffickers are perceived to have the authorities on their side?

Victims like Asha, after months and months of working day and night without pay are desperately holding on to the false promises of being paid their overdue wages. They comply because they have a lot to lose if they don’t. Think about it, how do you return back to your family empty handed when you have hungry expectant mouths to feed?

Why do we get involved?
Fear, fraud and coercion work together to control trafficking victims. These methods cause immense psychological long term damage. Victims grapple with shame, grief, fear, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and an inability to trust even after they have been rescued.

Knowing this, how can we not be involved?

My name is Asha.

I’m from Negeri Sembilan. When I was very young, I moved to a town down south so that I could go to school there. I stayed at my aunty’s house. A lot of my cousins and aunties and uncles were all nearby. I used to talk to them all the time, and I remember playing lots of games with my cousins almost every day. My family taught me how to cook as soon as I was in school. That’s why I enjoy cooking so much nowadays. 

Everybody in my family is very poor. My aunties and uncles all have to go far away to work, and they leave the house very early in the morning and come home very late at night. When I was in standard six, my aunty told me that I would need to stop school at the end of the year, so that I can start working and start earning money to support our family. That made me sad, but I wasn’t sad for very long because I love my family very much and I want to help them as best as I can.

I have been working in a lot of places since then, but I stopped for a while after I got married. My husband said that it would be better if I stayed home to take care of our children. He told me that he has found work at a nearby estate. He promised me that he would work hard so that he can support all of us. A good family is very important to me, so I agreed.

It’s been a few months, and I have no choice but to go back to work. We owe too much money to too many people. My husband and I are very worried about our young children, but we have no choice. We need to pay off some of the debts, and the only way that can happen is if I earn some money also. Reluctantly, my husband agrees. 

I’ve gone back to the estate where I used to work. It’s very difficult work, but at least it helps. And…. What’s going on? Who is that screaming and jumping and laughing? It’s my husband! What’s wrong with him? What is he holding in his hand?

I can’t believe it! He’s won the lottery! He can’t believe it also! He’s won so much money that we can pay off all of our debts! We can have so much money for savings, and I won’t have to work! This is the best news we could ever receive! I’m so happy! He tells me that he will collect the money tomorrow, and then we can sort everything out soon after that. Oh my god, I am so relieved!

Sometimes, having too much money is not a good thing. I have four children now, and my family members are all healthy. But I have to go back to work. My husband was arrested yesterday for taking drugs and even selling drugs. The police officer told me that this is the second time he’s being arrested for the same offence. I never knew this about him. I was so angry that I wanted to scream my head off at him and slap him. But that wouldn’t solve anything. My children have to depend on me now. So I’ve asked my mother in law to take care of my children while I work. She agrees, as long as they can live with her in Pahang. It’s far away from me, but as long as they’re safe and can go to school, I’ll be happy. I ask her to give me a few days to send them there. 

I end up at an estate in a small town. At first, my bosses tell me that I’ll be working there. But now, the boss’ relative tell me that I’ll be working at another palm oil plantation in a nearby village. He will drive me there now. When I arrive there, I meet an old man, his wife, his children and other relatives. He tells me that he will pay me RM45 per day of work. He will also provide me with daily things, such as soap, shampoo, eggs, sardines, chilli powder, onions, and so on. I will be staying in the house where all the workers stay. There are 18 of us in this house.

I have been working at this palm oil plantation for eight months, but I have not seen one ringgit of my salary. I started asking the boss for the money a few weeks ago, and he told me there’s no such thing. He told me that all the money has to be used to buy our provisions. I tell him that I need the money to support my children, but he doesn’t care. Every time I ask for my salary, he just ignores me and tells me to go back to work.

This has been the worst Deepavali of my life. At first, I was so happy when the boss told me that they’re taking me to someone’s house nearby. All of the workers and I thought that we would be having a nice meal and we would have a nice time celebrating Deepavali. But that is not true at all. As soon as we arrived there, the house owners order us to clean up the house and to do chores like washing plates. One worker from my house tries to escape, but they have locked all of the doors and gates. We have done so much cleaning today, as though we’re maids for this house, for this person we don’t even know.

I am so sick and tired of this. We have been working like slaves for the past five days in this house. We work day and night, and the owner doesn’t let us rest. We keep telling him that we are not his maids and that we want to go back to our house at the plantation. But that just makes him angry, and he shouts at us. I can’t believe my boss is doing this to us. First, he won’t pay us our salary; now he’s forcing us to work like slaves for someone else. This is worst week of my life.

After another day of working like slaves, our boss is finally back to take all of us back. We don’t say anything in the lorry. We just want to go back to our house to rest. But as soon as we arrive, they demand that we do some work on the plantation. There is a lot of fertilizer that needs to be spread out, and the palm oil trees need to be maintained. I cannot believe this. We’ve almost broken our backs working like slaves in that house, and now he wants us to work in the plantation. And it’s evening time already! How are we supposed to do all that work when we can’t see and when there are no lights? But he doesn’t care. He just forces us to finish the job, or else we won’t get to eat.

The workers and I have had enough. We work non-stop for days, we don’t get our salaries, and we are not even allowed to phone or visit our families. Two of my friends are going to try to escape the compound tonight so that they can make a police report. We agree that this is the best thing we can do not just for ourselves, but also our families. We want them to tell the police that this man exploits us, doesn’t give us our salaries, and doesn’t provide us with tap water and electricity. We want the police to know how horrible he is to us.

In the middle of the day, while we’re all working, we see a few police cars drive in to the plantation. Our boss rushes over to meet them, and all of us also go nearby to see them. The police officer asks our boss to explain the situation. We try to explain to the police, but they won’t listen to us. They will only listen to our boss. But all he did was lie – he explained that the salaries were only late because other people haven’t paid him yet. And he said that there are some broken pipes and cables, which is why our house doesn’t have water and electricity. He tells the police that he will fix everything and ensure that all of us will get our money soon. We know he is lying, but the police believe him. So they leave. 

The same two friends who managed to escape and who made the police report heard from us that our boss has not been arrested yet. So they decide to make another police report, but this time to higher-ranking officers. We tell them all about the lies he told the police officers when they came, so that the high-ranking officers will know the entire story. We need the police to know that all of us here are like slaves, and that we need to get out of here as quickly as possible. I know that I need to escape here, because I haven’t seen or talked to my children for so long. I hope and pray that they’re all okay.

At long last, we are free of that horrible man. The police just came to arrest him. The police are now taking us to Rembau, where we will live in a shelter. They tell us that we can help them with this case, so that he will be punished properly. I am just relieved to be free of him and that plantation. But I hope that this case will be over soon, so that I can go back to be with my children again. I love them so much and will teach them how to be good people and how to be successful and respected members of society. I never want to leave their side again.