JAKARTA, Indonesia — Penniless, unmarried and far from home, Rubina thought that she had found a safe place to have her baby after being fired as a housemaid in Malaysia.
Instead, the 20-year-old Indonesian migrant worker had stumbled into the arms of baby traders--an illegal practice that authorities say is increasing in Malaysia and targets poor Indonesians.
"I had nowhere to turn. My boss told me to leave when my stomach started showing," Rubina said recently.
The man who recruited her as a maid told her that an "agent" would give her shelter.
"I was stuck in a house with six other pregnant women. Then the agent started to offer me money for my unborn baby," Rubina said. If she refused, the agent threatened to take her baby, she said.
But Rubina, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, escaped, as have many other Indonesian women, from baby-selling syndicates in Malaysia's Kuching province.
No exact figures are available. But as many as 30 pregnant women were kept at a single apartment in Kuching recently, authorities said.
Rubina managed to get away because she was giving birth in a hospital when Malaysian police raided the gang's house last month.
She and 13 other Indonesian migrant female workers sought help at the Indonesian consulate in Kuching, which helped them return to Indonesia.
She spoke to a reporter by phone from a shelter run by the Legal Aid Foundation for Women in central Indonesia.
"When they gave birth, they just threw them out on the streets," said Hairiah, head of the foundation.
Poor Indonesian women come searching for jobs, said Maj. Suhadi, a police spokesman in Pontianak, the provincial capital in West Kalimantan, which borders Kuching province on Borneo.
Often, they end up working as day laborers or housemaids. Because they often lack work permits, they're reluctant to go to authorities for help. If they become pregnant and are single, they are easy targets for baby-selling syndicates, authorities said.
Malaysian police hosted a recent meeting with their Indonesian counterparts to discuss baby-trafficking.
Malaysian traders--working with Indonesian accomplices--lure pregnant women from their jobs, Hairiah said. The babies then are either forcibly taken or purchased for sums ranging from $1,200 to $4,800, depending on appearance and health, she said.
The buyers are often childless Malaysian couples who use the black market because it is easier and quicker than formal adoption, Hairiah said.
Most of the women never see their newborns again.
But 21-year-old Evi was lucky. She got her son back.
When she gave birth, baby agents took him without paying her, she said. Five days later, she was told that she could have her son back because his eyes were not slanted enough and his skin not white enough for the tastes of his prospective parents.
"They said he was ugly," Evi said.
Evi now works at the Legal Aid Foundation in West Kalimantan helping women like herself.
"I'm just happy my baby is safe," she said.