Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Just End to a Two-Year Nightmare

Justice was served today for an Indonesian domestic helper who suffered horrific torture and slave-like conditions by her employers.

Tai Chi-wai, 42 was sentenced to three years and three months in jail, while his wife Catherine Au Yuk-shan, 41, was handed a five and a half year jail sentence.

The trial which lasted several days gripped the city as the domestic helper Kartika Puspitasari, 30, testified about how she was beaten and forced to do undignified things for two years.

Kartika told of when she first arrived in October 2010, Au threw away all her clothes and forced her to wear over sized old clothes, but no underwear or bras. She also told of how Au cut off all her hair and brandished a box cutter, threatening to kill her if she let her hair grow back. Then the employer slashed her forearm and wrist with the blade, the scars still visible.

The domestic helper testified she worked seven days a week with no holiday or pay, and was forced to sleep in the kitchen. And then Au beat her often, using wire hangers, shoes, and a bicycle chain, and even scalded her face with a hot iron.

That's not all -- Kartika said in court that from June 27 to July 1 last year, before the family went on holiday to Thailand, Tai tied her legs to a chair and her hands behind her back. She testified that he left no food or water for her and literally sat there for five days until her employers came back.

The couple's defense? They claimed Kartika's injuries were self inflicted and that her claims were "ridiculous".

In giving his verdict, Judge So Wai-tak described the couple as "cruel" and "vicious", and that they had damaged Hong Kong's reputation as a safe place to work. He said that a doctor's testimony showed that Kartika could not have intentionally hurt herself because of where the marks were on her body.

According to media reports, Au and Tai were calm when the sentence was read out, and apparently were prepared for jail; they already contacted the Social Welfare Department to look after their three children ranging in age from five to 11.

Hong Kong started importing domestic helpers in the late 1970s which made it easier for women to go to work in order to contribute to a two-income household. They first came from the Philippines and more now from Indonesia.

While the monthly income they earn here is good compared to what they can earn back in their home countries, doing domestic work and looking after children and the elderly is physically demanding, and for many it's demeaning, as some have university degrees.

The majority seem get along with their employers, some have very happy relationships with their families, while Kartika's case is the other extreme as a two-year brutal physical and psychological nightmare.

This case shows how few checks and balances there are when it comes to Hong Kong families hiring domestic helpers. Since she lives with the family, the domestic helper has no choice but to live with the family and try to tolerate the situation.

Domestic helper support groups are now calling for the government to allow option of domestic helpers living with their employers so that they are not on call 24 hours a day, and also it will make it easier for them to report abuses to the police.

It will be interesting to see how the government reacts to this case and if it leads to further guidelines on how domestic helpers should be treated in Hong Kong. It cannot turn a deaf ear to these workers who make a significant contribution to the city's economy and community.

No comments:

Post a Comment