Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Worst of Hong Kong

Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih
I can understand it can be uncomfortable having a stranger live in your home to be a domestic helper. They quickly come to know your personal habits -- many of which colleagues and good friends would never recognize.

The deal is that these maids must clean your home and cook meals for you, do your laundry and whatever else, from looking after children, tending to elderly parents, to running errands and whatever else you may need help with.

There are usually language issues, and cultural ones too that are only cleared up through trial and error.

And in return they get a small cupboard-sized room with a bed, only to be let out once a week, and a paltry monthly salary for the number of hours they work.

Indonesian domestic helpers calling for justice for Erwiana
The least employers could do is be courteous to these domestic helpers -- they are after all helping the family function more efficiently to a degree. And there are many people who treat their maids well.

But why are there some people who insist on treating their employees worse than animals?

Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was vindicated on Tuesday after her former employer was convicted of assaulting her and another Indonesian maid.

Erwiana was beaten constantly, knocked out on one occasion and had a metal tube from a vacuum cleaner inserted in her mouth. On top of that employer Law Wan-tung refused to pay her the monthly salary agreed in the contract.

Law was found guilty of 18 or the 20 charges and must pay Erwiana HK$28,000 ($3,611) in back pay. The 44-year-old employer has yet to be sentenced.

However there are other documented horror stories.

A husband and wife were jailed in 2013 for torturing their Indonesian maid for two years. They whipped her with a bicycle chain and once attacked her with a paper cutter after she refused to cut her hair. They even tied her to a chair when they were away and every night before going to bed. The maid testified she had to go to the garbage bins to scavenge for food.

In another case in 2000, another Indonesian helper had her neck burned by her employer, who was found guilty and jailed for 22 months.

There are many other horrific stories. What is going on here?

Why do Hong Kong people feel they have the right to mistreat another human being so badly?

While there are groups that assist domestic helpers, saying Indonesian maids don't have strong English language skills and aren't as well educated as Filippinas to find help, shouldn't there be checks and balances to ensure that employers are treating their employees well?

Granted there are only about 50 cases of abuse each year, that's 50 too many.

Mistreatment needs to end now -- not just the abuse, but the prejudice against these women who have sacrificed much to leave their families and come to an unfamiliar place to live and work in the same place day in and day out.


  1. Until Confuscianism loses its grip and adapts more Democratic values, these types of maids/servant abuse will continue until the end of time because Confuscianism reinforces the caste system (smiilar to those in MIng dynasty) which is happening today in HK/China (more generally, East Asian countries)

    I see rampant discrimination of SE Asians in HK and of Africans in HK/China...personally I don't think highly of Africans and Latinos (I suspect Africans and Latinos think of Asian similarly) But I won't go as far as not giving them the spotlight if they won a contest/race (unlike certain PRC TV shows cutting out video of Euro and African winners of certain contests)

    Even more sadly, I see in China PRC Chinese discriminating against Chinese from overseas, looking down upon them...

    1. Hi nulle -- Interesting that you reveal your own prejudices but at least you're being honest...

  2. This should read "Granted there are only about 50 REPORTED cases of abuse each year, that's 50 too many." Given the lax oversight and lack of government investigation into the conditions of workers, there are undoubtedly many more cases that are unreported for a variety of sad reasons.

    1. Hi anonymous -- you are correct -- reported cases -- hopefully with more awareness these domestic helpers will learn more about their rights, collect evidence and report abusive employers.