- Domestic helpers rally outside Wanchai District Court in Hong Kong on Sept. 18 in support of an Indonesian maid who was tortured by her employers.
The case of a young Indonesian maid hospitalized after allegedly being tortured by her employers has sparked outrage in Hong Kong, the latest in a series of cases that have spotlighted the abuse such workers often face.
According to a local migrant workers union, an Indonesian domestic helper in her 20s, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, arrived in Hong Kong in May and worked for eight months before leaving on Jan. 10 to return to Indonesia, where she is currently being hospitalized. During her employment, she was beaten and periodically burned to the point that she struggled to walk and use the bathroom on her own, said Sringatin, vice chair of the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union. Sringatin, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, added that the maid was being compelled to use diapers as a result.
Photos of an injured woman who the union identified as Ms. Sulistyaningsih showed a person with legs and arms that were badly lacerated and scabbed.
“They would always say she’s lazy, cannot work, cannot perform,” said Ms. Sringatin. It was unclear who had paid for Ms. Sulistyaningsih’s ticket or under what circumstances she left Hong Kong. Ms. Sringatin didn’t disclose the name of Ms. Sulistyaningsih’s employers.
The Hong Kong police said Tuesday that they are currently investigating a Sunday report from a domestic helper employment agency that an Indonesian maid may have been tortured by her employer, without identifying the woman by name.
Attempts to reach Ms. Sulistyaningsih were unsuccessful. The Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong said it has identified and plans to blacklist Ms. Sulistyaningsih’s employer, thereby barring that individual from hiring any Indonesian domestic helpers in the future, said Sam Aryadi, consulate spokesman. As of 2013, there were 155 employers in Hong Kong whom the consulate has blacklisted for mistreating their helpers, which includes offenses such as underpaying and physically abusing them, he said.
Hong Kong is home to some 150,000 Indonesian maids, largely female, who together account for roughly half of the city’s 300,000 domestic helpers. Most of the rest are from the Philippines.
In a recent report by Amnesty International titled “Exploited for profit, failed by government,” the group blasted the city for failing to adequately protect such women, declaring that employers “frequently subject migrant domestic workers to serious human rights violations in Hong Kong,” including physical and sexual violence.
According to the report, three-quarters of the women they interviewed had their identity documents confiscated by their employers or placement agency, with many told that they would be returned only after their placement fees—which can cost as much as US$2,700 or more—were repaid.
A staff member at Ms. Sulistyaningsih’s employment agency, Chan’s Asia Recruitment Centre, said that they had heard from Ms. Sulistyaningsih only once after she arrived in Hong Kong, a month into her new position, when she called and said that her employers were too demanding and didn’t pay her on time. She didn’t complain of physical abuse and never called again, said the staff member.
On Tuesday, Ms. Sringatin said that Ms. Sulistyaningsih’s case showed how the requirement that maids live with their employers made them more vulnerable to abuse by denying them of any safe space of their own. “There were no witnesses to what was going on for her,” she said.
Hong Kong has seen several well-publicized abuse cases over the years, including one last year in which an Indonesian maid was scalded with an iron by her employers, whipped and periodically kept bound in a chair. Her employers, who denied the charges, were sentenced to prison last September. In another case, an employer was jailed for beating her Indonesian maid to the point that she also required hospitalization.
Note: This post has been updated to include comment from the Indonesian consulate.
– Te-Ping Chen and Chester Yung