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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


Protest to call for support for abused Indonesian maid, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih at Jardein’s Crescent, Causeway Bay. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

An Indonesian domestic helper who claims she worked for the same employer accused of torturing Erwiana Sulistyaningsih revealed yesterday that she suffered similar beatings and death threats in 2010.

Sulistyaningsih, 23, who alleges she suffered months of torture in Hong Kong, is recovering in hospital in Sragen, on the main Indonesian island of Java, after returning home last week.

Her wounds are healing but she continues to suffer from headaches caused by blows to the head, according to Karsiwen, spokeswoman for the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers who is handling the case in Indonesia.

Sulistyaningsih has become angry, saying, “I want to go back to Hong Kong and beat back my employer,” said Karsiwen, adding that Sulistyaningsih has recently appointed lawyers in both Indonesia and Hong Kong.

At a “Justice for Erwiana” protest outside the Indonesian consulate in Causeway Bay yesterday, a 28-year-old Indonesian woman who gave only her nickname, Bunga, said she experienced 10 months of beatings working for the same female employer who allegedly abused Sulistyaningsih.

“One time the employer got so angry she dragged me onto the balcony and threatened to throw me off of it. She made me beg for my life,” Bunga said.

“I told her that she could beat me as much as she wanted but I went on my knees and begged her not to kill me because I had a son.”

Bunga said she was never allowed to go outside the employer’s apartment in Tseung Kwan O, and when the family went out, Bunga was locked inside.

“The woman threatened to pay the Indonesian police money to kill my entire family if I talked to others about the beatings,” she said.

The employer is in her forties and doesn’t work, with two teenage children and a husband who is rarely at home because he works elsewhere, Bunga and campaign organisers claimed.

Bunga said she was saved when her family in Indonesia told her agency in Hong Kong to help her.

“But the agency convinced me not press charges and got me a job with another employer instead. I was too scared to go to police. I’m speaking out now because I feel so sad I didn’t do anything to help Erwiana,” said Bunga, adding that she and Sulistyaningsih did not use the same agency.

Last night, “Justice for Erwiana” campaign organizers told the South China Morning Post that Sulistyaningsih was not allowed to leave the home and that before her boss allowed her to return to Indonesia, the woman threatened to “kill her family” if she told of her treatment.

Hong Kong police have launched an investigation and classified Sulistyaningsih’s case as wounding. The city’s police officers have visited the employer’s home, as have officials from the Indonesian consulate. A police spokeswoman said today that no arrests have yet been made.

Bunga said she would consider cooperating with police in the investigation.