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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.

 

Reuters

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


By GERRY MULLANY

An alleged beating of an Indonesian domestic helper by her Hong Kong employer has drawn new attention to the treatment of the hundreds of thousands of such workers in the territory, raising questions about whether the authorities are vigilant in preventing abuses in such cases.

The helper, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, returned to Indonesia on Jan. 10, traveling through Hong Kong International Airport with the assistance of a friend because of cuts and burns on much of her body, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. The newspaper said she was now in critical condition at an Indonesian hospital.

Ms. Sulistyaningsih, who had worked for eight months for a family in Tseung Kwan O in the New Territories, was apparently given 100 Hong Kong dollars, about $13, by her employers before her departure and told not to talk to any Indonesians before boarding the plane, according to the South China Morning Post.

Hong Kong is home to an estimated 300,000 domestic workers, and they provide valuable services like child care to the city’s busy workforce. Amnesty International said in a report last year that Indonesian workers are particularly prone to abuses, as employment agencies lure them with promises of high pay, demand high fees to secure work for the helpers and then often withhold their documents to prevent them from leaving the territory.

“They are using deception and coercion to recruit Indonesian migrants and to compel them to work in situations which violate their human and labor rights,” said the November 2013 report. It said Hong Kong employers then “frequently subject migrant domestic workers to serious human rights violations in Hong Kong, including physical or verbal abuse.”

The treatment of such workers attracted intense media attention last fall when a Hong Kong couple was sentenced to three to five years in prison for essentially jailing their Indonesian helper for two years and torturing her by beating her with bicycle chains, a hot iron and a paper cutter. The woman was also allegedly tied to a chair for five days during the family’s vacation, and left without food and water.

In the latest case, the woman’s employment agency filed a report with the Hong Kong police alerting them to the alleged mistreatment — after she had left the territory.

“On the afternoon of Jan. 12, the police received notice from an domestic helper recruitment firm, that a foreign domestic helper was suspected of having been tortured by her employer,” said a police statement.

The woman apparently paid 18,000 Hong Kong dollars, or $2,300, to secure her job through an employment agency, even though such agencies are only allowed to charge 401 Hong Kong dollars under Hong Kong law, Robert Godden, an official with Amnesty International, told the South China Morning Post.

In its November report, Amnesty faulted the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Indonesian government for not doing enough to prevent such abuses.

“The Indonesian and Hong Kong SAR governments have not complied with their international obligations to prevent and suppress trafficking and the use of forced labor,” the report said. “They have failed to properly monitor, investigate and sanction individuals and organizations which are violating domestic legislation in their respective territories.”