violence and abuse
Abuses by the employers can come in mainly three forms - physical, verbal and sexual. This, among all three employment issues, is the most extreme and often the most difficult type of case for local organizations that provide legal services to solve due to many factors such as lack of witnesses or evidence and after the case has been settled, donations by the local organizations will be forwarded on to that particular Foreign Domestic Helper to assist in rebuilding her life. Violence has a strong association with underpayment and according to most Foreign Domestic Helpers, the reason for these abuses is because the services the Foreign Domestic Helpers are providing are not meeting or exceeding expectations of the employer but this action is illicit and unjustified, going to the extreme in damaging one's welfare.
58% of them reported having experienced verbal abuse, 18% experienced physical abuse, and 6% experienced sexual abuse.
According to a survey conducted by Mission for Migrant Workers Limited, one of the longest existing local organization that assists thousands of migrant workers, among 3,000 participants who were all Foreign Domestic Workers, 58% of the survey population (1740) reported having experienced verbal abuse by their employers, 18% (540) had physical abuses and 6% (180) encountered sexual abuse. This shows that abuse is not only common among Foreign Domestic Helpers but almost one-quarter of the population may have encountered the most severe types of abuse by their employers (physical and sexual). However, physical abuse according to some pre-conceived notions is merely the beating of the Foreign Domestic Helpers when this type can appear in several other forms.
These other forms of physical abuse may include violating basic human rights and the rights of Foreign Domestic Helpers. Foreign Domestic Helpers are a significant part of Hong Kong's culture and yet their roles are undermined in the domestic community. Victims of these domestic abuses (Foreign Domestic Helpers) usually do not seek assistance from local organizations or other people other than their friends. This is largely due to employers not abiding by their contract of ensuring a day off for their helper every 7 days (week) and furthermore, they do not have access to any internet to be informed about local organizations.
Figure 1: Members of Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body staged a demonstration about their petition for wage increase.
Figure 1: Staircase in Admiralty outside World Wide House filled with Domestic Helpers.
Another form of physical abuse is not giving adequate housing while restricting their freedom and movements. Hong Kong is well-known for having expensive rents that cause many families to struggle. But this does not give any reason for families to place even harsher conditions onto Foreign Domestic Helpers. Foreign Domestic Helpers are allowed to live elsewhere if the families do not meet the standard of adequate housing but in many cases for the sake of profit, recruitment agencies collude with the families and as a result, these Foreign Domestic Helpers may have to sleep on the floor with no sort of proper accommodation.
A recent incident of physical abuse is shown in the following example: Begum Reksona, a Bangladeshi helper, was a victim of her employer’s abuse. Her employer, a former civil servant, Au Wai-Chun, pouring scalding water over Reksona. The Helper claimed Au poured water onto her chest, causing a first to second degree burn on 2 percent of her skin. Au insisted that Reksona had conducted the act by herself, further insisting that her chronic spinal condition and being wheelchair-bound, it was impossible for her to pour water over Reksona. However, nearby witnesses such as the neighbour and security guard whom Reksona had sought after the incident claimed otherwise. Before this incident, Au was jailed for six months after causing actual bodily harm but this sentence was suspended for 18 months.
There are many other cases of horrific physical abuse of Foreign Domestic Helpers, for example the 24-year-old Erwiana Sulistyaningsih being burned, beaten and tortured to an extent where she was left in a critical condition and the case in which Kartika Puspitasari was stated to have experienced a series of maltreatment by their employers such as being forced to wear a diaper and tied to a chair while the employers are on vacation.
Even if abuse has been established, justice is evasive. Cases within the labour tribunal take a minimum of two months to process; abuse cases often take years. This makes it virtually impossible for an abused worker to pursue action against her employer or agency.