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Hong Kong: Why is foreign domestic worker abuse so rampant?

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by IDWFED published Jul 18, 2014 12:00 AM
Like many of Hong Kong's estimated 323,400 foreign domestic workers, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, had essentially been treated like a slave. Months of alleged torture from her employer – including daily beatings (often on the head with a mop handle), boiling water burns, 21-hour work days, sleeping on the floor and being locked up – took their toll on the 23-year-old Indonesian worker. When she could no longer even work, her employer abandoned her at the airport, barely able to walk or see, with a ticket home and only $9. Yet, what was perhaps most unsettling about Erwiana's story is that this crime against humanity took place in Asia's world city – and was by no means an isolated incident.

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HONG KONG -

Early this year, dramatic images surfaced of a gaunt young woman covered in deep bruises and lacerations, her feet swollen and black from infection. While she resembled the torture victim of a war-torn country, in fact, this brutal abuse was the result of being a foreign domestic worker in Hong Kong.

Like many of Hong Kong's estimated 323,400 foreign domestic workers, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, had essentially been treated like a slave. Months of alleged torture from her employer – including daily beatings (often on the head with a mop handle), boiling water burns, 21-hour work days, sleeping on the floor and being locked up – took their toll on the 23-year-old Indonesian worker. When she could no longer even work, her employer abandoned her at the airport, barely able to walk or see, with a ticket home and only $9. Yet, what was perhaps most unsettling about Erwiana's story is that this crime against humanity took place in Asia's world city – and was by no means an isolated incident.

While far from ideal, Hong Kong is generally considered an oasis of human rights in the region. Erwiana's case highlighted the uncomfortable truth that, at least for Hong Kong's foreign domestic workers, this is certainly not always the case.

For years, activists have detailed foreign domestic worker abuse in Hong Kong, but Erwiana's case – perhaps due to the haunting pictures of her battered face and body – seems to be a tipping point. In the wake of her story, other foreign domestic workers have come forward with their own allegations and calls for reform have gotten louder. Hong Kong's leader Leung Chun-ying has said the government would “absolutely not tolerate” violence. Yet, officials appear to have done little to adequately address the issue, typically ascribing stories of abuse to a few bad apples.

"Erwiana's case and other cases that get reported, that's just the tip of the iceberg,” said Hans Ladegaard, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who has collected over 300 stories of domestic worker abuse.

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Source: Katrina Kaufman/Coconuts Media Limited

Story Type: News

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