The International Labour Organization is hosting a photo exhibition entitled “No one should work this way”, to highlight the plight of domestic workers who have been abused during their time working in Hong Kong and beyond. The exhibition runs until July 31, 2015 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central.
‘Beth’, now 20, from rural Philippines, abused in Manila.
“My employer would bang my head on the wall and she would throw hot water on me. She would burn my skin with cigarettes. She said this was the punishment for my sins.”
Beth was sold by her sister to a couple in Manila when she was 10. She worked from 4 a.m. until late every day, cleaning and looking after their small child. She was not paid. Her female employer beat her frequently, with sticks, pots or pans, and, after the boyfriend once walked out, began burning her with cigarettes. After seven years locked in the house Beth escaped. She had never been to school, watched TV, or listened to music or the radio.
Sumasri, possibly in her late 60s, from Indonesia, abused in Malaysia.
“I go to the clinic regularly to get medication. Now it is not painful any more. It was most painful the first four months.”
Sumasri’s back and thighs are heavily scarred from the boiling water her male employer in Kuala Lumpur threw on her. The story of exactly what happened to her often changes, each time she recounts it. Neighbours in her east Java village fear that she may no longer be mentally stable.
‘Pavitra’, now 34, from Nepal, abused in Oman.
“The husband came home and latched the door and attacked me. I told the wife later on. She said, ‘You’re telling lies and it’s not true.’ If my family, especially my husband, finds out, they will abandon me.”
Pavitra spent five months in prison in Oman. Her female employer refused to believe that her husband, a police official, had raped the housemaid, and pressed charges of seduction. Five months later, when Pavitra was released, it was too late to do anything about her pregnancy. She returned to Nepal in secret because she feared her husband and family would abandon her. She went to Oman to feed her four children because her husband was too sick to work. She was not fully paid.
Indra, now 31, from Nepal, abused in Kuwait.
“Everyone has left me. My brothers spit on the ground when they see me….I will try my best to prevent anyone from ever going abroad for domestic work. I can work to stop it. I will do whatever it takes.”
Indra went abroad to pay medical and education bills, after her husband abandoned her and their three children. She never went to school and cannot read or write. She was hired to look after 13 children, but her employers’ family also ran a brothel in their building and beat her to make her work there too. When she fought back they tried, and failed, to sell her to a family in Saudia Arabia. She eventually escaped by climbing down an elevator cable. Injured, she returned to Nepal on a stretcher. Her family has rejected her and her injuries make it hard to earn a living.
Sritak, now 31, from Indonesia, abused in Taiwan.
“He took a hot fork that he had heated on the stove top and he put it on my hand. He pressed the hot fork onto my hand….It’s quite strange, like he had the devil inside.”
Sritak left her village because her family were too poor to eat every day. She worked from 6 a.m. to midnight daily. Her passport was taken away and her freedom to talk to her family or outsiders was restricted. Her employer beat her, once with an iron pipe. He accused her of stealing and poured hot water on her body. She has more than 20 scars, including a long slash across her face.
Susi, now 30, from Indonesia, abused in Hong Kong.
“My employer said she’s very rich. She said, ‘If I hit you and kill you, no one will know that’….The agent tried to calm me, saying, ‘I will give you a very good employer if you don’t tell anyone.’”
Susi worked 20-hour days, only sleeping as the sun came up. Her Hong Kong Chinese employer frequently slapped her and made her sign a paper saying wages had been paid. After seven months without contact her family forced a meeting, and Susi left. The agent then placed another domestic worker in that home.
Note: Susi’s Hong Kong employer subsequently hired (through a different agency) another Indonesian maid, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, whose eight months of ill-treatment made international headlines and resulted in criminal convictions.
Haryatin, now 36, from Indonesia, abused in Saudi Arabia.
“Once I had said, ‘If you don’t like me, please send me to the office, please send me home.’ She said, ‘How nice, how lucky you are to go home. If I don’t like, I just hit or I kill you.’”
Haryatin needed money to pay for her daughter’s education. She worked for a woman with nine children who continually insulted and hit her and made her sleep in a storage room. At 3 a.m. while Haryatin was washing school uniforms, her employer rubbed the baby’s faeces-filled diaper into Harayatin’s face because the maid hadn’t been quick enough to change it. Soon afterwards Haryatin lost her sight after being hit on the head with a pipe. She was forced to stay, and keep working, until the swelling disappeared.
Saraswati, now 20, from rural Nepal, abused in Nepal.
“She took me to my room and started beating me with her hand. Pulling my hair. With no one at home to stop her, she would beat me a long time….The Government should not allow children to be used as domestic workers.”
Sarawati became a domestic worker aged 12 because her family could not afford to send her to school. A shopkeeper helped her escape from an abusive employer, but her next employer, in Kathmandu, was even more abusive. She has scars on her forehead and knee. She still works as a maid but is now finishing her education and helps other domestic workers learn about their rights.
You can visit the exhibition at the Main Bar of the FCC between now and July 31. Non-members are welcome from 10am-12 noon and 3pm-5:30pm daily. Address: North Block, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central.