Friday morning Law Wan-tung, the 44-year-old housewife who was found guilty of abusing Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and Tutik Lestari Ningsih, was sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Speaking in the Wan Chai District Court early Friday, the Honourable Judge Amanda Woodcock made ground-breaking statements slamming the live-in rule and collection of illegal agency fees as having facilitated Erwiana’s abuse.
“In my view, such conduct could be prevented if domestic workers were not forced to live in their employers’ homes,” Judge Woodcock said. “The choice would make all the difference.”
Law was the only adult in her home in Tseung Kwan O, where Erwiana worked for her for 7 months. Judge Woodcock emphasised that the threats she made to Erwiana and Tutik were made all the more serious because she was a person of authority to them and that her attitude towards them was “contemptible.”
Judge Woodcock also called into question the role of the agencies in facilitating the collection of debt from domestic workers, noting that the loans were often transferred from agencies in Indonesia to a legitimate finance company based in Hong Kong. Such arrangements, she said, were very sophisticated and difficult to detect.
“There must be an element of exploitation here,” said Judge Woodcock, noting that though Erwiana was aware of wage deductions, she did not agree to the arrangement, and that it was illegal under Hong Kong law. She noted that it was time for both the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments to investigate the exploitation of domestic workers through agencies and loan companies.
"I am not fully satisfied but I am happy that she is going to prison." – Erwiana responds to sentencing. pic.twitter.com/tqKXNfNbnz
— HK Helpers Campaign (@hkhelpers) February 27, 2015
Judge Woodcock also lauded the role of Riyanti, a fellow Indonesian domestic worker who found Erwiana injured at the airport and assisted her home, noting that without Riyanti’s “selflessness and generosity,” Law might have gotten away with her crimes.
Law’s defence counsel Graham Harris petitioned for the lowest possible sentence, and pointed out that Erwiana’s abuse was “bad, but not the worst of its kind.” The defence cited a 2013 case in which Indonesian maid Kartika was tortured over two years, tied to a chair with chains and burned with an iron.
The defence petitioned Judge Woodcock to “show a degree of compassion to her even though there are those who would say she doesn’t deserve it.” Judge Woodcock also penalised Law with a fine of HK$15,000.
— Meredith McBride (@MeredithJamie) February 26, 2015
Despite Judge Woodock’s findings, in February 2015 the Hong Kong Labour Department stated that it did not have enough evidence to pursue a case against Chan’s Asia Recruitment Centre, which was found to have confiscated Erwiana’s HKID and passport upon her arrival.