As featured in the South China Morning Post.
The former employer of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was convicted in the District Court on Tuesday of a multitude of violent crimes that left the Indonesian domestic helper a shell of her former self. The physical and psychological abuse she endured was horrific. She had little left in terms of her physical integrity and fought hard to hold onto her humanity.
Yet, since Erwiana’s case came to light barely a year ago, the Hong Kong government has taken little to no action to constructively address the inequities, discrimination and risks that foreign domestic helpers face.
The government continues to hold to the status quo position, arguing that the prevailing policies, legislation, administration and due diligence practices do not require any real change. Erwiana’s case exposed blatant shortcomings of the system, which regulates and supposedly protects foreign domestic helpers. And yet the government has been reluctant to take concrete steps to provide greater protection.
It is apparent that the government has treated Erwiana’s case as a one-off incident, a statistical outlier. It apparently continues to fail to recognise that Erwiana’s case is one of a multitude of cases of abuse of varying degrees suffered by foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong. Such abuses include non-payment or partial payment of wages, denial of statutory holidays, psychological abuse, intimidation, and acts of violence, including sexual violence.
An Amnesty International report published in late 2013 found that almost 60 per cent of all foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong were subjected to verbal abuse by their employers. Almost 20 per cent suffered violence at the hands of their employers and, in 2014, the Equal Opportunities Commission found that 6.5 per cent suffered sexual abuse.