A civilised society will protect all its members from abuse

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 May, 2009, 12:00am

I read with interest the letters in these columns that seem to doubt the abuse of domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

I believe a country is civilised when it treats its most vulnerable members with dignity and respect. One writer said she had witnessed abuse in England. I believe her.

Why does she find it so hard to believe it exists here also?

I think civilised countries are willing to reflect on their behaviour and see how they can stop abuse rather than 'protesting too much'.

I also believe civilised countries try to ensure that abuse is neither widespread nor condoned by employment agencies or governmental institutions.

I would like to think we can all agree that people should not be abused.

Surely we can all agree that if an employment contract says employers should give helpers 24 hours (one day) off per week, it means exactly that, and not 'when the chores are done'.

I want to believe that when employers indicate that a helper has adequate privacy and suitable sleeping accommodation, they don't mean security cameras even in the bathroom, or sleeping on the floor or on top of kitchen cupboards.

I wish it were not the truth when one employer said to a helper: 'You are the ninth helper I have had in the last nine months. I haven't paid any of them before, and I am not going to pay you now.'

I find it hard to believe that educated, civilised people condone abuse of any sort. However, it occurs, in Britain, in the US, yes, even in Hong Kong.

It is difficult to know the extent of the abuse because many helpers do not have the money to prosecute their cases as they are charged more than HK$100 each time they need a visa extension.

Government statistics on court cases involving helpers reflect the tip of the iceberg. Many leave without pursuing justice.

An attitude of 'gweilo go home' does not deal with abuse here in Hong Kong.

A strong, civilised society is willing to reflect on what can be improved and make the necessary changes.

Sally Kydd, Tai Po