• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 4:26am
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih
CommentInsight & Opinion

Maid-abuse case highlights the need to act

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 January, 2014, 12:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 10:39am

An international news magazine has headlined a reference to Indonesian maids as Hong Kong's modern-day slaves. This was prompted by alleged serial assault of a maid by her local employers, widely reported here and abroad. It is unfair to most employers and an undeserved slur on the city's reputation. Nonetheless, such abuse must be condemned in the strongest terms.

Legal protections may be better in Hong Kong than in other markets for foreign domestic workers, but the case in point raises questions about their conditions. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was reported at one stage to be critically ill in an Indonesian hospital after eight months of alleged physical abuse by her employer in Tseung Kwan O. Another Indonesian maid has since come forward with similar allegations against the same employer dating back more than three years. The questions raised include whether an employment agency should have reported alleged abuse to the police earlier, and whether the authorities should relax the requirement that maids live in and find another job within two weeks if sacked.

Are these two cases truly a reflection of Hong Kong people? If the mutual trust and respect expected of a normal domestic relationship does not prevent mental and physical abuse, a live-in employer-employee relationship in which one party has all the power is unlikely to be immune to it. Given that there are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in this city, mostly required to live with their employers, serious cases investigated by police are relatively few and far between. Sadly, anecdotal evidence is more common.

It is important for the city's reputation, therefore, that the police investigate Erwiana's case with diligence and urgency. So it is good to hear from police sources that officers will travel to Indonesia to interview her. We trust she stands by her reported willingness to return to help with the investigation, so the authorities can get to the bottom of it speedily and in a manner fair to all parties.


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This article is now closed to comments

The reported maid-abuse cases are not a concern in how many cases or what reputation Hong Kong will suffer. The concern is moral obligation as a human being. Immoral behavior towards others must be condemned whenever is discovered. Preventive measure must be codified into law and condusive environment to immoral behavior must be removed. The latter is the most vexing to Hong Kong society.
Human abuse seems to be contagious. People abuse others when they themselves are abused. The woman purportedly abused the two Indonesian maids may have herself abused at home by her husband or by her boss at work. Abuse behavior needs not to be only violent kind. Hong Kong suffers from abuse of individual rights at work. Hong Kong workers aren’t protected by law in hour and day limit at work. The undersized living quarters are all abuses to both physical mental healths. The connection of how people behave and their environment with each other is inescapable.
The elimination and stopping of maid-abuse is a very tall order for the government and people alike. We must go to the core of the problem and putting people in jail doesn’t do effectively.
Agree that the right things should be done in this case of the abused maid, not for HK's reputation, but for justice. However to use this example to resolve other problems such as abuse of the perpetrators themselves and therefore their mental health, small sizes of HK homes, etc., aren't issues that can be resolved, if ever. So let's take it one step at a time.
The central point of the editorial is that Hong Kong must not allow this type of behavior or inhuman treatment to occur and when it does exits we are obligated collectively to take consequential and prompt action to ensure justice for the victim and punishment for the perpetrator. Such apparent and callous treatment of staff reflects poorly on all HK citizens and it is not acceptable in what is a highly developed and civilized city.
Most importantly when such behavior occurs Hong Kong citizens will judged not so much by what has happened but more by what we do as a community to ensure prevention of any future occurrences and appropriate and human compensation of the victim and punishment and of perpetrators of such unacceptable behavior .


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