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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 5:23am
NewsHong Kong

Survey reveals extent of abuse of foreign maids in Hong Kong

But aid group believes figures are tip of iceberg with many victims too scared to lodge complaints

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 9:43am

The first time "Maria" was raped, she didn't tell anybody. "The first thing that came to my mind was that I didn't want to lose my job."

The 25-year old domestic worker from the Philippines was just a month into her job with a family in Kowloon City when the first attack happened. A second attack forced her to flee.

"I left at midnight, without anything. I just had a small bag. I was still in my pyjamas," she recalled.

Maria's ordeal - which ended recently when her case collapsed due to the deterioration of evidence because she was too late going to a doctor - is at the extreme end of what new figures reveal is the widespread abuse facing the city's tens of thousands of domestic workers.

Data gathered by the Mission for Migrant Workers, which surveyed more than 3,000 women last year, found 58 per cent had faced verbal abuse, 18 per cent physical abuse and 6 per cent sexual abuse. Experts believe the figures represent only the tip of the iceberg as many victims are too scared or ill-informed to lodge complaints.

"The number of unreported cases is obviously unknown," said Cynthia Dacanay, a case worker at the mission, adding: "Some consider abuse a normal thing for maids to experience.''

After a night wandering the streets, Maria's friends took her to the mission in the grounds of St John's Cathedral in Central, which has been providing resources and legal aid for domestic workers since 1981. "I was empowered when I came here. I became stronger," she said.

Dacanay said the Philippine consulate advised Maria to return to the Philippines and not pursue legal action, a charge the consulate vehemently denies.

Hong Kong's often-criticised employment laws for domestic helpers compounded Maria's situation. When a contract ends, a foreign worker has only 14 days to find a new employer, which many say is not enough time. If unsuccessful, a worker must return home or face prosecution.

Maria was granted several visa extensions as her case went through the legal system but she was forbidden by law from working and had to rely on charity. For more than a year she has been living at the Bethune House shelter in Jordan in a cramped dormitory with other women.

Sri, 40, from Indonesia, did not know her employer was supposed to provide medical treatment. "I just signed the contract without reading it because I don't know English," she said.

She said that when she became ill with a throat ailment, her employer of six years tried to trick her into going back to Indonesia. Sri now also lives at Bethune.

For many women, violations are a way of life. Reports of no food or food allowance, delayed pay, working on holidays and not being provided reasonable privacy are common. As with Maria, job security is the main reason most choose to remain silent.

Another source of exploitation can be the agencies that place most foreign workers, with many charging exorbitant commissions despite the law.

In the Philippines, many agencies also insist on a steep upfront fee as a condition for placement in Hong Kong, even though this violates Philippine law.

Despite losing her legal battle, Maria recently filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission, which she hopes will launch a further investigation, but she is also looking to move on. "I plan to look for another employer," she said. "I have to work for my kids."


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This article is now closed to comments

Domestic helper policy is why people actually need maids. If the government offered after school child care where parents could pick up their children at 6 pm and thus not need a maid then you would see the number of maids be cut by 80%. This would bring Hong Kong in line with other developed countries like US / Canada / UK. But if the government did this the domestic helpers would all go crazzy because they would loose their jobs.
Everyone should just face the fact. Domestic helpers love living in Hong Kong because they earn good salaries, build great friendships and 99% of them have a great life.
I am not saying a small minority are not mistreated. Just like in every country and every company there will be some bad apples. But generally Hong Kong treats them like family. (Anyway they are treated better here than in Philippines or Indonesia - which is why they all come here - land of opportunity and laws).
Hong Kong treats them like family? Are you saying this with a straight face?
I think maids in general are treated extremely well in Hong Kong. This is evident by the number of women from Philippines and Indonesia that want to movere here. I believe most complaints against employers are just a ploy to get money for nothing. Domestic helpers have many many so called aid groups set up in Hong Kong that make their money from charity / domestic helpers so they have an incentive to make a big problem out of nothing.
Hong Kong needs to stop it dependency on domestic helpers with better child care places and after school courses like exist in western countries.
Below I quote a comment posted today (4 August 2013) by someone named Mr X Man (it was first posted under the name of Natascha Fung), in which the poster bragged about 'hitting his/her Philipino maid a few times to teach her good manners'. This is horrendous!!! @SCMP editors: Police attention should be called here.
{{{Why do people from the Mainland behave so badly? Don't they know how to behave like respectful human beings? Even my dumb and stupid domestic worker from the Philippines does not urinate in the MTR, I had to hit her a few times to teach her good manners. Thanks to the Brits, HK kids do not pee or **** in the MTR like those uncivilised Mainlanders.}}}
Dai Muff
Dream on IRDHK. Too many middle class HK people are just too d**n lazy to do their own cleaning and cooking. It already kills them to give the helpers Sunday off.
"People who don't have enough space for their own families shouldn't be allowed to hire a maid in the first place."
Well that maybe easy for you to say, but don't forget that many so called middle-class families rely on dual incomes which is only possible if they have cheap domestic help. Obviously it's not an ideal arrangement, but many of these families have no other choice. On balance, the more well off people (that live in comparably larger homes) probably have less of a need to hire helpers in the first place. I'd agree with you 100% if we were living in an ideal world.
it is not true that only domestic helpers are abused, in many cases even employers are abused by the helpers such as most of the time the helpers don't do their jobs properly and completely as most of the time they are talking on phone. if the employer remind them to do the work they either threaten to leave the job and file case against the employer or in some cases they abuse their children and elderly in the employers absence. many employers are helpless as they need helpers for their children and elderly. if the helpers are abused here then why do they like to work here and fight for resident visa. they are horrible. they take advantage of helpless employers. if they are abused then leave the job and hong kong.
Re: the sanctimonious PSLHK
I would simplify the language you are attempting to use, you obviously don't understand some of the words you are using which is indicative of your argumentative skill. Using words you don't understand in the hopes of forming a sentence coherent enough to make sense yet confuse your opponent is redundant, does nothing to further the discussion and renders the points of your argument: moot.
Look at your first paragraph:
"If reality exposition is misapprehended" does not make sense, especially when tapered off with your redundant question on whether the "counter-racism" is verbal or mental.
Thoughts originate from your brain and therefore it's a problem with the mindset.
A better way to phrase this is:
"To make indiscriminate derogatory generalisations about all Asian cultures indicates a very big problem with the mindset of individuals such as yourself."
And then you lower the level of your argument so low, everyone reading views your intelligence level as somewhere between brain dead, and comatose.
Proven by the western parents issue: You attack London, when he mentions a slew of other places where they don't need maids, you've avoided the actual point, meaning you have no rebuttal. Very indicative of your intelligence level.
Did you know, a study done actually proved that the western world's shorter working days actually makes them MORE productive than citizens in countries that have ridiculous working hours?
If Hong Kong passes a law to limit working hours and require paying overtime otherwise, it is the beginning for working parents to take up parental care more. It will also begin a service of professional care centers for kids whose parents are unavailable or at work. Then parents like elsewhere in the economically advanced societies could have a responsible way in working fulltime while raising a family. Of course, if hourly domestic helpers could legally do so, it will further better the change to come. I will call on the legislators to initiate and pass these laws. Parents in Hong Kong are in no position openly to demand working hour limit and overtime pay without jeopardizing their current or even future employment. Silence they must as servitude servants to their employer just like being one too to their domestic helpers.
According to my wife (who used to be a helper) and her friends, the Westerners are the worst when it comes to Sunday off and holidays. She had had her ex-employers who are French complaining "why thee are so many holidays in Hong Kong". She also had an Australian famuily who disappeared on a Saturday and comes back on Sunday night leaving the children behind with her so she could not even take her Sundays off. By the way those are here on expatriate terms and living in decent size apartments over in Repulse Bay.



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