• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 1:04pm
NewsHong Kong
HUMAN RIGHTS

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

mrgoodkat
The middle-class in other countries also makes do with two working parents and no maid. I grew up in Germany and my parents were both working since I was about 1 year old. Most people here are just too lazy to do any work and maids are cheap. I have friends whose kids are already teenagers and they still have a maid to cook for them. When I was a kid I had to nuke my own food and do the dishes. I survived and believe it makes me a better, independent person than what Hong Kong's society is turning out today.
bolshoi
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.}}}
Link:
****www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1293302/girl-upsets-passengers-urinating-inside-mtr-train
bolshoi
I've replied to Mr X Man. Hope all is clear now.
Mr X Man
Hi baishui, I am sorry to learn that you think I am actually an abuser. My original post was just a very stupid joke, none of this really happened, I never hit anyone in my life. I should not have posted such a dumb and stupid comment, it was supposed to be simply for fun but I made you believe I am an abuser and I can only blame myself for that, so I am the dumb and stupid one after all. Even if I did something as horrible as hitting a maid many times I would not brag about it online but since it never happened I have nothing to be ashamed of, except for posting by mistake that misleading comment. If I have a maid one day I will remember to treat her fairly and my stupid post and your comments referring to me as an abuser will be the perfect reminders. Again, I'm sorry if I offended anyone with my stupid joke.
bolshoi
@Mr X Man: Glad you've come forward on this. I understand many people feel that they can say whatever they want as long as it is anonymous and online. What you had said in your original post was absolutely abhorrent to a civilised society. It was all the more ironic because you were supposed to be talking about other people's 'uncivilised behaviour'. Some readers may find your comment very offensive and some may take the matter quite seriously. All in all, it was just bad form... Anyway your apology is accepted by me.
Mr X Man
Hi baishui,
I am sorry to learn that you think I am actually an abuser. My original post was just a very stupid joke, none of this really happened, I never hit anyone in my life. I should not have posted such a dumb and stupid comment, it was supposed to be simply for fun but I made you believe I am an abuser and I can only blame myself for that, so I am the dumb and stupid one after all. Even if I did something as horrible as hitting a maid many times I would not brag about it online but since it never happened I have nothing to be ashamed of, except for posting by mistake that misleading comment. If I have a maid one day I will remember to treat her fairly and my stupid post and your comments referring to me as an abuser will be the perfect reminders. Again, I'm sorry if I offended anyone with my stupid joke.
bolshoi
I am not saying that this Mr X Man (or Natascha Fung) represents the majority of Hongkongers but it probably would not be an exaggeration to say that his/her comment epitomises some Hongkongers' mentality. It is not surprising given the fact that they grew up in a colony where they were never treated as equals by the Brits and so they are inherently incapable of treating others as equals.
bolshoi
Just a gentle reminder - the content between the brackets {{{...}}} in my comment above is a quotation.
bonniechin
I have a friend who has changed helpers 5 times within the space of one year. The shortest stint lasted just 4 days. I only have my friend's side of the story of how "bad" these helpers were. But I'm thinking, first one no good, bad luck; second one no good, bad luck again. But when the third and fourth and fifth helpers are deemed no good, I'm beginning to think that the problem is with my friend (the employer) rather than with the helper.
sontan0917
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.

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