Domestic helpers are not our slaves
A small minority of employers are giving the rest a bad name by forcing their maids to work across the border on the mainland, sometimes with tragic consequences
Following the death of a Hong Kong domestic helper from the Philippines in a fall from a Shenzhen residential building, immigration officials have referred what they suspected was a case of human-trafficking to the police for follow-up action. This raises the question of whether taking a helper to Shenzhen and leaving her with a relative in breach of her contract is grounds for concern about trafficking. Citing mounting complaints over recent years, rights groups say the case of Lorain Asuncion has exposed a dangerous trendof local employers sending their helpers to work illegally outside the city. A Philippine official in Hong Kong said its consulate had received four complaints in recent months about helpers being taken to the mainland against their wishes.
According to Asuncion’s relatives, the couple who employed her had taken her to Shenzhen about four times since she began working for them in October. Her aunt, Susan Escorial, said Asuncion was afraid because she neither knew the language nor had access to social networks, and more so on the last trip because she would not be with her real employer, but would be left with a relative while the employers went on holiday. Last Thursday, the couple were arrested by the police on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud.
Trafficking of people for the sex trade or forced labour is a serious violation of human rights that attracts heavy penalties under Hong Kong’s laws. Hong Kong does have issues with exploitation of foreign domestic helpers by a minority of bad employers, and by agents who gouge fees that leave helpers in debt bondage, and open to sexual exploitation. Critics argue that the government should legislate separately to target forced labour, domestic servitude and debt bondage. That all but a small minority of employers behave decently is no excuse to give a free pass to the exceptions. Human rights activists say alleged abuse of domestic helpers bears many hallmarks of forced labour, such as contractual deception, debt bondage and retention of passports.
It is good to hear a police spokesman say offences related to human-trafficking are not tolerated in Hong Kong.