Maid's tale of abuse is just one among many

Shelter logs two cases of abuse every single day as helpers flee violence, maltreatment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 4:35am

At a 900 sq ft temporary refuge for foreign domestic helpers who can no longer stay with their employers, at least 16 Filipino and Indonesian women are squeezed inside. The Sheung Wan flat has one bedroom, a kitchen and a small office.

Bethune House was set up in 1986 by the Mission for Migrant Workers and provides short-term accommodation, meals, counselling, and training workshops to migrant workers in need of help or with legal problems.

"Chatting with friends here makes my days easier since waiting for the unknown future is stressful," says Nur Hariyanfi, one of the residents.

The 30-year-old said she moved into the shelter in early February after her 81-year-old employer attacked her with a hot iron, scalding her left hand.

Recounting the moment, the Indonesian domestic helper said: "I was very shocked. My soul is gone."

Hariyanfi said her employer verbally abused her and attacked her because she didn't iron the curtains properly before Lunar New Year and accidently hurt the old woman's finger in a quarrel.

After the alleged attack with the iron, Hariyanfi turned to a social worker, who later introduced her to the shelter.

"I decided to leave because I thought if [my employer] could do this to me, she could do more in future," she said.

Mission director Edwina Antonio said women living in the shelter had been exposed to all sorts of abuse - violent, sexual and verbal. Some had been forced to work exhausting hours or were not given their wages.

The Sheung Wan shelter and its sister refuge in Jordan each handle about 30 cases a month, most related to labour disputes.

"We get at least one to two cases [of physical and sexual abuse] in a month," Antonio said. But she said it was impossible to count exactly how many workers were abused because they were mistreated in private situations. Some may have just gritted their teeth as they needed their jobs to support their families, she added.

Another resident from the Philippines, giving her name only as Mary Ann, said her employers made deductions from her wages for various reasons, such as leaving a food item in the refrigerator for too long.

For Hariyanfi, life is better in the shelter, but she is not happy.

"I feel sorry for my family because I can't send them money any more," she said, her eyes brimming with tears.