image

Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

How an Indonesian domestic helper’s unexpected pregnancy in Hong Kong brought heartache and ultimately joy

Her relationship with a local man led to a desperate turn to charity for help

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 10:32am

Annie, 42, a domestic worker from Indonesia, had been working in Hong Kong for over a decade when she started dating a local man whom she believed would become her companion.

But their relationship soon took an unexpected turn. What for most couples is a moment of joy became a source of anxiety and concern. Annie – not her real name – got pregnant and her boyfriend stopped taking her calls.

“I did not want to have sex with him without marriage,” Annie recalled. “In Indonesia, that is not acceptable. But he insisted, saying that the culture in Hong Kong was different. I was also afraid of getting pregnant, but he guaranteed he could not have children. He said his doctor had told him that, so he refused to use a condom.”

Humanitarian crisis’ for migrant mothers in Hong Kong, local NGO claims

“I called him, telling him the news and he accused me of sleeping with other guys. But I had been only with him. I was very upset and worried.”

Annie had to face the uncertainty of having a child in a foreign city alone. And her case is not unusual.

With the long period of time that many helpers stay in Hong Kong, it is hardly surprising that they start developing relationships in the city.

Jessica Chow, director of social work and health care at charitable group Pathfinders, is familiar with the predicament.

“They feel lonely, spend many years away from their families and very commonly their husbands [back home] already have an affair,” Chow said. Most had little sex education or lacked access to family planning in the city, she added.

After they get pregnant, they end up navigating a wave of fears: from telling their Hong Kong employers, which usually leads to their sacking, to breaking the news in their home countries, where many families refuse to help.

New wave of Cambodian domestic helpers ‘know risks’ that come with working in Hong Kong

“If the family back home is not able to accept the child, where can this child go?” Chow asked. “Who can take care of him? The mother here is often pushed to overstay her visa so she can look after her child.”

Non-residents are ineligible for child care services, she noted, and foster care is not available for women who are often expected to be ready to work 24 hours for six days.

They are quite extraordinary in terms of resilience
Jessica Chow, Pathfinders

“When they don’t want to terminate their pregnancy, basically they have no options.”

Some reach such deep despair that they consider suicide, Chow said.

“Sometimes we have a hard time protecting them when they’re so depressed. But they are quite extraordinary in terms of resilience.”

According to Pathfinders’ 2016 report, 88 per cent of the fathers of children born in such circumstances were located in Hong Kong. Of the total, 48 per cent were asylum seekers and 52 per cent were permanent residents, held other visas or were outside the city.

Like many other women in her position, Annie had to turn to charity.

“My employer was very angry and surprised. I was offered the option of obtaining an abortion in Shenzhen, but I could not agree to that,” she said. Her employment agency made a similar suggestion.

Soon before Annie delivered her baby, she decided to quit her job, explaining: “I did not want to fight any more.”

How one woman is giving a voice to Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic helpers

Annie eventually received the help of a pastor and his family, who looked after her child for two years while she found another employer and fought in court for her son to be recognised by his father.

After a long ordeal, the court proved her right. The child’s father agreed to give a lump sum to their son, who was eventually recognised as a permanent resident.

Annie’s son, now 4, has since been raised by another family she met through church. She gets to see him on her day off, but hopes that will change this year.

“I found a local couple who does not mind me bringing the child along. I will start working for them in March,” she said, grinning.

Hong Kong domestic helpers march to demand stronger legal protection against abuse

Despite all the difficulties, Annie’s eyes brighten and smile widens when she talks about her child. She is counting the days till she can finally watch her son grow up every day, an opportunity that many domestic workers do not have.

Even in the tougher times, Annie said she had never considered giving her son up for adoption.

“It was never an option … he is my own blood and flesh,” she explained.

“Even though we don’t live together, we are really close. Sometimes, when he feels that I’m worried, he says: ‘Don’t worry, Mummy. I will look after you when I grow up.’”