Domestic Workers Face 'Modern Slavery' in Hong Kong

Collection with 18 media items created by Miguel Candela

Hong Kong 01 Mar 2015 11:16

320,000 migrant women are exposed to all kinds of physical and psychological abuse in the domestic service sector of Hong Kong. This story is a testimony of their experiences and struggles.

After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money or documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them. Barefooted, without money nor documentation, she sought refuge in a 24-hour fast food restaurant and waited until another compatriot helped her and took her to a shelter.

Esther C. Bangkawayan is the director of Bethune House shelter, where foreign domestic helpers who suffer abuse find shelter, food, and legal advice. They now house about a dozen women in trouble, but at times they even have to squeeze around 20 people in the small house nestled beside a church in Kowloon. A domestic helper herself, Esther is campaigning the government to scrap two rules she deems unfair: one which forbids employees from changing their employers more than three times a year, and another one which doesn’t allow them from changing to work at another sector of the economy.

42 year old filipino domestic helper Grace signed a misleading labour contract to work in Hong Kong but she instead ended up in Dalian, a northeast Chinese city 1,979 km far from Hong Kong. After confronting her employer about the situation, Grace was put into a return flight to Hong Kong without her pending salary and with only 200 RMB in her wallet. Grace has made now a formal complaint against the recruitment agency which made her labour contract. However, she is not very optimistic regarding her chances of recovering the debt of 40,000 pesos she currently has in the Philippines.

Eni Lestari, Indonesian, is the spokesperson for the Justice for Erwiana Committee. A domestic helper herself, she hopes to get justice for one of her compatriots, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who came to Hong Kong seeking for a better life and future but instead found a form of modern slavery. Erwiana’€™s employers hit her so severely that her brain has sustained irreversible injuries. As a result, she is unable to walk properly and has blurred vision. Her employer punched Erwiana so violently that her teeth cracked. She was sent to Indonesia with her body full of bruises and 8 US dollars in her pocket. Outraged immigrants like Lestari demand now justice and prison for her attackers. The Court has already declared them guilty and sentence is pending.

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

“€œWe barely have any money, so we have to take our lunch from our employer's house and sit in any public space that we can so we can enjoy our leisure time with our friends,”€ said Kamsiah.

To enjoy their free time and to get to know other immigrant workers in Hong Kong, immigrant groups organize activities for the women, such as beauty contests and self-defense classes in Victoria Park.  Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate Fight Club teaches women to protect themselves from abusive employers.

Not only helping the women get away from the world of domestic work for the little time they have off or boosting their ability to defend themselves, such activities are the only social contact many have; and friends made during Sundays can be of great importance when difficulties arise.

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HK Domestic Workers 01
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Dora poses behind a traditional Indonesian wooden mask in front of the police station where she reported physical abuse and conditions of slave labor at the whim of her employer.

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HK Domestic Workers 02
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
24 Jun 2014

Kamsiah relives the moment she escaped her employer's household and sought refuge in a McDonald's open 24-7. Barefoot with neither money nor documentation, she waited until another compatriot helped her and took her to a shelter.

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HK Domestic Workers 03
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Kamsiah stands at a Kowloon street market where she would buy food for her employer. After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money and documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, this false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them.

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HK Domestic Workers 04
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Filipino domestic worker Grace stands at the bus station where she arrived in Hong Kong from China. She signed a labor contract to work in Hong Kong but her employer's family sent her illegally to Dalian, Northeast China. Without her passport and knowing no Chinese she didn'€™t know what to do, so she obliged them. After having worked there for a while, the employers refused to pay her and sent her back to Hong Kong with just 200 RMB in hand. Now she has filed a lawsuit against the family who employed her, but she's not very optimistic about the outcome and she doesn't think she will be able to pay the 40.000 peso debt she contracted in the Philippines with the employment agency.

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HK Domestic Workers 05
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

42 year old filipino domestic helper, Grace, signed a misleading labour contract to work in Hong Kong but she instead ended up in Dalian, a northeast Chinese city and 1,979 km far from Hong Kong. After confronting her situation to the employer, Grace was put into a return flight to Hong Kong without her pending salary and with only 200 RMB in her wallet. Grace has made now a formal complaint against the recruitment agency which made her labour contract. However, she is not very optimistic with her chances of recovering the debt of 40,000 pesos she currently has in the Philippines. In the photograph, Grace poses in Mong Kok, Kowloon district, near where she first arrived in Hong Kong.

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HK Domestic Workers 06
Kowloon
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Sundays are the only days that immigrants can rest and enjoy with their friends. Some from Indonesia, as shown in the image, also try dresses for their pre-wedding photo taking sessions so they can send them to their families. It is important for them to show an image of progress and prosperity.

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HK Domestic Workers 07
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

To enjoy their free time and to get to know other immigrant workers in Hong Kong, different immigrant groups organize activities, such as beauty contest, in Victoria Park, Hong Kong Island. Such activities are the only social contact many have, and friends made during Sundays can be of great importance when difficulties arise.

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HK Domestic Workers 08
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Indonesian women learn and train self-defense thanks to Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate fight club in Victoria park to protect themselves from abusive employers.

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HK Domestic Workers 09
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Indonesian women learn and train self-defense thanks to Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate fight club in Victoria park to protect themselves from abusive employers.

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HK Domestic Workers 10
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
01 Jun 2014

At a difficult and exhausting self-defense class, Indonesian women train to protect themselves from abusive employers. Sundays are the only holidays for foreign domestic workers who fill Hong Kong's parks and streets with cultural and other activities at the end of each week.

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HK Domestic Workers 11
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off in an economic way. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

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HK Domestic Workers 12
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Sring Atin arrived in Hong Kong in 2002 to work as a domestic helper and only had a single day off each month. Her abuse and slavey-like labour experience in Hong Kong does not differ from many other Indonesian immigrants but, luckily, Sring was allowed to change employer. She is now of of the most energetic activists who fight to protect immigrants rights and to change Hong Kong laws.

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HK Domestic Workers 13
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Eni Lestari, Indonesian, is the spokesperson for the Justice for Erwiana Committee. A domestic helper herself, she hopes to get justice for her compatriot Erwiana Sulistyaningsih who came to Hong Kong seeking for a better life and future but found slavery instead. Erwiana’s employers hit her so severely that her brain has sustained irreversible injuries; As a result she is unable to walk properly and has blurred vision. Her employer punched Erwiana so violently that her teeth cracked. She was sent to Indonesia with her body full of bruises and 8 US dollars in her pocket. Outraged immigrants like Lestari demand now justice and prison for her attackers. The Court has already declared them guilty and sentence is pending.

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HK Domestic Workers 14
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off in an economic way. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long but also massaging each other as shown in the picture.

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HK Domestic Workers 15
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off in an economic way. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

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HK Domestic Workers 16
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Two young Indonesian immigrants pose in a Hong Kong street on a sunday. Many of them are misled by mafia-style organizations who lure them to sign abusive contracts and exploit them later in Hong Kong.

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HK Domestic Workers 17
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off and to have picnic. “We barely have any money, so we have to take our lunch from our employer's house and sit in any public space that we can so we can enjoy our leisure time with our friends” said Kamsiah.

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HK Domestic Workers 18
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Kamsiah stands at a Kowloon street market where she would buy food for her employer. After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money and documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, this false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them.