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Friday, February 27, 2015, 14:06

HK woman gets 6 years for abusing maid

By Timothy Chui / chinadailyasia.com

 HK woman gets 6 years for abusing maid
Law Wan-tung (center), Erwiana Sulistyaningsih's former employer, is escorted by Hong Kong Correctional Services officers in a van outside the District Court in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, Feb 27, 2015. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

HONG KONG - A housewife guilty of physically abusing her domestic helper for half a year in a case which garnered international headlines and seized upon by worker rights groups was sent to prison for six years and fined HK$15,000 for labor law violations.

A subdued Law Wan-tung looked on as Justice Amanda Woodcock delivered the sentence Friday at the District Court, shy the court's seven year maximum but more than a similar case involving the horrific abuse of a maid.

Law was found guilty of multiple counts of occasion grievous bodily harm as well as threatening the family of her helpers in addition to denying pay, holidays and rest days, in a case which Justice woodcock said turned on the credibility of the accusers.

Woodcock was of the opinion Law saw her helpers as beneath her, treating them with contempt and emboldened by Erwiana's submissiveness borne out of fears for her family's life.

Woodcock commended fellow Indonesian helper and prosecution witness Rianti, credited for discovering Erwiana's abuse while she awaited her flight home, praising her for her perception and kindness and adding Law may have gotten away with her crime if not for Rianti reaching out.

Woodcock also lashed out the hiring arrangements and debt obligation Erwiana said she was compelled to accept, calling the system exploitive and calling for a joint investigation by the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments.

Woodcock also hit out at the city's live in rule for domestic helpers, noting such conditions led to a number of similar cases.

 

 HK woman gets 6 years for abusing maid

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih (right 2nd) shakes hand with supporters as she arrives at the District Court in Wan Chai on Feb 27, 2015. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

Horrific images of Law's badly beaten and emancipated helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih captured headlines worldwide, sparking an international criminal investigation with her case serving as a lighting rod for criticism of Hong Kong's migrant workers' rules.

Prior to Law's sentencing, defense counsel Graham Harris described her as, "a lady who had very, very high expectations for any domestic helper," as evidence by letters of support from letters of family and close friends.

Harris said Law verged on an obsession with hygiene and cleanliness in the home in an attempt to explain his client's behavior as her son suffered from a skin allergy disorder triggered by dust, noting she hired a string of helpers with the sole duty of cleaning.

He said Law had no intention of carrying out threats to murder the families of her helpers if they sought help, adding outstanding wages had been paid in full.

Law's most severe charges of causing grievous bodily harm were not the worst of its kind, Harris said, eluding to another housewife, Catherine Au Yuk-shan, who was sentenced in 2013 to five and a half years for systematically torturing her maid with hot irons, bicycle chains, a hanger and a box cutter over two years.

Locally born and raised, Law was not the callous monster painted by some but a doting mother, dutiful and loving sister and daughter, Harris said.

A court ordered psychologist determined Law suffered from intense child rearing pressure and had limited social and marital support, Woodcock said.

Hong Kong has about 330,000 foreign domestic helpers, most of them from the Philippines and Indonesia and nearly all women, who can earn more in Hong Kong to send back to their families than they can at home.

They earn a small fraction of the minimum wage and are forced to live with their employers, often in tiny apartments. Human rights groups say they often suffer physical and emotional abuse, including sexual assault.

 
 
 
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