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Wednesday, February 11, 2015, 09:36

Erwiana case shames HK

By Staff Writer

The District Court found Law Wan-tung guilty of a raft of assault charges on Tuesday, bringing an end to the high-profile maid torture case in Hong Kong that brought the miserable state of some domestic workers under the international spotlight.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a “simple village girl” as the judge called her, was selected by Time magazine as one of 2014’s most influential people worldwide and commended as an “inspiration” for migrant workers fighting against violence and discrimination after the exposure of her shocking ordeal. The sight, last May, of her confined to a wheelchair at the airport with bruises and injuries so severe as to render her unrecognizable, alarmed an army of global reporters as she was waiting to return home to central Java — some 4,000 kilometers from Hong Kong. This was a shameful moment for Hong Kong as a world-class metropolis of civilization and enlightenment. Although this simple, timid Indonesian girl told the media that she, “as a human being”, would forgive her former employer, the scars nevertheless have yet to heal, and justice has to be seen to be done.

The decision of the court showed the city’s commitment to protecting domestic helpers. Hong Kong is a multi-cultural society where everyone is equal before the law, regardless of race, religion or skin color. Welcoming the court judgment, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Mathew Cheung on Tuesday stressed the government would do more to protect the rights and well-being of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

Indeed, governed by the rule of law, Hong Kong should be able to provide much better legal protection than elsewhere in Asia. Over the years, Hong Kong has seen many of the hallmarks of alleged abuse or forced labor, such as contractual deception, excessive agency fees leading to debt bondage and the retention of passports. However, many maids dare not report violations of their rights for fear of losing their jobs coupled with the possibility of deportation.  Besides, some are deterred by the length of legal process — court cases of this type usually take up to 15 months to reach the district court of Labour Tribunal, during which time the appellants are prohibited from working. 

Hong Kong is a city of hustle and bustle. Foreign domestic helpers have contributed significantly to the city’s development by taking care of many local families. They deserve our respect and also better treatment.

Currently, there are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, the overwhelming majority of them women who tend to be more vulnerable. Certainly, most employers are good-natured by any account. The inhumane treatment Erwiana received is extreme and, mercifully, rare. Still, the conviction should serve as a deterrent against similar abuse. Our city should show no tolerance of any such case.

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