(Photo shows Filipino domestics in Central business district)
On Sept. 18, a Hong Kong court jailed a Hong Kong Chinese couple to medium-term jail sentences for inflicting a string of shocking physical cruelty to their former Indonesian domestic helper, Kartika Puspitasari.
Tai Chi-wai, 42, and his 41-year-old wife, Catherine Au, subjected their former maid Kartika Puspitasari to a two-year campaign of violence and humiliation, labeled “cruel” and “inhumane” by the trial judge.
Judge So Wai-tak sentenced Tai Chi-wai, 42, to three years and three months in prison for one count each of assault causing actual bodily harm and wounding.
Tai’s 41-year-old wife, Catherine Au, a hospital assistant, was given five-and-a-half years for two charges of assault causing actual bodily harm and four counts of wounding, three of them with intent.
Puspitasari said the couple did not pay her any salary during the two years that she served, was barred from talking to anyone and was prohibited from stepping out of the couples’ residence.
What is the significance of this development?
Quite a lot.
First, Hong Kong’s rule of law does not make any distinction between locals and migrant workers, unlike in other countries and jurisdictions which host large numbers of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). A case in point is Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East. More often than not, the scales of justice are tilted in favor of Mid East nationals and abusive employers of foreign domestic helpers are never prosecuted – even if victims are virtually maimed or subjected to other forms of physical harm.
Second, victims of repeated abuses, especially physical, should strive to seek help in whatever they can. Yes, this may be easier said than done. Puspitasari, for instance, was barred by her employers from communicating with anyone. However, Hong Kong is such a densely-populated city that should enable a victim of repeated abuses to write about one’s predicament and plea for help on a piece of paper and pass it on to a compatriot whom a distressed helper will see in a public market, supermarket or in the same building where she lives. Puspitasari could have exerted more efforts in seeking help instead of enduring two years of untold hardships in the hands of her former employers.
While working conditions for foreign maids in Hong Kong are far better than those in other jurisdictions, scores are confronted by various issues. These include the following:
1. Long working hours which don’t end until close to midnight and start of work as early as 6 am the following day
2. Verbal and psychological abuse
3. Use of closed circuit cameras inside the house to ensure the maid is always at work
4. Underpayment of salary which often affect Indonesian domestics
On the whole, foreign domestics are generally happy with their work in this city of 7 million people.
Of course, this will certainly be disputed by various foreign maids’ pressure groups and advocates. But it’s fairly easy to ascertain the veracity of this statement.
All that a skeptic needs to do is conduct a random survey of foreign maids in Hong Kong and simply asking them about the length of their stay here. It will hardly be a surprise to find a considerable number who have been working here for five, 10 or more years. This is one of the clearest indicators of the level of their satisfaction or lack of it.