Ten to twenty percent of domestic helpers assisted by Christian Action have encountered serious physical abuse, Mark Hustwayte said. He is manager of humanitarian services at the charity run by Sai Kung star activist Cheung-Ang Siew Mei.
“These women have been hit, pinched, had objects thrown at them or worse,” Mark said. About six per cent report sexual harassment including sexual abuse. The most serious case among women given shelter last year by Christian Action was an Indonesian who had been burned by an iron. This case has yet to be publicised. “It is our experience that when an employer contacts the police action is virtually immediate,” Mark said. “When a domestic helper goes to the police it takes months for them to act.”
Around six months ago the police learned of this case of a helper being burned by an iron and they have only recently started to act. “It is unjust administration of the law,” he said. Christian Action has two shelters for domestic helpers in Tok Kwa Wan with 24 beds. At the time of writing 17 domestic helpers were being looked after in the shelters.
Of the 460 helpers assisted by the charity last year in various ways, 180 were taken in by CA. Its Executive Director is Cheung-Ang Siew Mei, who has been a Sai Kung resident for 18 years and is active in the Resurrection Church. Pastor Peter Hurricks said many of his church-goers do remarkable things, but he singled out Siew Mei.
The most common cases handled by Christian Action concern domestic helpers being ejected by employers without pay and other entitlements. “They get kicked out when they become ill or pregnant,” Mark said. Problems with agencies charging illegal fees are common. Charity staff advise the women, take them in if necessary and get paralegal staff working on their cases. Hong Kong now has more domestic helpers from Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Language difficulties, cultural differences and lack of education mean they are easy victims.
“Indonesians are unlikely to report physical abuse by an employer due to fear of police or lack of education about rights,” Mark said. “We see only the tip of the iceberg.” Psychological stress mounts. Working six days a week with no leisure, little rest, no chance to socialise and continual harassment “transforms into psychological abuse,” Mark said.
Domestic helpers find themselves working for an employer’s aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers. “When this comes to light the most probable outcome is the employer gets a rap over the knuckles while the helper gets imprisoned, deported and blacklisted.” Locally Christian Action also looks after refugees, minorities and new arrivals from China. The Hong Kong headquarters’ major operation outside the territory rescues and cares for abandoned and orphaned children in Qinghai. Siew Mei is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference there.