Hong Kong law has the effect of forcing some domestic helpers into prostitution, according to the Executive Director of Christian Action, Cheung Ang Siew Mei. This situation is deplorable, the Ho Chung resident who sings at Resurrection Church said, and long overdue for change.
Helpers in a desperate state because of financial problems have no way of making money lawfully, so they turn to prostitution or compensated dating, Siew Mei said. In the nightlife districts any observer will see this happening, especially on the weekends when helpers have their day off. Unwanted pregnancies are common.
Debt bondage causes rising numbers of women to resort to prostitution, Justin Murgai, CA’s manager for helper services, said. Overcharging by agencies must be tackled and this requires international collaboration.
The law must be changed to give the women freedom from the pressure to go down this path, Siew Mei said. If their employer gives permission they should be allowed to take another job. When they have worked in Hong Kong for seven years, they should be able to apply for permanent residency. Then they should be free to take any kind of work they choose in full-employment Hong Kong. The onerous requirement that, after being fired or at the end of their contract that they must leave Hong Kong within two weeks, should be relaxed.
Siew Mei heads one of the biggest unsubvented charities in Hong Kong. It looks after many of the 400,000 domestic helpers here who get into trouble. Christian Action operates two shelters with beds for helpers. Counselling services are provided and legal advice given.
Siew Mei said the Government should support helpers who complain of assault or other illegal practices with food and shelter, not rely on overloaded charities.
More translation services (Indonesian, Sinhalese, etc.) are needed for helpers who go to the Government. CA accuses the police and government not of racism, but of discrimination based on status: If an employer makes allegations against a helper the police will act immediately. If it is the reverse, police have been seen by the charity to take as long as six months to investigate, even in wounding cases.
The charity needs donations. If you wish to help, see www.christian-action.org.hk