Hong Kong: Guilty verdict in migrant domestic worker abuse trial a ‘damning indictment’ of authorities’ failure

The guilty verdict against a Hong Kong employer for the extreme abuse she inflicted on two migrant domestic workers must act as a wake-up call for the authorities to stop the widespread exploitation of tens of thousands of women, said Amnesty International.

Law Wan-tung was found guilty by the District Court in Hong Kong of multiple counts of abuse against Indonesians Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and Tutik Lestari Ningsih. She was found not guilty of two charges of abuse and threatening behaviour against another Indonesian woman, Nurhasanah.

Law is due to be sentenced on 27 February and could face a lengthy prison term.

“The guilty verdict is a damning indictment of the government’s failure to reform the system that traps women in a cycle of abuse and exploitation,” said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific Migrant Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

“The Hong Kong authorities can no longer bury their heads in the sand and dismiss horrific abuses as isolated incidents. Concrete action to end laws and regulations that foster such horrific abuse is long overdue.”

During the trial, Erwiana recalled how she was frequently beaten, locked up, threatened and denied food by her former employee over an eight-month period. The Court also heard that Erwiana’s employer confiscated her passport, failed to pay her wages and did not grant her any days off.

There are more than 300,000 migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong. About half of them are from Indonesia and nearly all are women. Lured with the promise of well-paid jobs, the reality for the women could not be more different, with non-payment of wages, exploitative hours with no rest days, restrictions on freedom of movement, confiscation of identity documents, physical and sexual violence, and lack of food.

In November 2013, Amnesty International published a damning report on the abuse of migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong.  Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments, highlighted how tens of thousands of Indonesian women were trafficked for exploitation and forced labour.

Hong Kong’s laws stipulate that migrant domestic workers must find new employment and get a work visa within two weeks of the termination of their contract, or they must leave Hong Kong.

This pressures workers to stay in an abusive situation because they know that if they leave their job, they are unlikely to find new employment in two weeks and therefore must leave the country. For many this would make it impossible to repay the significant recruitment fees or support their families.