HK domestic workers treated as ‘slaves’: Amnesty

By Laura Mannering, AFP

HONG KONG–Amnesty International on Thursday condemned the “slavery-like” conditions faced by thousands of Indonesian women who work in Hong Kong as domestic staff, accusing authorities of “inexcusable” inaction. Its report, “Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments,” comes just weeks after a Hong Kong couple were jailed for a shocking string of attacks on their Indonesian housekeeper, including burning her with an iron and beating her with a bike chain. Amnesty found that Indonesians are exploited by recruitment and placement agencies who seize their documents and charge them excessive fees, with false promises of high salaries and good working conditions. The process amounted to trafficking and forced labor, Amnesty said, as the women could not escape once they were in debt and their documents seized.

“From the moment the women are tricked into signing up for work in Hong Kong, they are trapped in a cycle of exploitation with cases that amount to modern-day slavery,” said Norma Kang Muico, Asia-Pacific migrants’ rights researcher at Amnesty. She said she feared the problem was widespread in Hong Kong, where some 150,000 Indonesian women work as “domestic helpers.” “A conservative figure would be thousands” based on the research figures and taking into account that the most vulnerable were still kept behind closed doors, she said. The report accuses both Indonesia and Hong Kong of “inexcusable” inaction. “The authorities may point to a raft of national laws that supposedly protect these women but such laws are rarely enforced,” said Muico. Hong Kong lawmaker Fernando Cheung said Thursday that he felt “ashamed”. “The government should increase its effort in implementing the laws that are being violated,” he told reporters.

Hong Kong is home to nearly 300,000 maids from mainly Southeast Asian countries, predominantly Indonesia and the Philippines, with growing criticism from rights groups over their treatment. Amnesty’s report says two-thirds of those interviewed had endured physical or psychological abuse. “The wife physically abused me on a regular basis. Once she ordered her two dogs to bite me,” one 26-year-old woman from Jakarta said.