Biting the Hand that Feeds

More Domestic Helper Abuse in Hong Kong

In a manner of speaking, yes (Fatalist Palmistry), by nobleIgnbole, with Creative Commons licence (Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)A face, a name, a certain movement of the arms – what is it about a personal presence that gives recollection the value of truth when mere words alone might not suffice? I’m often aware when writing about the maltreatment of domestic helpers in Hong Kong that anonymity is both a blessing and a curse. It protects identities but dulls the terrible stories a good deal, to the extent that the posts could well appear as stale anecdotes, sliding down the screen. But once in a while the news becomes far more public – as it did last week.

The South China Morning Post managed to stagger past its usual neglect of issues out of the ordinary last week to run a piece on a domestic helper who was twice attacked by her employer’s dog in Causeway Bay at the end of December. It’s an important piece not so much for the content, alarming as that may seem, but for the fact that it ran as a small feature, spawned a follow-up article by the same author, of whom I have been critical in the past but certainly not now, and featured the helper as a person with expectations and limits that should have been respected.

The story, in brief, is this: in late December a Filipino domestic helper, Lilibeth Tumaca, whose picture appeared in the paper, was mauled by her employer’s dog after she was told to ‘familiarise’ herself with it by making it eat out of her hands. This happened in only her second day in the job and Hong Kong itself. She went to a doctor, who dismissed the wounds as minor. Then the dog attacked again and she was admitted to hospital. When she hadn’t returned to work by the seventh of January, she was summarily dismissed. The full story is attached in a PDF file – please read it if you’re interested.

What do we have here? A moronic employer, who was not named, issuing commands that were bound to cause an attack, a vicious dog that was, not incidentally, unlicensed, and officials who only managed to impound the dog on the third attempt. And, of course, a woman dismissed probably because she refused to return to work while the dog was still there. In a cramped Causeway Bay apartment, and most of them are small even by Hong Kong’s constrained standards, she would not have stood a chance.

Still, more importantly we have a name for Lilibeth, a description of malfeasance by her employer, and a little momentum behind the sort of story that many people in Hong Kong never want told.

And, even more surprisingly, on the same day that it publicised Lilibeth Tumaca’s ordeal, the SCMP also published an article about a housewife, Lok Hung-tan, fined for assaulting her Indonesian helper Yanti, without a picture this time. The fine was predictably paltry, but the judge’s paraphrased closing comment should be posted in every newsroom in this city: what the woman “did was very wrong and this case might make domestic helpers think Hongkongers were barbarians”.

Now, there must be a story in that . . .

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