Human Rights Violated in Hong Kong
Imagine the worst day of your life. Think for a while about a beating that leaves you stunned and panicking. You have a black eye, you’ve been kicked in the groin, your clothes are ripped and otherwise cut – all of them, not just what you’re wearing – your paper money has been torn up and flung to the ground. Clearly this isn’t a mugging because the money meant nothing. And it’s not a rape – the intent was purely malicious, meant to harm, and harm well, rather than violate. How do you feel?
Now think about one more thing. You were beaten for doing your job. Nothing more, nothing less. You were asked to clean up each day after workmen finished renovations at one of your employer’s rental properties. For three days you returned home to be beaten by your employer’s wife for no reason.
This is the life of one domestic helper in Hong Kong.
As I was writing a post on the meaning of freedom earlier I received a phone call detailing the case. The victim has now given evidence to the police, and has been taken to hospital. Two of the group I’m part of are with her and two more are on their way to the police station. They’ll meet another member of our group with yet another domestic helper who is speaking to the police. Still another woman who was beaten by her employer last week has just returned to my family’s apartment – she’s been staying with us since being threatened with a knife and grabbed at so hard her arms bruised.
Physical violence is a daily possibility for many domestic helpers in Hong Kong, but the inhumanity doesn’t end there. At a legal rights meeting on Sunday one woman spoke about only being given one day off a month; others said that they received no pay or were forced to work when sick. Last week another woman was asked to sign a rider on her contract barring her from visiting certain public places, amongst other draconian conditions. She refused, and her employer has been persecuting her ever since.
What links all of these cases, and many more, is that they each involve employers violating the civil and human rights of people who come from other countries. There’s nothing as grandiose as state abuse of power involved – just people being evil to people less fortunate than themselves then returning to their tranquil middle-class lives. The police seem genuinely surprised that it’s happening and most people here would deny that it could happen. Foreign domestic helpers are abused and otherwise mistreated in purely domestic situations, set apart from prying eyes and waging tongues. Like other forms of domestic violence, the victims most often silence themselves for fear of reprisal should they take a stand.
Evil wins because it dares the victim to ask for change, and few societies really want that. We’re working every day to make a difference in a few lives, involving NGOs to do what we can’t, thinking of new ways to identify those brave women who have had enough, who understand human rights are those things that keep them alive. Our task is to make change acceptable, one day at a time.
If you’re reading this in Hong Kong and know of a domestic helper who is being abused or otherwise mistreated, please ask her to contact the police in her district immediately. The phone numbers are available on the police contact page, and the emergency number is 999. The following organisations also provide invaluable help, every day.
Helpers for Domestic Helpers: phone 2523-4020
Mission for Migrant Workers: phone 2522-8264
If you live outside of Hong Kong, please tell someone else about what’s going on here. Every word, anywhere, will help to break the silence.