When the shocking abuse of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih came to light, all of Hong Kong was confronted with its ugly side, a community overlooked for the sake of convenience. The details were gruesome: Beginning with beatings, imprisonment, threats of murder and an all-around breach of human rights.
Law Wan-tung, the abuser and former employee, was found guilty of assault in February 2015, she was handed a measly sentence of 6 years and is yet to pay HK$809,430 in damages to Erwiana. Law Wan-tung’s children defended their mother in court, quoted as saying their mother had always been ‘soft’ with helpers, despite the overwhelming evidence.
During the trial, the District Court heard Law had punched Erwiana so hard her incisor teeth were fractured. Law also stripped her in the bathroom and hosed her with cold water while pointing a fan at her. On another occasion, Law twisted a metal tube from a vacuum cleaner inside her mouth, causing cuts to her lips. Towards the end of the abuse, Erwiana was completely bedridden, unable to get up to use the bathroom.
Now the tragic news, despite her sentence, Law Wan-tung, was set free in 2018 serving less than two-thirds of her sentence. While inmates are able to earn one-third of a deduction on their sentence through good behaviour, it still remains unclear as to why Law served less than four years behind bars, and now her whereabouts are unknown.
Unfortunately, cases like this are not uncommon in the city, not only because the system is so unregulated but with some experts citing the fact that domestic helpers are forced to live with their employers. With a lack of privacy, often inadequate living facilities, physical and verbal assault are a regular occurrence for some of these women.
With that fact in mind, it begs the questions why necessary steps are only now being implemented to protect people. It was just in December 2018 that a new 24-hour hotline providing support services for over 380,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong was launched – what took so long? (The hotline number is 2157 9537.)
With the recent ruling to allow an abuser to go free with little to no consequence, Hong Kong has failed to make an example of those who violate the rights of these women, who are already kept in the dark. On top of that, doing the bare minimum of providing even the most basic of resources truly sets the tone of inadequacy. Many Hong Konger’s asking where are the equal rights, protective legislation and anti-exploitation measures that should have come the moment domestic helpers were employed in the city? An ugly scar on Hong Kong’s international facade, with few stories that see the light of day – it is clear that too little, too late is being done.