An Indonesian maid testified in a Hong Kong court on Monday that she had been tortured by her employer using a vacuum cleaner tube. According to Reuters, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih told the court her employer forced the vacuum cleaner tube “in her mouth and twisted to cause lacerations.”
This milestone trial caused international outrage, as pictures of Sulistyaningsih’s bruised and battered body were presented to the court as evidence. It was an eye-opener of the mistreatment of domestic helpers in the Asian financial center, as reported by Yahoo! News.
Approximately 300,000 foreign domestic helpers work in Hong Kong. Most of these helpers, who are from the Philippines and Indonesia, make a minimum wage to the sum of $520. This amount is a lot for women who fled to Hong Kong to escape a life of dire poverty.
Nonetheless, in the event something happens to a worker like Sulistyaningsih, Hong Kong’s policies on migrant workers “have made maids reluctant to report abuse for fear of losing their livelihoods and being deported,” as reported by Reuters.
That’s what makes this trial a benchmark for all migrant workers in Hong Kong. Sulistyaningsih was brave to speak out for herself and describe the torture she faced day in and day out.
Sulistyaningsih revealed to the court that her employer, Law Wan-tung, a former beautician, slapped, scratched, and punched her. She went even further as she recalled Law Wan-tung hitting her with “hangers, mop handles and a ladder and she was not paid or allowed enough food or rest,” per Reuters. Sulistyaningsih was only allwed to sleep from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day, and was only given six pieces of bread and a bow of rice to eat.
Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono denounced Sulistyaningsih’s treatment as torture.
The employer, Law Wan-tung, faces 20 charges, including inflicting grievous bodily harm, assault, and criminal intimidation. All the while, Law Wan-tung was reported by Reuters to have appeared calm in court as she pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The only charge for which Law Wan-tung pleaded guilty was the failure to take out an insurance policy for an employee.
As difficult as it must have been for Sulistyaningsih to come forward and report her employer, she was named by Time Magazine as one of its 100 Most Influential People. Others on their list include Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. singer Beyoncé.
[Photo Credit: GlobalVoicesOnline, Reuters]