In a case that has highlighted the treatment of migrant workers mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines, a Hong Kong woman has been sentenced to six years in prison for assaulting her Indonesian maid.
According to Chester Yung of the Wall Street Journal, 44-year-old Law Wan-tung was found guilty on Feb. 10 of 18 charges that ranged from assault to criminal intimidation and failure to pay wages to her maid, 25-year-old Erwiana Sulistyahingsih, and other household staff. Hong Kong District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock handed down the sentence.
"I hope my case will be a lesson to other employers not to exploit their domestic workers," Sulistyaningsih said. "We are here to help the Hong Kong economy."
Yung reported that Hong Kong law requires domestic helpers to live with their employers. The government has argued that its live-in requirement would help prevent employers from exploiting their foreign maids outside their domestic contracts.
"But advocates of foreign maids say the live-in requirement limits the freedom of the workers and makes them more vulnerable to abuses," Yung wrote.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Woodcock ordered Wan-tung to pay a fine worth 15,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,900) in addition to handing down a prison sentence.
The BBC reported that the Indonesian maid described being beaten and starved by Wan-tung. Her plight drew international attention after she went back to Indonesia to seek treatment in hospital in December 2013.
"She came home beaten and bruised, too weak to walk and without any money," the BBC wrote. "Her face, hands and legs were covered with scabs and lacerations. Parts of her skin were blackened and peeling."
Yung reported that Wan-tung was arrested on January 2014 before she could board a flight to Thailand at Hong Kong International Airport. He described the treatment Wan-tung practiced on the Indonesian maid.
"Law punched Ms. Sulistyaningsih and hit her with metal hangers, a ruler, a broom handle, a vacuum-cleaner tube and a ladder," Yung wrote, citing court testimony. "Sulistyaningsih was given one small bottle of drinking water each day and was fed only twice a day."
While Sulistyaningsih was happy to get justice served in Hong Kong, she told the Wall Street Journal that the six-year prison sentence was too lenient based on the nature of the crime. However, she plans to help other maids who have suffered abuse by other Hong Kong employers.
"I will go back home and continue my study," Sulistyaningsih said. "In the future, I will want to help other migrant workers if they face the similar problem like this."
According to the Wall Street Journal, more than 330,000 women, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines, work as "helpers" in Hong Kong. Their compensation rate is usually around $530 a month, which is the government-mandated minimum wage.