Life in Sri Lanka became desperate for Malika* when her husband passed away and she became the sole breadwinner for her family, which included her elderly parents, a sister with a mental illness, and one of her adult children and their family. She had previously worked in the Middle East, but after 18 years she was ready to move on, so when her sister-in-law told her there was work in Hong Kong, she thought she would give it a try. Before coming to Hong Kong, Malika was only told that her employer would pay for her flight, give her days off, and would receive a higher salary than what she made before. When she received the contract, she signed it without knowing any other details because she didn’t read English and she trusted her sister-in-law.
No one, least of all Malika, could imagine the virtual nightmare that became her life for the next 3 years.
Once she arrived in Hong Kong, she was taken to her employer’s home in a remote village on one of the outlying islands. Her employer then told her that she would only be paid just over half of what the minimum monthly wage was in Hong Kong, and that she would not be given any days off. In the beginning she worked at 2 different village houses. Later, her employer asked her to occasionally clean another 2 empty houses in the village that the employer also owned.
After 3 months, Malika was given a $500 raise (but still far below what she was contractually owed), and given 2 days off per month. But now, she was also required to go to another island several times a week to take the bed linens from a guesthouse, also owned by the employer, back to her employer’s home to wash and iron, and then return them back to the guesthouse. In addition to that, Malika was also required to work in the employer’s shop in the New Territories several times a week cleaning and packing products. This was all on top of maintaining her employer’s four houses. Malika worked like this, with only 2 days off each month, for more than a year and a half until she became sick.
She was hospitalized for 4 days and after being discharged, she immediately resumed her work at the village houses, the guesthouse, and at the shop in the New Territories.
When her contract term was up, Malika told her employer that she did not want to renew due to the unbearably heavy work load, and her employer agreed to let her work for her brother instead, claiming that he would give her a full salary and 2 days off a month. Malika agreed, but after signing the new contract, Malika realized they had lied to her and her employer’s name had not been changed after all. Her employer even laughed in her face when she brought this up to her. Malika ended up working under these conditions for another year before she finally met someone who helped her get legal assistance and she was finally able to leave that employer 3 years after nightmare began.
Malika is now living in a shelter, waiting out the ongoing investigation of her labour and trafficking claims against her former employer. However, she continues to suffer from chronic illness as a result of the extreme stress she suffered under her former employer, and has difficulty accessing even basic healthcare due to the non-existent policies around the protection of trafficking survivors in Hong Kong.
*All names & identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.
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