In a typical village on the island of Java, Indonesia, Kate* grew up with her family running a small store selling vegetables. She longed to get out to see the world and as soon as she finished high school, she began searching for jobs overseas. Her parents objected at first, because they wanted her to go to college, but they also knew that it would be expensive and so eventually agreed to let Kate work for a few years to earn some money. Leaving her two young sisters behind, Kate soon set off for Singapore to be a migrant domestic worker.
Thus began her nightmare. Although she knew that she would be doing domestic work, when she arrived, she realised this meant looking after several children and their grandmother, as well as maintaining two households and four dogs. The agency that arranged her employment also took illegal deductions for 1 year from her monthly salary of just hkd$3000. After about a year, she could not take the conditions any longer and in an act of impulse, she ran away. She ended up remaining in Singapore for another two years, working illegally in a factory. Kate eventually returned home to Indonesia, but her youthful heart soon began to get restless again, and knowing her protective parents would not let her go, she ran away again after securing a job in Hong Kong.
This time, the agent Kate met in Indonesia connected her with an Indonesian agent in Hong Kong named Agatha, who arranged her travel and employment. There were warning signs before she even left Indonesia. For example, when Kate asked about how much she would owe Agatha for her services, the woman dodged the question and simply told her it can be settled once Kate came to Hong Kong. Agatha had also sent Kate a copy of the HK Standard Employment Contract already signed (her signature forged by Agatha). Again, Kate questioned this, but Agatha became defensive and said to her, “You asked me to help you find a job, this is how it works!” In her desperation to leave home, Kate trusted Agatha.
Upon arriving in Hong Kong, Kate was finally told that she would have a hkd$3100 deduction from her monthly salary for 8 months, which was a typical tactic used by many agents. Agatha then tried to get Kate to sign another contract in Chinese. This time, Kate refused to sign without knowing what it entailed and asked for a translation, but of course Agatha never provided one. Agatha had also taken Kate’s passport when she first arrived, and continues to withhold it from Kate. When Kate asked for her passport, knowing that she needed to renew it soon, Agatha refused.
Kate continues to work for her employer because she wanted to be able to help support her family now that her deductions are paid off. She feels terrible that her mother, after Kate ran away to Hong Kong, became ill and was hospitalised for a week. She wants to make amends with her family, and recently began communicating with them again. But Kate is still very upset with what Agatha did, and feels stupid for allowing herself to be baited by a con. She wants justice for her situation and hopes that Agatha can be stopped. Through her story, Kate wants people in Hong Kong to better understand the situations that most Indonesian domestic workers encounter and the deceptive and illegal behaviour of many agents.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.
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Story provided by Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU) and Stop Trafficking of People (STOP).