In 2008, a Filipino woman named Marilyn* was sent to Hong Kong by her employer to work as a foreign domestic helper. The employer’s sister-in-law had a bed-ridden mother suffering from dementia and needed a full-time caregiver.
Marilyn entered Hong Kong on a tourist visa, after being assured that all paperwork would be handled after her arrival. Instead, her employer in Hong Kong confiscated her passport and prevented her from leaving the house, and the written contract failed to materialize.
For the next two years, Marilyn was kept under lock and key, leaving the house only to accompany the elderly woman on her hospital visits. The oppressive nature of her work environment had ill effects on her physical health, leading to rotting teeth and hair loss, but her employer refused to give her access to proper medical care.
By the following year, Marilyn’s parents began to suspect that she was being exploited, and they proceeded to contact the proper authorities in the Philippines. The Philippines Overseas Employment Administration Office concluded that she had indeed been trafficked, and they initiated a correspondence with the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Hong Kong, to no avail. Tragically in 2010, while she was still imprisoned in her employer’s home, Marilyn’s father passed away. In desperation, she initiated a hunger strike to protest her employer’s decision not to allow her to return home for the funeral. The hunger strike lasted until her employer handed her HKD$500 and told her to go to the Philippines Consulate, where she was redirected to the Labour Tribunal. After filing her claim, she also surrendered herself to the Hong Kong Immigration Department for inadverdently overstaying her tourist visa.
The immigration investigation and labour tribunal claim took a heavy toll on Marilyn, taking over a year to reach a conclusion. During that time, she developed symptoms of depression, as she struggled to keep up with the details of her case.
The duty lawyer assigned to her immigration investigation advised her to plead guilty, but she received conflicting advice to change her plea from staff at a local NGO.
In the end, the court refused to consider the psychological trauma inflicted on Marilyn by the employer, and they did not believe that she was not allowed to leave the house. They found her guilty of overstaying her visa, disregarding her forced confinement, and sentenced her to four months and five days imprisonment. The Labour Tribunal case was also rejected after the woman was unable to produce a written contract or wage receipts. Marilyn felt completely dejected and did not even try to appeal her sentence or the Labour Tribunal’s decision. Ultimately, her former employer was never charged with any crime while Marilyn herself bore the weight of her heinous actions.
*All names & identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.
Are you or someone you know being trafficked?
Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing potential red flags and knowing the indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.
To reach out or report suspected cases of human trafficking in Hong Kong, please contact us at connect@100storiesHK.org.
A version of this story was originally published at www.stophk.org on May 31, 2016. Story provided by the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos.