Shanthi’ s story began like many others looking for overseas work in Asia. She was introduced to a domestic work opportunity by a relative who knew someone in Hong Kong. All the benefits told to her sounded great, and so she agreed and eventually signed a contract. She was required to pay for her own flight to Hong Kong, as well as a large fee for the employment arrangements. Because of this, she was compelled to take a big loan from a relative, believing that she would be able to pay it off quickly once she began to work.
All seemed to go smoothly as she was taken to her employer’s home upon arrival. Her duties were the usual housekeeping, taking care of the children and the family dog. She also had her own room at the residence. However, this room was in fact the family’s storage room, and Shanthi was told that she could not close or lock the door, as the husband often needed to go in to retrieve things. It turned out that her employer owned two electronics shops and kept a lot of merchandise, random electronic parts, and other things in the room. This meant that although she had a room, she had no privacy whatsoever. The male employer would regularly enter her room late at night to rummage through the items.
Despite this, Shanthi tried her best to work hard, but she found the conditions exhausting. She was required to work from 6am to 11pm every day, and sometimes even til 3am. She was also told to work in another flat that was under renovation, helping with manual labour such as moving heavy items, repairing tools and cleaning up the renovation site despite Hong Kong laws clearly stating that domestic workers are not permitted to work at multiple locations. In addition, Shanthi was also required to regularly move heavy merchandise between the family’s home and the two electronics shops.
Shanthi endured all of this, as well as the constant verbal abuse and threats of physical violence from both her employers. They would often use profanity and demeaning language when yelling at her, throw things at her in anger, grab her arms, as well as gesture to hit her. After about 2 and a half months, Shanthi felt at the end of her rope, as she was suffering psychologically. One day, as she was in a heated discussion with her employer and the lady who helped arrange her job in Hong Kong, they tried to physically keep her from leaving, and told her that if she complained to the police, they would arrest her. This experience pushed her over the edge and that night, Shanthi fled from her employer’s home.
Shanthi sought assistance from a local non-profit agency, and eventually began a process of filing a complaint with the Police, Immigration, and Labour Departments. After months of police interviews and court hearings where the employer refused to show, it eventually came to light that the person whom Shanthi believed was her employer – the woman (and family) who lived in the residence and continually overworked and abused her – was in fact not the same woman who signed her employment contract, and the one whom she had been seeking compensation from all these months. This confusion of identity is yet another setback in Shanthi’s case and she is, to this day, still waiting for any indication from the courts that justice will be done.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to to protect the identity of the survivors.
Indicators of trafficking for labour exploitation:
- Coercive recruitment – debt bondage
- Exploitation – excessive working hours and bad living environment without privacy
- Coercion at destination– constant verbal abuse and threats of physical violence, forced tasks
- Abuse of vulnerability – dependency on exploiters, economic and family situations
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 get help for suspected cases of human trafficking in Hong Kong, please contact us at connect@100storiesHK.org.
Story provided by STOP (Stop Trafficking of People).