Story of Rashmi* is one of tenacity and resilience. When she was 6 years old, her father abandoned the family and her mother was left to take care of 4 young children on her own. Despite this, they managed to survive and Rashmi later worked for many years in the Middle East. She saved enough money to buy some land in her native Sri Lanka and build a house for her mother. She eventually came to Hong Kong but after working here for several years, Rashmi returned to Sri Lanka because her family wanted her to get married. However, after 2 years and no suitors, she decided come back to Hong Kong to work.
The first family she worked for on her return was kind, but they had a child with special needs that she did not know how to take care of, and so they agreed to terminate the contract. The family introduced her to an agency, who found another contract for Rashmi. This was an Indian family, and after their first meeting, they agreed to hire her but told Rashmi not to inform the agency because they did not want to pay the agency fees. This should have been her first warning, but Rashmi was eager to start working again and dismissed the issue.
Her new employers were devout Hindus and had very strict rules in the house when it came to Rashmi. They insisted that she washed everything twice (or sometimes more). When she cleared up dishes, she had to take one plate or cup at a time to the kitchen and wash her hands each time before taking the next one. They often required her to bleach the entire kitchen several times before the employer would be satisfied, and she was not allowed to touch anything at all when she had her period. The employers also did not provide Rashmi with a proper place to sleep with reasonable privacy, as required by contract. Instead, she had to sleep on the floor of the kitchen, and there was also nowhere for her to hang her washing. They did not provide adequate food allowance, only giving her rice and a small amount of bok choy each meal.
Once, when the employers went on a 10-day holiday, they left Rashmi with only HK$100 to fend for herself. The exploitative behaviour also extended to her working hours, which were long and only a half day holiday was allowed each week. This, too, was in violation of Hong Kong regulations. On top of all of this, Rashmi said that they were constantly yelling at her and complaining about her work. No matter how hard she tried to comply with all of their rules and demands, nothing seemed to appease her employers.
After several months, the friction between them became so great that the employers attempted to kick Rashmi out of the house. However, because they did not want to pay her the required compensation, they forced Rashmi to copy a letter they had written saying that Rashmi willingly relinquished the payment. After this, Rashmi immediately went to the police but they were unwilling to help. She had to stay with a friend that night and was eventually able to connect with a local NGO. They assisted her with emergency shelter as well as filing a complaint with the Labour Department.
Rashmi’s case is a strong example of having been trafficked for the purpose of forced labour, as she was clearly recruited using deceptive means, and was placed under duress throughout her time with her employer. Despite this, she is still filled with hope that things will turn around for her. She has started working for a new family, and is patiently waiting for her labour claim to be processed. She dreams of being able to build a house for her sister who recently got married and one day opening up a tailoring shop in her hometown in Sri Lanka after she has saved enough money.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivors.
Indicators of trafficking for labour exploitation:
- Deceptive recruitment – Rashmi was deceived about the nature of her job and living condition
- Exploitation – excessive workload, lack of food supply and allowance, no holiday
- Abuse of power by employer – Rashmi was shouted and scolded by employer
- 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? Recognising 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.