“I want to die, do whatever you want to me,” were the last words Charuka* said before she swallowed 15 pills at once, in an unsuccessful attempt to end her life.
Charuka applied for a position as an migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong through a reputable agency in Sri Lanka in hopes of paying back her financial debt from a failed business venture. In the process of employment, she paid the agency a large sum of money, which she also had to borrow from a loan shark. She trusted that the agency would find her a job that would allow her to pay the money back.
Charuka was given a contract to sign but due to her limited English, she placed her faith entirely on the agency’s informal translation. Charuka was told that she would be working for a family of 6 – consisting of a father, mother, grandfather and 3 children, and that she would be sharing a room and the workload with a Filipino maid.
After 6 months, Charuka finally arrived in Hong Kong in mid-November 2017. Upon her arrival, Charuka was horrified as she realised she had been deceived about the nature of her position. Instead her employer was a bedridden, elderly paraplegic woman. A 24-hour caregiver also lived with her. As well as confiscating her travel documents and searching her personal belongings, the caregiver forced Charuka to fulfil disgusting and demeaning tasks to help care for the disabled woman. For example, she was asked to suck phlegm and change the woman’s diapers.
Wanting to make a good impression on her first day, she did not refuse but asked to wear gloves to complete the tasks. This simple and acceptable request was denied. After, Charuka had to help the woman be cleaned by carrying heavy basins of water to and from the bathroom over 14 times until her arms went blue from the lack of circulation. All of these absurdities happened on her first day of work.
Working excessive and strenuous hours, Charuka was also expected to “massage” her employer’s private parts. When she tried to add another layer of material between herself and the woman, her employer scolded her, saying
“DO IT! You have to do it. I am paying you full salary. You are my slave.”
The caregiver then assigned Charuka to help change the woman’s diaper. She was forced to kneel down on the bed so that her employer’s legs could be draped over her shoulders and back. The position allowed the caregiver to more easily change the diaper. Disgusted by the smell of urine and dirty sheets on her clothes and skin, Charuka asked to shower after the task was complete but her request was denied again. She was given no sense of privacy, constantly hurried by the caretaker whenever she was in the bathroom and was aware of CCTV throughout the house.
On the evening of her 3rd day of work, Charuka called the Sri Lankan agency to complain about her unbearable situation. They reassured her that they would contact the HK agency and her employer and get back to her in 2 hours. She received no phone call later that evening. After repeated attempts at contact with no answer, Charuka desperately phoned her husband back home and asked him to physically contact the agency for help. That night, after performing similar ridiculous duties, Charuka told her employer that she could not stand these working conditions and was resigning. She rested for one night and was denied any food or water during this period.
On her 5th day, her employer’s brother arrived and attempted to confiscate Charuka’s phone. He brought her to the agency where her request to leave her current employment was denied. This commotion lasted for hours, where Charuka was verbally assaulted by the agency staff and her phone was broken. Feeling disappointed, angry and depressed, Charuka attempted to take her own life.
The overdose of pills had an immediate effect. Charuka felt dizzy, disorientated and fell on to the floor. In an attempt to attract the attention of pedestrians, she threw herself out of the main door and screamed for help. The agency faculty dragged her inside, physically holding her back. Luckily, a woman outside heard the screaming coming from within the closed doors and phoned the police, who promptly came and rushed Charuka to the ICU.
When asked why she took the pills, Charuka tearfully replied, “I don’t want to suffer in Hong Kong or in Sri Lanka anymore, that’s why I tried to commit suicide. If I die, at least the government will pay some money to my family.”
The plight of victims in situations similar to Charuka’s gain little attention from the media. Today, Charuka is still in the process of seeking justice from those who have abused her. But she emphasised how grateful she is to the non-governmental organisations such as STOP and people who have helped her. Their kindness has allowed her to leave her wretched employer and provided her with shelter.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivors.
Indicators of trafficking for labour exploitation:
- Deceptive recruitment – Charuka was deceived about the nature of the job and her employer.
- Exploitation – excessive working hours and hazardous work.
- Coercion at destination – her personal documents were confiscated and the house was always heavily under surveillance.
- Abuse of vulnerability – dependency on exploiters due to economic reasons and family situation.
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.
Story provided by Stop Trafficking of People (STOP).