‘I Still Have The Scars’, says former Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana

We all remember Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, the young Indonesian domestic helper whose shocking story of unimaginable and constant abuse by her employer, made worldwide headlines last year. A few days ago, Erwiana attended the HK screening of a documentary that highlights human slavery.  

The documentary tells her story and also the story of other domestic helpers that are being abused, sometimes tortured and assaulted by their employer. As she walked past crowds of fellow Indonesians and docmestic helpers, she received a rock-star welcome.

Just over a year ago (March 27, 2015), the pictures of Erwiana's extensive injuries went viral and Erwiana's Hong Kong employer was jailed for six years.

Today, Erwiana has become the face of a movement determined to help and voice the plight of migrant domestic workers tortured and abused by employers in Hong Kong.

A few days ago, Erwiana came back to Hong Kong for the screening of a documentary by producer Gabriel Ordaz. The film follows the plight of domestic workers in Hong Kong, including Erwiana's story. As Gabriel Ordaz explains: “This film is not just about Erwiana and Erwiana’s case is not the only case,”. In 2010, Gabriel, originally from the US, came to Hong Kong to make the 90-minute documentary Erwiana: Justice For All.

“As we sit here today, there’s probably somebody somewhere in a home suffering the same thing that Erwiana suffered. This is why I’d like to bring this message out.”

Erwiana came to the city in May 2013. Her main goal was to save enough money to attend university. With the Hong Kong ordeal behind her, Erwiana was awarded a scholarship to study economics at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta (Central Java). “After viewing this film, I cried several times,” Erwiana said at the screening. "We haven't seen any changes yet. There are still so many cases of migrants who never get justice."

She recalled that when she was a child, her mother worked as a domestic helper in Brunei. “At the time I wanted to tell her that I did not want money, that I wanted my mum to stay with us every day,” she said. 

“Two years after my case, I feel that the condition of live-in migrant domestic helpers in Hong Kong has not changed much.” "I hear stories of abuse, cheating and exploitation by recruitment agencies, many different cases, and not just women," Erwiana, 25, told AFP in an interview.

Since her case came to light, she says many migrant domestic workers have contacted her to discuss their own situations. Erwiana helps put them in touch with a network of NGOs in various countries. "They (the workers) feel that there is a way to help them," she told AFP. And while there are still many hurdles to overcome, Erwiana says campaigners must not give up. "If we don't take care of ourselves, no one will," she says.

Both she and migrant rights campaigners hoped the high-profile case would bring enough pressure on authorities in Hong Kong and Indonesia to improve conditions for domestic helpers.

A year on, they say it has not. As Sringatin, spokeswoman of the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, which organised the screening, explains, even after Erwiana’s high-profile case, the conditions of live-in domestic helpers in Hong Kong haven't really changed and some policies are still very problematic (as reported by SCMP). For instance, domestic helpers are required to live with their employers, excluding them from the minimum wage cover and forcing them to return to their home countries after their contracts were terminated prematurely, instead of allowing them to remain in Hong Kong and seek new employment. “We can’t keep silent,” Sringatin said. 

Ordaz said the film would be shown again at the University of Hong Kong, and he would take it to film festivals in Canada, the United States and Europe before eventually making it available on YouTube or Netflix change.”

 

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