Hong Kong domestic helpers have had to live with their employers since 2003. However, a foreign domestic helper who claims to have been abused by her employer is now challenging the law.
She says that requiring domestic helpers to live in their employers’ houses is a violation to their basic rights, as the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights guarantee both employers and employees their privacy, and the right to choose their residence. Many who agree say that the violent abuse Erwiana Sulistyaningsih suffered at the hands of her now jailed employer could have been prevented, if she had not had to live in her employer’s house.
The public was not really aware of the rights of domestic helpers until Erwiana’s case went viral. Forcing helpers to live with their employers definitely has its drawbacks. First of all, it increases the possibility of domestic helpers being abused by their employers. Cases of abuse are often reported and it is believed that having to live with employers is the major reason. If they could be free to live outside, they would not have to stay in their employers’ houses all the time, and cruel employers would not be able to vent the anger on the maids.
Secondly, this law violates the helpers’ privacy. They cannot enjoy free time at night or even weekends, as their employers might need them to help with daily chores. Also, their employers might pry into their personal lives, since they live under the same roof.
It is not hard to see why domestic helpers try to challenge the law. However, the law itself might also bring benefits. For example, domestic helpers are not employed only to do housework but also to take care of the elderly and children. It is more convenient for domestic helpers to stay in their employers’ houses so that they do not have to wake up early to take children to school or to accompany the elderly on morning walks. This can also increase the bonding between them, which helps reduce conflicts and disagreement. Apart from bringing convenience and improving relationships, living with their employers helps helpers avoid the need to rent flats. It might be hard for them to find a decent flat near the employers’ houses, and it might be expensive.
Judging from these advantages above, we can see that the government had taken the domestic helpers’ needs into consideration before the law was implemented. But after looking all sides of the issue, it is obvious that this law is a double-edged sword. The government should consider these new factors and revise – or even abolish – the law.