Torture case spotlights maid abuse issue in Hong Kong

Updated 17 January 2014
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Torture case spotlights maid abuse issue in Hong Kong

HONG KONG: Investigators from Hong Kong will travel to Indonesia to speak with a woman who left the Chinese city after she was allegedly tortured by her employer, authorities said Friday, adding they will pursue the case “relentlessly.”
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a 22-year-old former domestic helper, was reportedly left unable to walk after eight months of alleged abuse at the hands of the employer. She was admitted to an Indonesian hospital in critical condition after returning home last week.
Domestic workers took to the streets of Hong Kong in support of Erwiana Thursday, and demanded better protection for the city’s hundreds of thousands of foreign helpers.
During the protest, a second maid known only as “Bunga” also came forward to allege abuse at the hands of the same employer — reported to be a woman in her forties who lives with two teenage sons and a husband who is often away — four years ago.
Authorities promised action and have said police officers will be sent to Indonesia to speak with Erwiana.
“Police will be liaising with Interpol with a view to sending officers to Indonesia to take a statement from the helper,” Labor and Welfare minister Matthew Cheung told a press conference on Friday.
“We do not tolerate any abuse or exploitation of domestic helpers in Hong Kong,” Cheung said, adding that the government will “pursue the case relentlessly.”
Cheung also said the government will step up enforcement action over regulation and inspection of domestic helper employment agencies.
The agency that employed Erwiana said they were unaware of her injuries until they were notified by their corresponding agency in Indonesia.
Erwiana remains in hospital in Sragen, on the main Indonesian island of Java.
Her condition is improving and medics hope her injuries will be healed in two weeks, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian minister of manpower and transmigration has said.
The employers accused of the abuse have yet to comment publicly on the case.
The allegations have renewed concerns about the treatment of domestic helpers in the southern Chinese city, home to nearly 300,000 maids mainly from Southeast Asian countries — predominantly Indonesia and the Philippines.
A Hong Kong couple were jailed in September for attacks on their Indonesian domestic helper, which included burning her with an iron and beatings with a bike chain.
Amnesty International in November condemned the “slavery-like” conditions faced by thousands of Indonesian women who work in the Asian financial hub as domestic staff, and accused authorities of “inexcusable” inaction.
It found that Indonesians were exploited by recruitment and placement agencies who seize their documents and charge them excessive fees, with false promises of high salaries and good working conditions.
Domestic helpers in Hong Kong are paid about HK$4,000 ($515) a month.


DR Congo Ebola outbreak has ‘potential to expand’, WHO official says

Updated 53 min 59 sec ago
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DR Congo Ebola outbreak has ‘potential to expand’, WHO official says

GENEVA: A deadly Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a clear “potential to expand,” the WHO warned Wednesday, as it reported seven more cases of the disease.
“We are on the epidemiological knife edge,” Peter Salama, in charge of emergency response at the World Health Organization (WHO), told a special meeting.
“The next few weeks will really tell if this outbreak is going to expand to urban areas or if we are going to be able to keep it under control,” said Salama.
The agency issued a new toll, saying there had been 58 cases since the outbreak was declared on May 8, an increase of seven over figures issued on Tuesday, of which 27 have been deaths.
One of the world’s most notorious diseases, Ebola is a virus-caused hemorrhagic fever that in extreme cases leads to fatal bleeding from internal organs, the mouth, eyes or ears.
The outbreak began in rural northwestern DR Congo in a remote location called Bikoro.
Last Thursday, a first case was reported in Mbandaka — a city of around 1.2 million people that lies on the Congo River, where it is a transport hub to Brazzaville and Kinshasa downstream and to Bangui, upstream.
So far, seven cases have surfaced in Mbandaka districts, WHO said.
“An urban case means that it can spread quickly. That is another challenge,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Wednesday’s special session during the agency’s annual World Health Assembly.
The proximity of the outbreak to neighboring countries, especially through the river connection, was a major concern, he said.
“They are connected, they are very close, and that is another challenge that makes the problem really serious,” he said.
Salama said that another concerning factor was that five health care workers were among those infected.
“That is a tragedy in its own right, but it also signals the potential for further amplification,” he said.
At the same time, though, the top WHO officials and DRC’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva Zenon Mukongo Ngay, who spoke at the event, stressed the massive efforts put in place to halt the outbreak.
Salama pointed out that in just the two weeks since the outbreak was declared, clinical care facilities have been set up, an air bridge has been established to Bikoro, emergency financing has been mobilized, protective gear and emergency medical kits have been supplied.
In addition, a vaccination campaign has begun and more than 120 staff of WHO alone have been deployed alongside numerous staff from other organizations under the leadership of the DRC government.