Story provided by: Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos
In 2008, a Filipino woman named Marilyn was sent to Hong Kong by her employer to work as a foreign domestic helper. The employer’s sister-in-law had a bed-ridden mother suffering from dementia, and Marilyn would, ostensibly, be responsible for her care.
Marilyn entered Hong Kong on a tourist visa, after being assured that all paperwork would be handled after her arrival. Instead, her Hong Kong employer confiscated her passport and prevented her from leaving the house, and the written contract failed to materialize. For the next two years, Marilyn was kept under lock and key, leaving the house only to accompany the employer’s mother on her hospital visits. The oppressive nature of her working situation had ill effects on her physical health, leading to rotting teeth and hair loss, but her employer refused to grant her access to proper medical care.
By the following year, Marilyn’s parents began suspecting that she had been the victim of human trafficking, and they proceeded to contact the proper authorities in the Philippines. The Philippines Overseas Employment Administration Office concluded that she had indeed been trafficked, and they initiated a correspondence with the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Hong Kong, to no avail. Tragically, the Marilyn’s father passed away in September, 2010, while she was still imprisoned in her employer’s home. In desperation, she initiated a hunger strike to protest her employer’s decision not to allow her to return home for the funeral. The hunger strike lasted until her employer handed her HK$500 and told her to go to the Philippines Consulate, where she was redirected to the Labour Tribunal. After filing her claim, she also surrendered herself to the Hong Kong Immigration Department for overstaying her tourist visa.
The immigration investigation and labour tribunal claim took a heavy toll on Marilyn, taking over a year to reach a conclusion. During that time, she developed symptoms of depression, as she struggled to keep up with the details of her case.
While the duty lawyer assigned to Marilyn’s investigation advised her to plead guilty, she received conflicting advice to change her plea from staff at a local NGO.
In the end, the court refused to consider the psychological trauma inflicted on her by the employer, and they did not believe that she was not allowed to leave the house. They found Marilyn guilty of overstaying her visa, disregarding her forced confinement, and sentenced her to four months and five days imprisonment. The Labour Tribunal case was also rejected after the woman was unable to produce a written contract or wage receipts. She did not appeal her sentence or the Labour Tribunal’s decision. The employer was never charged with any crime.
*All names & identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the survivor.
Human trafficking indictors in this case
Common work and living conditions:
- Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
- High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
- Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
- Poor Physical Health
Lacks health care
- Appears malnourished
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of indicators in this particular case. Also, the red flags in this case may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Learn more about human trafficking here!
Are you or someone you know being trafficked?
Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing 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.
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