Indonesian domestic worker wins compensation for abuse in Hong Kong

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An Indonesian woman who was beaten and burned by her former Hong Kong employers, leaving her suffering chronic pain, was awarded more than $110,000 in damages on Friday.

The abuse meted out to Kartika Puspitasari, 40, made headlines a decade ago and sparked protests over the treatment of domestic workers in Hong Kong.

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Her employers were convicted and jailed in 2013, with a court hearing how they waged a two-year campaign of violence and humiliation against her.

She was burned with an iron and beaten with a bike chain, leaving her physically scarred and mentally traumatized.

Her mistreatment only came to light after she sought consular protection, and she eventually returned to Indonesia in 2014 without having received any wages.

On Friday, a judge ruled that Puspitasari had been “treated inhumanely” and awarded her HK$868,607 ($110,650).

At her home in Padang city on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, Puspitasari broke down in tears as she received the news by video call.

“I am lost for words for all of your kindness,” she said, thanking her lawyers and friends.

Eni Lestari, spokesperson for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body in Hong Kong, called Puspitasari’s case extreme, but “not isolated.”

Around 340,000 migrant domestic workers, mainly women from Indonesia and the Philippines, are employed in Hong Kong.

Rights groups have long argued that the city’s system leaves domestic workers vulnerable to exploitation, with some unable to flee hostile workplaces due to the requirement they live with their employers.

Most victims cannot afford to seek redress in Hong Kong, especially after their visas expire at the end of their contracts, activists say.

In court, Puspitasari testified that the abuse left her with dark, protruding scars on her back, abdomen and left arm.

Lawyers said the severity of the injuries limit her future employment options and that she was never able to afford the surgeries and medical treatment she needed.

The husband and wife who had employed her – who completed sentences of three-and-a-half and five-and-a-half years respectively – did not contest the civil suit.

While Puspitasari’s compensation is rare, it is not without precedent.

In 2017, a Hong Kong court awarded $103,400 to Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who was held captive, starved and beaten to the point she lost control of her bodily functions.

Puspitasari said she was exhausted by her decade-long legal quest.

“I feel frustrated because... it really was too long,” she told AFP in an interview in October.

Puspitasari said she hopes to rebuild a quiet life with her husband and three children.

“I cannot imagine myself forgetting or leaving this behind because the trauma is too deep.”

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