A Hong Kong court has ordered a couple to pay HK$868,600 in damages to their former Indonesian domestic worker, more than a decade after her abuse case shocked the city.

Kartika Puspitasari
Kartika Puspitasari speaking to reporters on Oct. 7, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Kartika Puspitasari, 40, who now lives in Indonesia with her family, did not appear at District Court on Friday when the judgement was delivered. Migrant worker activists received the judgement on her behalf.

The former domestic worker’s case made international headlines in 2013, when her employers Tai Chi-wai and Catherine Au were jailed after being found guilty of charges including assault and wounding with intent.

The couple were said to have scalded Kartika with a hot iron, slashed her with a paper cutter and used a bicycle chain to beat her when she worked for them from 2010 to 2012. She was also left tied to a chair for days without food while her employers vacationed in Thailand, the court heard at the time.

Tai and Au were jailed for three years and three months, and five years, respectively.

Kartika Puspitasari Eni Lestari Cynthia Tellez domestic workers
Kartika Puspitasari (centre) outside District Court, accompanied by migrant worker activists Cynthia Tellez (left) and Eni Lestari (right), on Oct. 7, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

In October, Kartika flew from Indonesia to Hong Kong with the support of local migrant worker groups to testify in court, seeking HK$935,000 in damages from her former employers. Her former employers did not appear in court and did not submit a defence ahead of the judgement’s delivery.

Separately, she is to receive HK$350,000 from an insurance payout.

According to the written judgement, the compensation covers areas including pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment in life; aggravated damages; loss of income ahead of trial; loss of ability to work and future medical expenses.

Most of the money will go to cover the costs of Kartika’s cosmetic surgery, soothing petroleum and therapy.

‘A victory’

Speaking outside District Court, members of the rights group Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body (AMCB) called the judgement a “victory” – albeit a delayed one.

Sringatin (centre left), the chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union, outside District Court on February 10, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“We are happy with the decision of the court because Kartika got what she claimed after 10 years,” said Sringatin, the chairperson of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union.

The activists called Kartika to inform her of the judgement, they added, and she cried upon hearing the news.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, said the group would speak with her lawyer and the Legal Aid Department to discuss how to proceed with claiming the money for Kartika.

“She needs intensive [psychological] and medical care… she faces so much trauma,” Eni said. “We want Kartika to recover, and we need the money for her to do that.”

Kartika Puspitasari
Kartika Puspitasari (centre) walking into District Court on October 7, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Friday’s judgement was slated to be delivered in December but was delayed three times. AMCB said they did not know the reasons for the postponement.

Kartika’s torture has drawn comparisons to the high-profile abuse case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who became the face of a movement to advocate for changes for more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.

Law Wan-tung, Erwiana’s employer, was jailed for six years in 2015 for assaulting Erwiana and another domestic worker. She was ordered to pay HK$809,430 as compensation for Erwiana’s injuries, but did not make the repayment as a court approved her bankruptcy claim in 2021.

Eni Lestari
Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance, outside District Court on Feb. 10, 2023. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Tai and Au’s absence from the October hearing showed that they “practically did not want to take this responsibility of compensating Kartika,” Eni said, adding that it is not known “whether they will pay, whether they have the capacity to pay.”

Emphasising that it took 10 years from Kartika fleeing her employer’s home to learning that she would be compensated for her trauma, the activists added that the government should speed up such legal processes.

“[If not] more employers will take advantage to abuse more domestic workers because they know to fight for justice is very difficult in Hong Kong,” Eni said.

‘Heavy trauma’

Hong Kong is home to around 340,000 migrant domestic workers, most of them from Indonesia and the Philippines. Research has shown that domestic workers contribute significantly to the city’s economy, freeing up parents from childcare and other duties so they can enter the workforce.

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Domestic workers gather on a day off on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Migrant worker activists have long campaigned for their rights, citing cases of domestic workers being denied rest days, food or their salaries.

“I still feel a heavy trauma that makes me emotionally vulnerable, I often have nightmares and tremble whenever I see people who look like my former employers,” Kartika said via an interpreter at a press conference in October after she testified in court.

“I lost my confidence and also feel insecure because of the visible scars on my body, which are still sore and painful.”

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.