Maria (a pseudonym), a migrant worker, came to Taiwan in 2008 and found work with one of her close Indonesian friends. She looked after the friend’s children and operated a small business. Rather than pay Maria directly, the friend promised to save her wages on her behalf. After years of working under this arrangement, Maria felt something wasn’t right and discovered that the friend had cheated her of the savings.

Maria first went to her employment broker looking for help. The broker threatened to send her back to Indonesia if she informed the authorities about the issue. Later, Maria sought assistance from the Garden of Hope Foundation. The non-government organization assisted Maria in taking the matter to court, and found her a part-time job within the organization filing papers.

One of the representatives who worked with Maria, Kaili Lee (李凱莉), a research and development specialist at the Garden of Hope Foundation, discussed the significance of the foundation’s services with The News Lens International.

She says that while Maria lost her court case, she did earn enough money through the part-time job with the foundation to return to Indonesia and start a family. And her story still resonates with many of the people the foundation has helped – women who have similar stories of human trafficking, teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Lee says that while seeking justice for victims is important, the foundation works to get the victims back on their feet.

“We provide many kinds of services, such as prevention, counseling, phone hotlines and shelters,” she says. “The important support is for ‘after shelter’ patients, which we help through building up their working skills and giving employment service programs.”

A voice for victims

Despite its’ “Tier 1” ranking from the U.S. Department of State’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, Taiwan still has a serious human trafficking problem as well as problems with domestic violence and sexual abuse. Last week, Susan Coppedge, the U.S. ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat human trafficking, attended the International Workshop on Strategies for Combating Human Trafficking. The event saw more than 300 overseas and local academics and government officials gather in Taipei to discuss strategies for battling human trafficking.

“It’s satisfying to see the U.S. recognize Taiwan for its efforts and come to interact with all the sectors and organizations working on human trafficking. It helps us explore different strategies on how to resolve this issue in Taiwan,” Lee says.

The Taiwanese government heard advice on ways of helping migrant workers, in particular. Taiwan's migrant work force consists of more than 600,000 people – over 200,000 are Indonesian.

Lee and the Garden of Hope Foundation believe local labor laws protecting migrant workers need to be strengthened and they say foreign workers’ labor rights are violated on a regular basis. Violations include not being paid for overtime, long hours and cuts to hourly wages.

“We see many cases of sexual abuse, harassment or inappropriate contact. Most [migrant workers] don’t ask for help because if they talk to their broker, they will be threatened to be sent back to their home country. But they can't, or there will be no money for them. So, they suffer these kinds of abuses,” Lee says.

The poor living quality for some migrant workers in Taiwan drives people to leave jobs and pick up illegal work – including entering the sex trade – which often sees them becoming undocumented immigrants.

“We need them to be protected by the law in Taiwan,” Lee says. “And lessen the language barrier by hiring interpreters to help these foreign workers.”

The NGO continues to encourage Taiwan’s prosecutors to take on employers who violate worker rights. And other than migrant workers, Lee says the foundation always has its door open to any victims of abuse.

Similar to most NGO’s, the biggest challenge facing the organization is money, according to Lee. Not receiving the adequate funds to operate limits capacity to help victims.

Nevertheless, the message from Lee and the Garden of Hope Foundation is clear.

“We have to do more to fight these issues,” she says.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang