Access to basic necessities like healthcare are a given for many in Hong Kong, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Local charity PathFinders works with pregnant foreign domestic workers (FDWs), helping some of the city’s most vulnerable residents in their hour of need. By Tanya Hodgson.
(Photography by Julia Broad)
Who does Pathfinders aim to help and why is the charity’s work so necessary in Hong Kong?
PathFinders helps pregnant, migrant women in distress and their Hong Kong-born children. Despite legal protections, too many of these women are unlawfully fired after pregnancy. Hong Kong needs PathFinders because the babies, children and women we help are either not supported, or are inadequately supported, by Hong Kong’s existing structures. We’ve helped over 6,000 people, including over 2,600 babies and children, since we were founded in 2008.
What risks migrant women might experience during their pregnancy that others wouldn’t?
Once their employment is terminated, these pregnant women become homeless. Within two weeks they lose access to all public welfare support and their rights to access the public healthcare system for vital prenatal screenings. They are often unable to return home because of finances, because they are too pregnant to fly, or because their Hong Kong-born baby is undocumented.
What kinds of issues do the children of migrant women face after childbirth in Hong Kong?
The children born to these women are typically undocumented, stateless and go unrecognised and unsupported by the state. They lack access to critical and essential services including a legal identity, immunisations and medical care, shelter and education. These babies and their mothers easily fall prey to the most dangerous and frightening sectors of our society and can be exploited to devastating effect.
Why is improving maternal health services for FDWs in Hong Kong an important goal to realize?
Based on the HKSAR government’s statistics, we calculate that at least one in every seven women of reproductive age in Hong Kong is employed as a domestic worker. That proportion grows to around 10% when we look at FDWs as a proportion of working women. Hong Kong currently employs 385,000 FDWs, mainly female, and that number is forecast to rise to 600,000 to help us care for our rapidly aging population.
You just had your tenth anniversary last year – what changes or challenges do you foresee in the next ten years?
With the huge influx of migrant workers, the single biggest challenge is that Hong Kong still has no policy setting out how a pregnancy of a migrant worker should be managed. The consequences of migration and importing hundreds of thousands of women of childbearing age can and should be provided for by the administration.
PathFinders’ other challenge is that we will always need funding. We receive no government funding or subsidies for the vital healthcare, humanitarian services and advice we provide. Overseas funders cannot understand why a city with a budget surplus could have such a social problem. We have to rely on the generosity of remarkable individuals, foundations and the corporate community for funding, as well as at staff level.
How do you define positive or negative outcomes with your client group?
When our client is able to make a well- informed decision in the best interests of herself and her child, we see that as a positive outcome.
Negative outcomes are numerous. When our client goes underground and we cannot find her to help her. When she is prosecuted as an immigration overstayer when in fact she is a victim of a crime. When she suffers domestic and/or sexual violence. When she is the victim of trafficking. When she loses the baby. When the baby is born on the streets. When the woman is so overwhelmed that she abandons her baby; the list goes on and on…
How can people support PathFinders?
There are many di erent ways people can support PathFinders! You can donate money – your donation will be used to fund children and mothers’ most critical and urgent needs. You can donate your time – we welcome volunteers to help us support our beneficiaries by keeping our programmes running, for example, facilitating a workshop or coming to our centre in Tai Kok Tsui to help sort through clothes. You can also donate supplies – we collect and distribute preloved and new baby supplies to migrant mothers and children. We also need professional hands-on business support including accountants, strategists, communications and technology people, governance experts and lawyers. And for our clients we need doctors, lawyers, midwives and social workers. If you work for a corporate, consider partnering with us to create a community volunteer experience, which enables us to expose beneficiaries to new and positive experiences.
What events or community outreach are you planning for 2019?
In 2019, we will organise 50 outreach initiatives and events – including community education workshops at consulates, information booths at schools, NGOs and churches, and a community carnival – to educate the general public including 385,000 FDWs in Hong Kong. Our aim is to ensure each and every one of them is aware of the maternity protections available to migrant workers. Since our founding in 2008, we have reached out to 55,000 individuals throughout 236 activities. Our goal is to continue to educate the general public and we will focus on raising awareness and prevention of unplanned pregnancies.