The woman battling slavery in Hong Kong

Patricia Ho is leading God’s crusade in the courts

It took God 12 years to show Patricia Ho why he wanted her to give up her dream of being a missionary and work as a human rights lawyer.

In 2004, as a lazy 21-year-old law student in London, she found nothing to match the inspiration of Jackie Pullinger, an English missionary to Hong Kong, or the “amazing” teaching of theologian John Stott, whose church she attended. She had the impression that if she was to serve God to the fullest, she had to leave everything behind and go to the mission field.

Her youth group leader told her she was crazy – that not many people had the chance to go to law school so she should graduate and make sure she used law to serve God.

“It really stunned me. I couldn’t let go of it at all.” – Patricia Ho

But, as an unenthusiastic reader, she never even visited the law school library until her final year when she stumbled across a topic that gripped her: human trafficking.

“Not many people were talking about it back then, but somehow I ended up sitting in my room and I could not think of anything else,” the Hong Kong based lawyer tells Eternity during a recent visit to Australia to speak at The Justice Conference.

“I just read and dug through everything I could possibly find on the subject. I couldn’t believe how it could happen. I was reading a lot about children being kidnapped and abducted and having to sell sex in Bangkok and all over Asia. It really stunned me. I couldn’t let go of it at all.”

The case that shook her to the core was that of a four-year-old boy forced to pole-dance in a dingy club in Bangkok.

“It stayed with me and I asked God: what can I do?”

Still unsure of God’s leading, she applied for missionary jobs and it was only when she received a job offer from a Christian NGO to work with university students that the penny dropped.

“My mind was so certain – No! I don’t want to do it!”

“I was told ‘there’s no human rights issues in Hong Kong.’” – Patricia Ho

Back in Hong Kong, Patricia spent six months unable to eat or sleep, racked with worry that her plan would fail because she kept being rejected by big law firms.

“I was told ‘there’s no human rights issues in Hong Kong, there are no human rights lawyers in Hong Kong,’ so I was quite upset,” she says.

“So, in my complete and utter desperation, I searched through the law list from A to Z and I started to look for any law firm that would pique my interest. And thankfully it was B – Barnes & Daly. And I opened the website and it said ‘we do cases for free so long as it’s a worthy cause.’ And I couldn’t believe myself – for Hong Kong? I immediately applied, got in and I never left.”

That was in 2009 and although there were clear signs of God pushing her along and telling her that she was in the right place, it was a struggle to live on a very low income and resist the voices of her friends and family telling her she shouldn’t be doing this.

“I had to really struggle through and I only managed because I knew for sure that that’s where God wanted me. If I wasn’t sure, no way.”

“I only managed because I knew for sure that that’s where God wanted me.

Although Patricia won several landmark cases challenging government policies concerning asylum-seekers and refugees, it was not until seven years later that a human trafficking case fell on her desk.

“As I read it I started getting really excited – which is a very twisted response to a very sad story. After seven years of waiting this was it – [the answer to] why did God send me.”

The client she represented was a Pakistani man, who was tricked by a rich landowner to go to Hong Kong, where he was virtually locked in a commercial office, beaten every day and not paid a penny for about four years of work.

“He was abused and kicked, treated very violently throughout this time. Whenever he asked for anything he would be told that, if he didn’t obey, his parents and family back home would be in danger,” she explains.

“The striking thing about his case was that he actually went to every government department around town – he went to the Police, Immigration, Labour Department – and with all of these people he told his full story and asked for help; and all of them said ‘it’s not an issue for their department – it’s for another.’”

For Patricia, this was the perfect case because it clearly laid out all the problems in the system – bearing in mind that forced labour and human trafficking were not crimes in Hong Kong, which was the main thing she wanted to change.

“You just have to obey and go with it and crazy things can happen.” – Patricia Ho

So Patricia’s firm sued the government for its failure to protect victims of trafficking. On 23 December 2016 they won the case.

“I spent the next month amazed and in awe of what God had been doing 12 years ago and all this time. Amazed by how God could use me like that,” she says.

“I’m working with a legislator and we just drafted a Modern Slavery Bill for Hong Kong and we’re just submitting it now.

“The changes that are happening are so systematic and huge and it’s amazing; I really was looking at ‘you just have to obey and go with it and crazy things can happen.’”