S’pore couple jailed for starving maid

Singapore is largely dependent on migrant labour.

A Singaporean couple, both 47, have been jailed for starving their Filipina maid over a period of 15 months between 2013 and 2014.

Businessman Lim Choon Hong was jailed for three weeks and fined S$10,000 (US$7,200) and his wife Chong Sui Foon was imprisoned for three months. The couple have four children and live in an upmarket apartment in the Orchard Road area.

Maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, in her 40s, was given white bread and instant noodles twice a day while she lived with them. She ran away in April 2014 and contacted the migrant rights group Home. Gawidan weighed just 29kg, having lost 20kg.

The prosecution reportedly intends to appeal and demand the maximum one-year sentence each, describing their behaviour as “downright shocking in its extremity and severity”.

The couple paid Gawidan S$20,000 in a settlement deal, which prevents Gawidan from suing them in civil proceedings but District Judge Low Wee Ping questioned whether giving money, be it “one dollar or one million dollars”, demonstrated genuine remorse.

Chong claimed that her actions were due to mental illness as she had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

After listening to three psychiatrists, the judge ruled that Chong’s behaviour “stemmed from and reflected a selective and discriminatory perception and treatment of the victim”, rather than having anything to do with her condition.

The couple’s lawyer Raymond Lye said the pair would remain out on bail pending the prosecution’s appeal, claiming that they were “remorseful and sincere in expressing their regret”.

Many Singaporean families employ foreign domestic helpers. Last year there were 239,700 foreign maids in the Lion City, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Gawidan told the court that she had continued working for the couple as she “just wanted to continue earning money” for her family in the Philippines.

Singaporean courts have seen a rising number of similar cases of abuse in recent years.

The island republic has a highly regulated system for employing maids, but campaigners say not enough is being done to protect migrant rights.

Picture credit: Flickr