A Singaporean couple is on trial for allegedly starving their Filipina domestic helper. She weighed just 29kg when she escaped from their Orchard Road condominium in April 2014. Lim Choon Hong and wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, face one charge each under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, which states that employers are responsible for the “maintenance” of their foreign employee, including providing them with adequate food.
Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, had worked for the couple for almost 1.5 years before she escaped and sought refuge at HOME, a non-profit organisation that assists migrant workers, including domestic helpers. Ms Thelma lost 20kg whilst working for Lim and Chong. She told HOME of only being given instant noodles to eat twice a day for over a year. On some occasions, she was given bread.
…Chong would sometimes add some meat and vegetables to her food, Ms Thelma told the court, but in the form of “one slice of tomato … or cucumber“.
Ms Thelma was never allowed to eat out with the family. Even when Lim and Chong brought their three children to stay at Raffles Hotel, they packed instant noodles and bread for Ms Thelma.
…If found guilty, Lim and Chong could be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined up to S$10,000.
In 2014, Singaporeans wasted 788,600 tonnes of food, which works out to be 2 bowls of rice per person per day, or 1400 A380 planes. Mere scraps of this obscene excess are ending up in the stomachs of our foreign workers. Maids are given instant noodles, and construction workers are fed with bread as chewy as tyre.
Like rape, such incidents are likely to be under-reported out of fear of stigma, retaliation or of losing their jobs. Yet, the MOM tells us that over 99% of FDWs surveyed report having ‘sufficient food to eat’ daily, and continue to assure us that our guest workers are generally satisfied with their employers, until they decide to flip cars over and burn them, that is. Those driven to hunger and desperation may resort to begging neighbours for food, or in the most extreme case, take it out on the employers themselves.
Despite our rising affluence and how people like Theresa’s alleged abusers can afford a condo in Orchard and have staycations at the Raffles Hotel, we still have maids being treated worse than animals, a hideous symptom of a self-proclaimed First World society practising modern slavery behind closed doors. Starvation and being monitored more tightly than prisoners aside, we have a shameful, horrific history of maids having their nipple bitten off, being fed dogshit and getting kicked in the groin.
Lim and Chong are treading a thin line with their penny-pinching tyranny. A Malaysian couple were sentenced to HANG for the crime of starving their Cambodian maid to death, which was tantamount to murder. If found guilty, the pair should not only be jailed for torture, but banned by the MOM from ever hiring helpers of any sort. The next victim may very well lose more than just a chunk of her weight.