Employers accused of starving maid, who lost 20kg in 15 months

Employers accused of starving maid, who lost 20kg in 15 months
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean couple claimed trial yesterday to charges of failing to provide their former Filipino domestic worker with adequate food, causing her weight to drop by 20kg over a 15-month period.

Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, weighed just 29kg when she was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in April last year, compared to 49kg in Jan 2013.

Her former employer, trader Lim Choon Hong, 47, faces one charge of contravening Condition 1 in Part 1 of the Fourth Schedule to the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012.

Lim's spouse, housewife Chong Sui Foon, 47, faces a count of abetting Lim in committing the offence.

A district court heard that Ms Thelma ran away from Lim's condominium on April 18 last year, and sought refuge at a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).

Home then reported Ms Thelma's complaints of weight loss, insufficient rest and food, and unacceptable sleeping space to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

When MOM investigation officer Christina Quek interviewed her on April 21, Ms Thelma was observed to be "emotional" and "about to cry" when questioned about her food, sleep, and how her employers treated her.

Ms Thelma said she was given two meals a day, with each ration consisting of instant noodles and a slice of bread. She also had to ask for permission before drinking water.

She claimed that she was made to sleep in a storeroom and was instructed to sleep at odd hours of the day such as at 11am.

She was allowed to bathe only once or twice a week at a public toilet in her employer's condominium. Chong would also watch her shower, as the latter "did not want her to bathe too long", Ms Quek said.

Ms Thelma also claimed that she was not allowed to brush her teeth.

Within two weeks, her clothes started getting loose and she felt weak and less energetic. Her hair started falling after a few months.

Ms Thelma, who seemed nervous and timid on the stand, broke down uncontrollably when asked by Deputy Public Prosecutor about what happened to her body while working for Lim and Chong.

Crying, she told the court through a Tagalog interpreter: "I became very skinny, I couldn't recognise myself when I saw myself in the mirror."

Ms Quek had asked Home to send Ms Thelma for a medical check up at a general practitioner, and later at a hospital.

Although Lim footed the GP's bill, he refused to pay for Ms Thelma's hospital bill as he said she "is not sick", Ms Quek said.

TTSH doctor Lin Huiyu, who attended to Ms Thelma after she was taken to the hospital's emergency department by Home on April 29 told the court that she had said she was given insufficient food.

She also complained of difficulty sleeping, and had not had her menses for about a year.

Ms Thelma was hospitalised for five days and given 18 days of hospitalisation leave.

At a review at the hospital in June last year, after she was discharged, she weighed 43kg.

Lim and Chong are out on bail of $3,000 each. If convicted, they face a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.



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