Maids claiming abuse face long wait for justice

Maids claiming abuse face long wait for justice
Ms Khanifah claimed her female employer broke her two front teeth with a hammer, stabbed her on the shoulders with a pair of scissors and hit her on the head with a pestle used to make sambal chilli.

Filipino maid Analyn Rinonos, 30, spent two years, three months and two days in a Singapore shelter before she finally returned home to her two young children in March.

That was how long she waited while her complaint of being abused by her employer was investigated and taken through the legal system. In the end, her employer pleaded guilty and was jailed for a year.

Ms Rinonos received justice, but little else. "I came to Singapore with a dream, but it quickly turned into a nightmare," she told The Sunday Times.

There are maids who are beaten, denied food, locked up and deprived of sleep. Many of their tormentors - their employers - eventually go to jail.

But those who complain of physical or sexual abuse face months, sometimes years, of uncertainty waiting in shelters as the police investigate cases and, where possible, take the accused to court.

There are no official figures on the number of complaints, how many reach the courts or how long each case takes to be resolved.

But figures collated by migrant help group Home and the Indonesian and Philippine embassies, all of which run shelters for maids in distress, show that at least one report of physical or sexual abuse is lodged with the police every other day.

The Sunday Times found nearly a dozen cases of women who returned home a year to 18 months after making a report.

One waited four years.

Once a maid makes a police report, she needs the approval of the authorities to leave Singapore.

She is allowed to find a new job, but only as a maid. Many do not want to work as maids again, given what they say they have suffered.

Some cannot work because their employers do not cancel their work permits out of spite. Others need psychiatric help and are in no shape to work.

With no income and with restrictions on their freedom, most just want to go home or be allowed greater flexibility to work as they pursue their cases. There is no guarantee of compensation even if their employers are eventually convicted and fined or jailed.

Ms Rinonos' employer, for example, was jailed for a year for crimes inflicted on her and another Indonesian maid.

Ms Rinonos sought compensation but she was turned down.

Spokesmen for the Indonesian and Philippine embassies and Home told The Sunday Times that the authorities could look at ways to speed up investigations and consider mandating compensation for victims whose abusers are convicted.

Third Secretary and Vice-Consul Oliver C. Delfin from the Philippine Embassy said what would help is a timeline in police investigations, as the women do not have a support system here aside from their embassies.

Their families are also anxious for them to return home.

While some women persevere and wait for the cases against their employers to be resolved, many others give up, said Home executive director Jolovan Wham. Women with pending cases stay at his shelter for 15 to 18 months.

He said up to four out of five withdraw their complaints and go home. Others leave when their claims cannot be substantiated - sometimes even after they pass lie detector tests conducted by the police - and their employers cannot be charged in court.

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