Do you suspect that your helper is underage, despite what her documents say?
There is a chance that she is. Maid agencies here told My Paper that their overseas counterparts sometimes jack up the ages of their maids to 23, the legal age to work here.
Identity, travel and even educational documents are forged to match. Some countries do not keep a proper record of births, which makes it easy for maids to lie about their age.
Overseas agents do it because the young helper-wannabes want to earn a living, and because they agree to work for less, agents said.
Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K. Jayaprema said this is a big problem, especially among maids from Indonesia and Myanmar.
She said that agencies have to take care in choosing licensed overseas counterparts which they can trust.
"The problem is that agents now take referrals from tourists and even maids themselves," Ms Jayaprema added.
Dealing with licensed agents can help agencies should they be caught for bringing in underage maids, she said, adding that agencies can lodge a complaint with the embassies of the maids' home countries because there are forged passports involved.
Martin Silva, managing consultant of Happy Maids Happy Home, said that young maids who are here for the first time may get a culture shock and become homesick.
He said that could be why some of them resort to criminal behaviour.
Ms Valli Pillai, a case worker with migrant rights group Home, said that she sees an average of about 10 underage helpers who run away from their employers' homes every month. They are mostly from Myanmar, she said.
Most agencies depend on the documents and photographs sent over by their overseas counterparts, but some take extra care in trying to ensure their maids are at least 23 years old.
Ms Shirley Ng from Orange Employment Agency said that she goes to the home countries of domestic workers to interview them personally.
"Sometimes, when talking to them, you can just sense that they are really young, and not ready," she said.
Photographs are unreliable, because the helpers sometimes look older than they actually are, she added.
Agencies which bring in underage maids will be penalised.
They have to bear the full cost of sending the maids home. These agencies are also issued warnings, demerit points, or both, which could lead to their licences being revoked by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), a spokesman said.
Most times, the only way to find out if a maid is underage is if she admits it herself, agencies said.
Employment agencies should exercise due diligence in verifying the foreign domestic workers' age by interviewing them, and verifying their passports, birth documents and educational certificates, the MOM spokesman added.
MOM staff also interview the workers selectively to verify their application details.
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