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Myanmar maid's suffering, death should never have happened: Josephine Teo

Myanmar maid's suffering, death should never have happened: Josephine Teo
Gaiyathiri Murugayan (left) admitted to starving, torturing and ultimately killing Piang Ngaih Don.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - The abuse and torture suffered by Myanmar domestic helper Piang Ngaih Don is appalling and should never have happened, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.

She also urged the community to help look out for and report signs of abuse of foreign workers.

Ms Piang was 24 when she died on July 26, 2016. She weighed just 24kg then, having lost 38 per cent of her body weight since she started working here on May 28, 2015.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday night (Feb 24), the minister extended her condolences to Ms Piang's family and said the Government takes the protection of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) seriously.

On Tuesday (Feb 23), her Singaporean employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, the wife of a police officer Kevin Chelvam, 41, admitted to starving, torturing and ultimately killing her.

Chelvam, who was a staff sergeant, was interdicted from Aug 8, 2016, and faces multiple charges in connection to the abuse and death of Ms Piang. His case is still before the courts.


In a statement on Wednesday, the police said officers are expected to uphold the law, and officers who break the law will be dealt with severely.

Mrs Teo said Ms Piang worked in Singapore for less than a year and had attended the settling-in programme.

She was examined by doctors twice, between six and 10 months of her employment, and her employment agency also spoke with her on two separate occasions.

But no signs of her distress were picked up on any of these occasions.

"Although it happened nearly five years ago, I can only imagine the anguish her family endured," said Mrs Teo.

"The suffering and death of Ms Piang should never have happened. Abuse is abhorrent, whoever the victims are. When it involves FDWs, all the more we have to act."


A statement issued by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday night said that in the first six months of Ms Piang's employment, Chelvam had provided feedback to the employment agent (EA) on communication problems and her work performance.

The EA offered to replace Ms Piang multiple times, but Chelvam did not accept them.

"During this period, the EA had spoken to Ms Piang on two different occasions but did not pick up on any issues," it said.

MOM added that Chelvam and his family members had previously employed four other FDWs and MOM had not received any complaints or adverse feedback from them.

The statement also revealed that upon Ms Piang's death, MOM had ensured that a full insurance payout was made to the next-of-kin, consisting of the full death benefit, repatriation cost and a special gratuity payment.

The Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) had also made a donation to Ms Piang's family and facilitated her brother's visit to Singapore.

MOM said it will be intensifying efforts to reach out to and interview all new FDWs about their well-being, and also engage healthcare providers to see how it can support them to identify cases of possible abuse.

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said in a statement on Wednesday that more must be done to protect FDWs.

"Horrific, dehumanising, and abhorrent understate the abuse that Piang Ngaih Don faced," it said.

"We grieve Piang's death. She leaves behind a young son who will grow up motherless."

The organisation also urged medical professionals who detect domestic and migrant worker patients showing signs of abuse to proactively take measures to flag them to the authorities, medical social workers, or groups that assist migrant workers.

Ms Teo, urging the community to support FDWs and "do better", said: "We can't do it alone. We appeal to you for help too.

"There's no place for FDW abuse in Singapore. Let's put an end to it."

Members of the public who may be aware of any ill-treatment of FDWs, or FDWs facing employment or other issues can reach out to CDE or the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) for help.

FDWs can also call the MOM helpline at 1800-339-5505 to speak to an MOM officer.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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