Uncommon cruelty


Serious cases of maid abuse here form a sliver of a fraction of the total number of domestic workers. Still, every instance of violence against them is one too many and would appal the majority of employers. It is hard for them to fathom the pathology of cases that have revealed whipping, scalding, starving and attacking with a metal bar. Prejudiced beliefs can spin out of control and lead to abuse, according to researchers who designed the landmark Stanford Prison Experiment, which showed how ordinary people can dehumanise others under certain conditions and commit egregious acts of violence.

Is maid abuse an extreme expression of perhaps a residual contempt for those seen as different and less deserving by certain employers? For whatever reason bullies vent their anger on vulnerable targets, the full force of the law should be brought to bear against them. Penalties have been enhanced and when imposing jail sentences, judges have stressed deterrence as a primary sentencing consideration.

The banality of cruelty in certain quarters is something that no household should tolerate. In one case, young children were said to have laughed as their mother stripped a maid in a fit of pique. If the incident is simply brushed off by other adults in the family, the young might never understand the extreme humiliation suffered by the maid and her subsequent struggle with psychological problems.

Extreme cases aside, there is a part that all can play in shaping a social culture that is sensitive to the welfare of foreign domestic workers. Within households, it is the collective responsibility of adults to help remedy an unremittingly heavy workload, insufficient rest time, no time off, and the worker's poor access to other people and useful information. Along with institutional safeguards, it is a concerned public that can help prevent another instance of a maid left bruised and battered by her very protector.

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.

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