Maid reportedly given only instant noodles to eat by employers for over a year

The Filipina domestic worker weighed only 29kg by the end of her ordeal with her employers. Read on for more details, including updates as the trial continues

UPDATE: More details have emerged about the terrible case of domestic helper abuse by Lim Choon Hong and wife Chong Sui Foon, following their appearance at a district court on Monday 14 December. The trial continues.

According to The Straits Times and The New Paper: 

  • A district court heard that Lim told Ms Thelma she had to be "flexible in her work hours, as he worked on European timing". "If I wake up at 7pm on Monday, I can sleep only on Wednesday morning," Ms Thelma told the court through a Tagalog interpretor.
  • Initially, for each meal, Ms Thelma got two packets of instant noodles, a few slices of bread, "a slice of tomato or a slice of cucumber" and a little bit of meat. Sometimes, she would get a bit of rice or leftovers. If she was hungry she asked for more, and on the rare occasion she got more food, Chong would then give her less at the next meal.
  • In the first two weeks of starting work, Ms Thelma's clothes became loose and in the next few months, her hair started falling out.
  • When Lim and Chong when overseas for a month in September 2013, Ms Thelma stayed with Chong's mother and "still had to take along her ration of noodles and bread. Likewise, when her employers stayed at Raffles Hotel one time, Ms Thelma was still made to take her noodles and bread along.
  • Ms Thelma told the court that "she did not receive her salary and had her mobile phone kept away from her while she was working for the Lims between Jan 23, 2013, and April 18 last year." The domestic helper had no way of even contacting her family back in the Philippines during the period she worked for Lim and Chong.
  • Instead of her salary, Ms Thelma was reportedly instead given $500 as an allowance, which was placed inside a plastic bag. She testified that "Chong then told her to place it among her dirty clothes."

In Singapore, many of us are lucky to have domestic helpers to assist with our daily chores. Often, they become more than just employees -- they become part of the family, and an invaluable asset especially to those of us who have kids.

Just as we come to rely on our helpers for assistance with many things, they too depend on us for things that are also basic human rights, such as safety, a roof over their heads and food.

Unfortunately, some employers deny their domestic helpers of one or many of these basic rights... such as a Singaporean couple who appeared in court today (Monday December 14) for allegedly starving their Filipina maid.

Maid starved by Singaporean employers: She weighed only 29kg when she escaped...

According to a Channel NewsAsia report, Thelma Oyasan Gawidan weighed just 29kg when she escaped from her employee's Orchard Road condominium in April 2014 -- she had lost 20kg in total during the total time of her employment.

Lim Choon Hong and wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, reportedly "face one charge each under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, which states that employers are responsible for the 'maintenance' of their foreign employee, including proving them with adequate food."

Reports say that Ms Thelma had been working for the couple for around 1.5 years before she escaped and sought refuge at HOME. This is a non-profit organisation that assists migrant workers, including domestic helpers.

Ms Thelma had allegedly only been given instant noodles to eat, just twice a day, for more than a year. She also told authorities that she was forced to sleep in a storeroom, at odd hours.

Adding to her misery, she was only permitted to shower once or twice a week and this too at the condominium's public toilet. Allegedly, Chong kept a close eye to make sure Ms Thelma did not use any hot water.

In court today (Monday Dec 14), reports say that Dr Lim Huiyu testified that Ms Thelma "suffered significant weight loss due to insufficient intake of food", after ruling our medical or other causes. Dr Lim is senior resident at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's department of gastroenterology and hepatology, and had examined Ms Thelma in April this year,

What's more, Ms Thelma had not had a period for a year due to malnourishment.

If found guilty, the couple could be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined up to S$10,000.

Looking after our domestic workers

Families with children: it's really easy to become increasingly reliant on helpers to do the bulk of kid-related chores. Do keep in mind that just like anyone else, they too need adequate rest and food.

It's unfair to expect them to stay up through the night feeding or rocking our babies to sleep and then wake up early the next morning to attend to other household chores.

It's unfair to go out to a restaurant together and not buy them food, or leave them scraps to eat. And it's unfair — and a violation of basic human rights — to deny them of proper nourishment.

Let's remember to treat our domestic workers with respect and kindness.

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