Despite set criteria for hiring foreign domestic helpers, there seems to be an increase in underage maids in Singapore.
Guidelines clearly stated on the Ministry of Manpower(MOM) website say that the minimum age of candidates applying to be foreign domestic workers in Singapore must be at least 23 years old.
Still, employment agencies tend to use the same excuses over and over again. They argue that they did everything by the book because it states clearly in the maids’ passports that they are of legal age.
Most would claim ignorance, just like when Khor Siew Tiang, 35, owner of Vista Employment Services was charged. She maintained that the girl’s passport stated that she was 23 and claims she only found out later that the girl was just 13 years old.
Underage Maids in Singapore
The girl’s real age was exposed when she went for her finger-printing and photo image appointment at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) service centre in Bendemeer Road. As a result, Khor was slapped with the maximum fine of $5,000 and her employment agency licence was suspended.
Ignorance is not an excuse for the increase in underage maids in Singapore. When sieving through potential candidates, employment agencies are supposed to conduct a basic interview with them. This is to do some fact finding on matters like family history, work experience and if she is of the right age. Also, are they mentally able to handle the job?
But with increasing demands for maids and domestic helpers, agencies are starting to take shortcuts for monetary gain. Even after repeated reminders from MOM, these agents still choose to rely on the information given instead of probing deeper.
More Stringent Punishment Needed
It is alarming that for every 10,000 maids who arrived in Singapore, 8.7 were sent home for being underaged in 2017. That is a huge leap compared to 4.3 in 2016 and 6.4 in 2015.
In fact, in the same year, more than 80 employment agencies were charged by the ministry for bringing in underage maids in Singapore. Detection efforts were beefed up to take stern action against these irresponsible employment agencies.
Currently, there are already several warnings in place. For instance, foreign domestic workers are briefed about the minimum age requirement during their Settling-In Programme. Here they are given the opportunity to speak out if they are underaged. But realistically, this is unlikely to be that effective.
However, there are instances where MOM can still detect underaged maids in Singapore, such as at the Settling-In Programme and at the MOM’s Work Pass Services Centre. Staff will be on hand on these two occasions to verify the worker’s particulars, including her age, against official passport details.
Employers Play an Important Role Too
Why? Because of a simple demand and supply equation. Agencies make a lot of money when there is an urgent need. But instead of taking the time to do the necessary checks, some agencies just want to strike a quick deal.
How about employers when we are matched up with an underaged maid? Do we report? Do we send them back to the agent? There are so many stories and factors to consider. Was she forced to come to Singapore to become a maid and to send money back? Did she wilfully over-declare her age so as to earn money for her family? Some even borrow money to pay the agent just to have this opportunity.
Consumers are also reluctant to report. It is tedious. It is too much work. I might lose my money. These are just some of the excuses that pipe up in forums and discussions. But don’t you see? This is why it is a vicious cycle. While we want replacement maids fast, fast, fast, the speed of the demand is causing quality to drop and agencies to cut corners.
To reduce the occurrence of underage maids in Singapore, we need to find reputable agencies and insist that they do things the right way. Break free and do not be a part of this cycle. Only then can we see more responsible actions from agencies to ensure a better flow of capable helpers.
Source: The Straits Times
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