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Abuse of maids on the rise despite stiff penalties

Abuse of maids on the rise despite stiff penalties

Source: Straits Times
Date Published: 21 May 2019
Author: Tan Tam Mei and Cara Wong

Under the new laws, offenders can be given twice the maximum penalties, up from 11/2 times, for all Penal Code crimes against maids.

The number of maid abuse cases charged in court has gone up in the last three years, despite a legal provision in place since 1998 that provides for enhanced sentencing against employers who mistreat their domestic helpers.

Foreign domestic workers were the first vulnerable group to be given added legal protections when it was decided that abusive employers could receive 1.5 times the maximum penalties for certain offences, like causing grievous hurt, wrongful confinement and insult of modesty.

The move was made in response to an increase in maid abuse cases, said then-Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng in Parliament.

But two decades on, these measures do not seem to have deterred abuse, say welfare groups.

There were 28 cases of maid abuse cases charged last year, the highest since 2014. This is an increase from 10 cases in 2016 and 20 cases in 2017.

The number of cases sentenced in court increased to 13 last year, from just six cases in 2017. There were 15 such cases in 2016 and 13 the previous year.

Under the new laws, offenders can be given twice the maximum penalties, up from 11/2 times, for all Penal Code crimes against maids.

The move is necessary and further recognises the vulnerability of domestic workers, said experts, who note that abuse also includes cases where maids are threatened or deprived of food or rest.

However, the law alone is not enough to prevent maid abuse, said Mr John Gee, who chairs the research sub-committee at Transient Workers Count Too.

He said: "What is really needed is to reform the system that ties domestic workers to their employers, because it causes them to be isolated from the outside world and potential sources of help and advice."

There are already strong penalties in place, media coverage and policies barring errant employers from hiring another maid, noted Mr Gee.

"If potential offenders are not deterred by this, will increasing the penalty discourage them? It may not make much difference," he said.

Under-reporting of abuse is also a concern, said Ms Stephanie Chok, former research and advocacy manager for Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).

Many factors prevent domestic helpers from reporting abuse, and they range from the fear of losing their jobs to having their passports impounded during police investigations and having to stay in Singapore indefinitely.

"Without legally-guaranteed social support services and protection, it will be difficult to encourage migrant women workers to assist in investigations and bring perpetrators to justice," she said.


There were 28 cases of maid abuse cases charged last year, the highest since 2014. This is an increase from 10 cases in 2016 and 20 cases in 2017.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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