The chief justice of Singapore has warned that employers who deprive their domestic workers of sufficient food will receive harsher punishments, in response to a recent high-profile case involving a couple who starved their Filipino maid to the extent that she lost almost 20 kilograms of her original 49kg body weight.
The court on September 15 overturned the light sentences originally imposed on 48-year-old housewife Chong Sui Foon and her 48-year-old husband Lim Choon Hong and jailed both for 10 months, The Straits Times reported. Chong’s original sentence was three months, and Lim’s only three weeks plus a fine. The prosecution had appealed against both sentences.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon made the sentences harsher, but said the couple could have been given “significantly higher” jail terms if they had been charged under the Penal Code instead of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA).
Chong and Lim could have faced a maximum of two years’ imprisonment for voluntarily causing hurt, or a maximum of 10 years for voluntarily causing grievous harm, had they been charged under the Penal Code.
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Chambers told the newspaper that in future, the prosecution would look into each case of maid abuse and, depending on the circumstances, the employers could face charges other than those specified by the EFMA if applicable.
Organizations working with foreign domestic workers were in support of the possibility of stiffer jail terms for employers who abuse their maids. However, they are also calling for greater efforts by the Singaporean government to educate employers and raise awareness of the need to treat maids with dignity.