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'She was wasting away': Singapore couple jailed for starving Philippine maid

She was only allowed to shower once or twice a week and could only use the condominium’s common toilet.

Image: Shutterstock/chainarong06

A SINGAPORE COUPLE who starved their Philippine maid until she weighed just 29 kilograms (64 pounds) were jailed in a case described as “shocking” by prosecutors who vowed to seek stiffer sentences.

Trader Lim Choon Hong, 48, was sentenced to three weeks in jail and fined Sg$10,000 (€6,500), while his wife Chong Sui Foon, also 48, was jailed for three months, the couple’s lawyer told AFP.

Critics were outraged by what they saw as lenient penalties for the couple, who will remain free on bail pending the prosecution appeal for tougher penalties.

Both were convicted last year of violating employment laws by failing to provide enough food for their maid, Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, over a 15-month period in 2013 and 2014 at their condominium in the posh Orchard Road area.

Malnourished

State prosecutors, who have described the systematic starvation as “downright shocking in its extremity and severity”, are pushing for the pair to be jailed for the maximum 12 months.

Gawidan, who is in her 40s, had stopped menstruating because she was getting only 75% of the recommended level of iron, a nutrition expert testified at the trial.

She was also losing her hair because she was taking less than half her requirement of zinc, according to the expert.

“Simply put, she was wasting away,” the prosecutors said in a submission to the court.

“It is sickening that the victim had been forced to endure inhumane treatment of such cruelty and duration in what must have been for her an unspeakably hellish and unbearable existence.”

They said the poor quality and small quantity of food fed to Gawidan “are intuitively repugnant to basic notions of humane and ethical treatment in a developed society”.

Gawidan lost almost 20kg during her time working for the couple, who only allowed her to eat two meals a day, usually a few slices of white bread and small portions of instant noodles prepared by Chong.

They also packed meagre meals for her when she went with the family on vacation to Hong Kong, the court heard.

Degrading treatment

The nutrition expert testified that the maid’s daily calorie intake was only about 900 calories, much less than the 1,700 calories she needed to sustain her normal activities.

Gawidan had no access to her mobile phone and was not allowed to go out on her own to buy food.

She was only allowed to shower once or twice a week and could only use the condominium’s common toilet.

“Moreover, she was subject to even more degrading treatment… she suffered the indignity of (the wife) standing inside the toilet while she showered so as to monitor her,” the prosecutors said.

Gawidan ran away in April 2014 and called a compatriot for help, a decision the prosecutors said could have saved her life.

She was taken to a migrant workers’ shelter which helped her file a complaint with the manpower ministry.

The couple’s lawyer Raymond Lye told AFP they were “remorseful and sincere in expressing their regret”.

Many Singapore households depend on foreign domestic help. In 2016 there were 239,700 foreign maids working in the affluent city-state, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.

© – AFP 2017

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