Singapore has had some heinous crimes involving hurting and even killing helpless domestic workers trying to earn a puny amount of money on this island.
Over 250,000 foreign domestic workers were recruited in Singapore since 2018, according to 2019 statistics. They have to be at least 23 years old to be employed by the roughly one in five Singapore households to do all sorts of chores like cooking, cleaning, and even care-giving, and at times, dealing with violence. Several Singaporean families have been reported to vent their anger at the workers, even driving them to death. Forcing food down throats, burning skin with a hot iron, and breaking fingers, were among the most evil things Singapore employers have been reported of doing.
Here’s a roundup of some of the worst cases of maid abuse in Singapore’s history.
Piang Ngaih Don
The most recent court case involves 24-year-old Piang Ngaih Don from Myanmar, who died from a brain injury in 2016 after she was inflicted by employers Gaiyathiri Murugayan, her cop husband Kevin Chelvam, and mother Prema Naraynasamy. Kevin was a staff sergeant when the abuse occurred, and was suspended from the police force the year the maid died. The horrifying abuse lasted several months.
They tied Piang to the window grille at night, stomped on her while she was on the floor, pulled her hair, attacked her with a broom and metal ladle, and even burned her forehead with a hot iron. She was also forced to use the bathroom and shower with the door open. Piang weighed a mere 24kg when she died, after being fed only bread soaked in water, cold food, and little rice.
The abuse began five months into Piang’s employment, which began in May 2015. Gaiyathiri apparently lost her patience when she found Piang to be slow and unhygienic. She died in July 2016 when Gaiyathiri and Prema punched and hit her head with a detergent bottle for doing laundry too slowly and kicked her after tying her to the window grille. She did not wake up the next morning.
Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 28 charges of culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation, voluntarily causing hurt by a heated substance, and wrongful restraint. The case is pending charges for Kevin and Prema, with the prosecution seeking life imprisonment for Gaiyathiri.
Piang’s body was already brought back by her brother and buried in Myanmar, in the remote village of Dimpi.
Things started off well for 32-year-old Khanifah from Indonesia after she was employed by Zariah Mohd Ali and her family in 2011. Then things turned ugly less than a year later when their relationship soured, leading to what prosecutions had described as the worst case of maid abuse in Singapore’s history at the time.
Zariah was sentenced to 11 years in jail after she was found guilty of 12 charges in 2017 for hitting the back of Khanifah’s head and mouth with a hammer, stabbing her shoulder with a pair of scissors, slashing her forearm with a chopper, and breaking her pinky by bending it backward, among others.
Zariah’s husband Mohamad Dahlan also took part in the violence and was sentenced to 15 months’ jail for hitting Khanifah on the head with a frying pan cover. They were both fined about S$57,000 in total as well.
The months of abuse left Khanifah with permanent scars all over her body, a deformed left ear, and an impaired left pinky.
The couple was previously convicted for abuse of another domestic worker named Tutik Rahayu Purwadi in 2001 over similar offenses, including rubbing chili on her eyes. For the previous offenses, Zariah was sentenced to 10 weeks’ jail and fined S$500, while Dahlan was jailed for 12 weeks.
Moe Moe Than and Fitriyah
Two domestic helpers, Moe Moe Than, 33, from Myanmar and Fitriyah, 40, from Indonesia, braved 10 months of abuse in 2012 at the hands of Singaporean couple Chia Yun Ling and Tay Wee Kiat. The couple’s case was so prominent that it set a new court framework to cover psychological harm suffered by domestic workers.
Moe was thrown against the wall, stepped on, and forced to down rice and sugar using a funnel whenever she complained of hunger. She was also told to eat her own vomit and was threatened with her family’s death if she ever snitched on them. Both Moe and Fitriyah were forced to pray before a Buddhist altar 100 times even though they were not Buddhists, and made to slap each other 10 times.
Tay was sentenced to six years and one month in jail while Chia received four years and one month. They were also fined over S$13,000.
The abuse suffered by 24-year-old Sulis Setyowati from Indonesia was so harsh that she escaped from the Yishun flat by climbing down 15 stories from the balcony.
Only a month after Sulis’ employment began in December 2017, 31-year-old employer Nuur Audadi Yusoff began torturing her by spitting, slapping, and dragging her by the hair when she forgot to apply ointment on her child’s stomach. The abuse paused for months as Sulis requested for a transfer but continued after Nuur found out she had posted pictures of her children online. Nuur also bruised her forehead with a comb and repeatedly hit her with a broom.
She finally ran away at around 2am through the balcony as the front door was locked. She spent the whole morning climbing down the building, and went to the police.
Nuur pleaded guilty in September 2020 to six counts of assault and was sentenced to 10 months and two weeks’ jail. She also paid Sulis more than S$7,000 in compensation.
Phyu Phyu Mar
In 2016, Myanmar national Phyu Phyu Mar, whose age was never made public, fell victim to abuse that lasted three months from yet another married couple.
Linda Seah Lei Sie, former manager of Anew Me Beauty Aesthetic salon at Orchard Road, and husband Lim Toon Leng had forced Phyu to pour boiling water on herself twice, drink dirty mop water, and starved her until her weight dropped from 50kg to 38kg. She was also never paid the S$700 monthly salary.
One of Seah’s salon employees alerted the police after Phyu accompanied Seah to the salon. Seah was guilty of five assault charges and one count of causing the maid to drink the dirty water and sentenced to three years’ jail while Lim got six weeks’ jail. They were also fined over S$12,000.
Amandeep Kaur, 32, from India was put through abuse since her first day of employment in 2016. Farha Tehseen and her husband Mohammad Tasleem treated Amandeep like a punching bag, kicking her waist and lower back twice, and punching her eye and nose as punishment for trivial things like being too slow to prepare milk for their son.
She escaped through the living room window of the Sengkang flat from the fourth floor and stood on the ledge until a painter who was working in the estate used a gondola to help her down.
Farha was found guilty of nine counts of assault and one count of criminal intimidation and was sentenced last year to 21 months’ jail, while Tasleem was guilty of two assault charges and sentenced to four months’ jail. Both were fined a total of $5,500 paid in compensation to Amandeep.
Estabillo Soledad Agustin
A 42-year-old Filipino woman named Estabillo Soledad Agustin was assaulted by a 21-year-old after a dispute at home went wrong.
Ng Jia Sheng pleaded guilty last year for using criminal force, causing grievous hurt by performing a rash act and insulting Estabillo in 2018. Ng argued with Estabillo after he asked her to turn on the air conditioner and she had replied irritatedly. They shouted at each other and he spat in her face before throwing a metal mug at her. Estabillo then retaliated by throwing plastic bottles at Ng but missed. She suffered multiple facial injuries including a nose fracture.
Reports said Ng told Estabillo that “she was only a maid, was poor and had no right to be in Singapore.” Agustin has since returned to the Philippines.
Ng was sentenced to at least six months’ reformative training and will undergo counseling and follow a strict regimen that includes foot drills.
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