Couple jailed for starving their domestic worker

28 March 2017

The poor woman weighed just 29 kg when she fled from her employers and managed to get help.

Over a period of 15 months domestic worker Thelma Oyasan Gawidan was so badly malnourished that she lost 40 percent of her slim 49 kg.

Thelma testified in court on Monday that she was fed meagre portions of noodles and bread twice a day and that any requests for more food were denied by her employers, Lim Choon Hong and his wife, Chong Siu Foon, BBC World News reports..

The Singaporean couple will now spend three weeks and three months, respectively also experiencing starvation – behind bars.

Thelma, originally from the Philippines, weighed just 29 kg when she fled from her employers and managed to call a friend from a public telephone to ask her for help. She was then taken to a charity organisation called HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics).

She slept in a storeroom and could only shower once a week, sometimes twice. According to New Straits Times, she had to ask permission before drinking water and wasn’t allowed to use the toilet in the house on Cuscaden Walk. Chong would apparently watch her as she showered.

Her passport and cell phone were also confiscated by her employers.

Read more: Wanted: ‘Nice-smelling domestic’ for R2 000 a month

The reasons she was fed the little food were apparently so that Thelma wouldn’t “make a mess” and could eat quickly and therefore have more time for her work. The state also indicated that the family’s portions were considerably larger than Thelma’s and of a better quality.

Her employers maintain that they treated her the same way they themselves would want to be treated. They also showered and ate at irregular times because Chong had obsessions about eating and house cleaning.

Chong has apparently been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorders by a psychiatrist and suffers from anorexia. According to the same report in spite of Chong’s anorexia, she would force her husband and children to eat.

Reuters reports many Singapore locals make use of live-in domestic workers from neighbouring countries and that these women are often abused and neglected.

Lim, a finance broker, will spend three weeks in prison. He’ll also need to pay a fine of roughly R93 000. Chong will spend three months in prison.

Thelma has received compensation of R186 000, but the judge revealed that he wonders whether the amount – be it R1 or a R1 billion – is truly an act of remorse or merely a way for the couple to decrease their jail time.

The minister of labour has forbidden the couple from employing housekeepers from foreign countries ever again.

The ministries guidelines for how to care for and feed employees are as follows: Three daily meals which consist of four slices of bread with a spread for breakfast, a palm-sized amount of meat and fruit for lunch and supper.

Their accommodation also needs to be of an “acceptable” standard and medical care needs to be made available for them

Sources: Reuters, NST, BBC

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