Singapore couple jailed for starving Philippine maid

A Singaporean couple have been jailed for starving their domestic worker from the Philippines, in a case that has shocked the city-state.

The woman lost 20kg (44 lbs) – about 40% of her body weight – while working for them, and was given only bread and instant noodles to eat.

Her employers received jail sentences of three weeks and three months.

Many Singaporeans hire live-in helpers from neighbouring countries, and abuse cases are not uncommon.

Unable to seek help

In the latest case, Filipino domestic worker Thelma Oyasan Gawidan was starved over a period of 15 months, where her weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg.

She testified in court that she was fed only small amounts of food twice a day, and her requests for more food were denied. She was also made to sleep in a storeroom, and allowed to shower only once or twice a week.

Ms Gawidan said she was unable to seek help earlier as her employers had confiscated her mobile phone and passport.

She finally fled in April 2014 and sought help from a migrant workers aid group.

Her employers, finance trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, pleaded guilty.

They claimed they treated Ms Gawidan the same way they treated themselves, as they ate and showered infrequently due to Chong’s “obsessions” with food and cleaning her home. Psychiatrists testified that she had obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia.

Prosecutors pointed out that the family ate better food and in larger quantities. They sought the maximum jail sentence of one year for the couple.

Lim was jailed for three weeks and fined S$10,000 ($7,175, £5,700), while Chong was jailed for three months.

The case has horrified and outraged Singaporeans, with many on Monday commenting online that the sentences were too lenient.

“Too little… it’s too inhumane to starve a person,” said one Facebook user.

The BBC’s Leisha Chi in Singapore says Ms Gawidan received S$20,000 in compensation, but in today’s sentencing the judge’s primary concern was whether giving money, be it “one dollar or one million dollars”, demonstrated genuine remorse.

Singapore’s courts have seen a rising number of cases of domestic helper abuse in recent years.

The city-state has a highly regulated system for employing maids, but activists say not enough is being done to protect migrant workers’ rights.

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