Saturday, 19 December 2015

From 49kg to 29kg in 15 months

Update 29 Mar 2017: Singapore couple jailed for starving Philippine maid
Lim Choon Hong (left) & his wife Chong Sui Foon (right) were jailed for 3 weeks & three months respectively

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.

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DOMESTIC HELPER ONLY ALLOWED SHOWER ONCE A WEEK AND EAT BREAD AND INSTANT NOODLES

Her weight plummet from 49kg to 29kg as a financial trader and his wife were charged for ill-treating their domestic helper. They were accused of only allowing their maid to eat two meals of bread and instant noodles for more than a year.

The husband and wife are 林俊宏 and 钟瑞凤. Both are 47 year-old. The husband is a financial trader and his wife is a home-maker.

They are charged under labour law for not feeding their sufficiently their Filipino helper 戴尔玛 (40 year-old) from 23 Jan 2013 to 18 Apr 2014, causing her weight to decrease by 20kg

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Accused: OCD to blame for treatment of maid

HIS wife’s obsession with cleanliness was so bad that their son ran away from home in 2010. This was the reason that Lim Choon Hong, 47, gave to the court for why Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, was made to bathe in the third floor public shower in his Cuscaden apartment in the upscale Orchard area.

Lim was in court today to defend himself against allegations that he had mistreated his domestic helper between January 2013 and April 2014. When she testified in court on Monday (Dec 14) Ms Thelma alleged that her employers would only feed her instant noodles and bread, and would make her shower in cold water in the condominium’s public toilet twice a week.

His wife, Chong Sui Foon, 47, a homemaker, was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and would take hours just to clean a cupboard. For example, if she took out clothes from the cupboard, she would find a clean spot to place them or use a plastic sheet. Before Ms Thelma cleaned a room, Chong would require her to shower and change into new clothes. But between February and March 2014, Chong decided to “do away with cleaning the bedroom,” said Lim. So the family would camp out in the living room.

related:
Maid abuse case: dietician and agency owner testify
Thelma: I was isolated, mobile phone locked away

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Man who allegedly starved maid until she was 29kg said his wife doesn’t allow cooking at home

Unless you’ve been off social media these few days (like avoiding Facebook for Star Wars spoilers) you would have read something about a trial involving a couple (Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47) and their maid, Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, who went from 49kg to 29kg in the 15 months under their employment.

What caught the attention of those following the case — aside from the fact that the maid lost nearly half her weight under the employment of the couple — was that Ms Thelma alleged that she was only fed instant noodles and bread; and that she was not allowed to use the toilet in her employer’s condominium home – she had to take showers and use the toilet at the public toilet in the condominium.

“She didn’t complain” - Now, Lim has given his side of the story in court which was reported by Channel NewsAsia and The Straits Times. He said that he ‘never restricted her (Ms Thelma) from anything’ and while he noticed her weight loss, he “didn’t read too much into it” because “she didn’t tell me anything”, and that Ms Thelma “didn’t complain.”

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10 Shocking Facts About The Maid Abuse Case That You Should Know

Here’s what the Mainstream Media didn’t highlight about the maid starvation incident. Most people’s hearts have gone out to the maid after hearing her tragic abuse story.

For the uninitiated, a couple starved their maid, deprived her of food and did not allow her to speak to anyone. The trial has been going on since 14 Dec.

Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, the victim of this maid abuse case survived on bread and instant noodles throughout her torture period employment, causing her weight to plummet from 49kg to 29kg. The domestic worker claimed that her employers kept surveillance of her round the clock and she only managed to escape when they left her alone to clean the area outside their Orchard Road condominium.

related: 10 Nightmare Stories That Prove Maid Abuse Is Alive In Singapore

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5 ways to lose 20kg in 15 months

ANYONE who’s tried to lose a few kilos knows it’s not that easy – especially if you’re middle-aged. For 40-year-old Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, she lost a total of 20kg in just over 15 months. Which, from what we’ve been told by a handful of nutritionists we spoke with, isn’t all that dramatic.

But Madam Gawidan was a slight 49kg at 1.42m at the start of her employment with Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon. When she finally ran away from the household in 2014, she weighed only 29kg.

How did she lose all that weight in 15 months? Here’s what probably happened, according to a dietician and doctor who testified in the case this week, and the nutritionists we spoke to.

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Do domestic workers have enough protection under the law?

The fact that the couple is merely charged under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, shows the kind of rights that domestic workers have. The proceedings also show how much rights the domestic workers know of their rights or where to seek help.

What the domestic worker has gone through, should amount no less than torture and illegal imprisonment or even attempted murder. It is sad that many are calling for the couple to be shamed online, but that’s the maximum that they would do to address atrocities such as the mentioned case. Would they ask for more rights to be given to migrant workers such as domestic workers, construction workers. Or would they think by shaming such employers, Singaporeans would be scared to repeat such actions and with such, migrant workers would, therefore be protected.

I would call that out as hypocritical if that is the case, because beneath that sympathy lies an ideology that foreign workers should be entitled to less rights than locals because they have it better here in Singapore than in their home country.

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Human Rights Watch: Domestic worker starved in Singapore

A couple is currently on trial in Singapore for allegedly starving their domestic worker to the point where she weighed only 29 kilograms (64 pounds). The domestic worker, Thelma Gawidan, who is from the Philippines, says she endured more than a year of subsisting on instant noodles and bread, long working hours – sometimes exceeding 24 hours at a time – and humiliating treatment, such as being forbidden from bathing or brushing her teeth regularly.

Such cases of egregious abuse of migrant domestic workers in Singapore are nothing new. I wrote a Human Rights Watch report exactly 10 years ago, Maid to Order: Ending Abuses Against Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore, which detailed how gaps in Singapore’s laws and practices allowed mistreatment like food deprivation, confinement in the workplace, unpaid wages, and verbal and physical abuse to flourish.

Singapore has made changes since then, but still lags behind other countries in other respects. Ten years ago, Singapore completely excluded domestic workers from even basic labour law protection, with no guarantees for rest days and no limits on recruitment fees that left workers deeply indebted. After growing exposure and activism by domestic workers’ groups, journalists, and activists such as HOME Singapore and TWC2 – not to mention the bad publicity after more than 150 domestic workers fell to their deaths from tall buildings, mostly from suicide or risky work assignments cleaning windows or hanging clothes – the government introduced some reforms.

related: Prevalence of Domestic Worker Abuse in Singapore – it’s more than just our culture

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Couple on trial for starving maid till she weighed just 29kg

A Singaporean couple is on trial for allegedly starving their Filipina domestic helper. She weighed just 29kg when she escaped from their Orchard Road condominium in April 2014.

Lim Choon Hong and wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, face one charge each under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, which states that employers are responsible for the "maintenance" of their foreign employee, including proving them with adequate food.

Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, had worked for the couple for almost 1.5 years before she escaped and sought refuge at HOME, a non-profit organisation that assists migrant workers, including domestic helpers. 

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'I never restricted her from anything': Male employer in maid abuse case

Lim Choon Hong, who is on trial along with his wife Chong Sui Foon for allegedly starving their maid Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan till she weighed just 29kg, acknowledged that he realised his maid had lost weight and "looked frail", but he "didn't read too much into it" because "she didn't tell me anything". 

This was the recurring theme of Lim's evidence given in court on Wednesday afternoon (Dec 16).

"If she looked like this, I would definitely be shocked," said Lim, when showed a photograph of Ms Thelma at 29kg, taken two days after she fled from the Lim residence at Cuscaden Walk. But he did not intervene. "I am not the type (to) read into a person, including my wife", Lim said, in response to Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran Sellamuthoo's question as to why he never enquired into Ms Thelma's obvious weight loss.

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They were always watching me, scolding me: Maid at centre of abuse trial

After being mistreated and starved for over a year, Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan fled her employers’ home. She had been asked to clean around the lift lobby outside the unit, and took the opportunity to escape when she realised that she had been left alone.

Her employers, husband and wife Lim Choon Hong and Chong Sui Foon, both 47, are on trial for starving Ms Thelma, causing her weight to drop from 49kg to 29kg in almost 15 months.

The court heard on Tuesday (Dec 15) that Ms Thelma, 40, had not attempted to escape earlier, as her employers were always following her around the house. “Every movement I do in the house, they are following, watching me, scolding me," she told the court.

related: Maid abuse trial: Previous helper also complained of inadequate food, says agent

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Maid abuse case: Employer's wife has suffered from anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder

The man on trial for underfeeding his former Filipino domestic worker on Wednesday (Dec 16) spoke of his wife's obsession with cleanliness and her mental illnesses - anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Businessman Lim Choon Hong said he often travelled for work, and left charge of the household to his wife, Chong Sui Foon.

Lim said Chong, who is currently taking psychiatric medication, did not intend to harm their helper Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan.

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'Employers watched my every move'

A couple on trial for starving their Filipino domestic helper allegedly observed her every move and did not let her speak to anyone.

While they lived in a condominium in the upscale Cuscaden area, she was fed a daily diet of instant noodles and plain bread.

Testifying on the second day of the trial yesterday, Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg in 15 months, said she had no way of buying food as her employers, trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, kept her salary from her, claiming they were saving it for her.

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The “what ifs” of a first-time maid employer – and maid

So many horror stories I hear about maids doing things to their employers… it makes me think twice about getting a stranger to live in my house… There’s Tuti Aeliyah, the Indonesian maid who strangled her employer’s daughter while the girl – only 16! – was sleeping a couple of years ago. Or the Myanmar maid who used a pair of scissors to stab her Ah Ma last year.

My goodness! I’d have to keep my bedroom door locked when I sleep at night – and set up CCTV cameras. I have to make sure my son is safe as well… I mean, did you read about the maid who had sex with her employer’s 14-year-old son earlier this year? Maybe I will just lock her in the house. Lock up all our money and jewellery. Lock up the fridge… So much to worry about.

But, wait a minute, I was told I can’t lock her in the house all the time. Maid needs a day off a week – but apparently we can just give her money to stay home… so should I do that? And just make her work and work? What if she needs to go to the church or something… Should I let her? Is there anything about freedom of worship that applies to foreign maids? Maybe I can make sure she goes to church and then comes straight home. I don’t want her to meet bad people or bring strange people to the house when no one is in… or, my goodness, get pregnant! You think it’s safe to get her to wash the car? That’s not in the house…it’s in the carpark, and there are many foreign workers around at the construction site nearby…

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