Singaporean couple jailed for starving Filipino maid

SINGAPORE (UPDATED) – A Singapore couple who starved their Filipino maid until she weighed just 29 kilograms (64 pounds) were ordered jailed Monday, March 27, in a case described as "shocking" by prosecutors who vowed to seek stiffer sentences.

Trader Lim Choon Hong, 48, was sentenced to 3 weeks in jail and fined Sg$10,000 ($7,200), while his wife Chong Sui Foon, also 48, was jailed for 3 months, the couple's lawyer told Agence France-Presse.

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.

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 meager 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 Agence France-Presse they were "remorseful and sincere in expressing their regret."

But netizens were seething in online comments.

"These two aren't human and should be treated the same way they deemed fit to treat another human," wrote one netizen by the name of Jamie Yeo on the Facebook page of local newspaper The Straits Times.

"How can such human beings even exist? Don't they feel ashamed of themselves? They have money to employ a helper but no money to provide proper food. Extremely disgusted with them," wrote another user by the name of Dan Ang.

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. – Rappler.com