Singaporean couple convicted of starving maid whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg

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SINGAPORE – After three days of hearing, a Singaporean couple who claimed trial to charges of failing to provide their former Filipino domestic worker with adequate food, causing her weight to drop by 20kg over a 15-month period, threw in the towel on Wednesday (March 23).

Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, weighed just 29kg when she was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital in April 2014, compared with 49kg in January 2013.

Her former employer, freelance trader Lim Choon Hong, 47, pleaded guilty to a charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 which requires employers to pay and provide adequate food and medical treatment for their domestic helpers.

Lim’s spouse, Chong Sui Foon, also 47, admitted to a count of abetting Lim in committing the offence, which carries a maximum punishment of 12 months’ jail and a $10,000 fine.

The couple’s newly appointed lawyer, Mr Raymond Lye, told the court that his clients are undergoing assessment by a psychiatrist. He requested for more time to prepare the psychiatric reports.

District Judge Low Wee Ping adjourned the case to April 20. The couple are out on bail of $3,000 each.

Their trial, which started in December last year, had been scheduled to resume with Lim’s cross-examination on Tuesday. Four more days of hearing had been set aside for the trial.

But Mr Lye, who was appointed after the couple discharged their first lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Liang, told the judge on Tuesday that his clients would be pleading guilty instead.

While on the witness stand last year, Lim said his wife had previously suffered from anorexia nervosa – an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat – and from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Due to her preferences, he said their lifestyle “revolved around food and cleanliness”.

Lim and Chong provided Madam Gawidan with only two meals a day at their previous condominium home at Boulevard Residence in Cuscaden Walk.

The first meal, which was usually provided at around 1am to 2am, comprised two to three slices of plain white bread and one to two packets of instant noodles. Occasionally, Chong would mix small portions of vegetables and meat with the instant noodles.

The second meal, which was provided in the late morning or early afternoon, would consist of five to six slices of plain white bread.

Lim bought Madam Gawidan’s food. Lim, Chong and their children ate different food, which was greater in quantity and higher in nutritional value than what their helper was rationed with.

Madam Gawidan also had to ask for permission before drinking water, and Chong would give her water from the tap. She stopped menstruating after February 2013 and her hair started falling out a few months later.

Chong also forbade the helper from using the toilets in their home. The domestic worker had to use the common toilet in the condominium. Madam Gawidan was also allowed to shower once or twice a week and Chong would stand inside the toilet while she showered.

Madam Gawidan also testified that her salary and mobile phone were kept from her and she was not allowed out of the home.

On the morning of April 19, 2014, she fled from her employers after she was left alone near the condominium’s lift area.

She made her way to Far East Shopping Centre nearby, where she borrowed a phone and called a friend who then took her to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home). Home reported her complaints to the Ministry of Manpower.

Madam Gawidan, who has three children, now works for another employer.


This article was first published on March 23, 2016.
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Thursday, March 24, 2016 – 09:00
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