Here’s how we stop maid abuse

DECEMBER 20 — If you are caught “borrowing” your carefree neighbour’s unsecured wireless Internet, you can end up with a fine of up to $10,000 (RM30,340) or be jailed for up to three years according to the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act making for an impressively expensive Facebook status update.

Meanwhile, if you are found guilty of wilfully starving another human being — a foreigner who has come to live and work for you within your house with little to no contact with their family — you will incur a similar fine of $10,000 and perhaps imprisonment of up to 1 year.

Warped isn’t it?

As a layman looking at the law, I wonder if we are more focused on the intangible values of freeloading the system than the welfare of a human being.

The case in question has been in the courts and in the headlines for some days. Filipino domestic worker Thelma Oyasan Gawidan was deprived of food by her Singaporean employers. All they would give her was plain bread and instant noodles once a day — after months of being subjected to this, she saw her weight drop to 29 kilogrammes before she finally escaped.

Why is it that in a country that loves legislation, people still get off relatively lightly for abusing their maids? — Reuters pic
Why is it that in a country that loves legislation, people still get off relatively lightly for abusing their maids? — Reuters pic

Non-profits like HOME (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics) and TWC2 (Transient Workers Count too) have a shameful listing of all the suffering we’ve inflicted upon our migrant workers — from verbal to physical abuse, some of the stories are horrific.

Each and every anecdote is the suffering of an actual person, someone like us.

According to our State Courts, in the past year there have been 26 reported maid abuse cases — one every other week — bringing the total number of these cases to 90 in the past five years. That’s 90 too many and of course that’s only the proportion that gets reported — very likely a tiny fraction of overall cases.

So why is it in a land that loves legislation and boasts endlessly about its safety and security do we not have a stronger system in place to ensure the safety of the men and women who come to work for us?

A wealthy and well-organised nation like ours can easily set up a state-led initiative that conducts routine inspections, check-ups and interviews to ensure that any abuse is discovered early and better yet any intention to inflict abuse is thwarted.

A simple home visit and assessment system prior to the arrival of a maid – and an annual home-visit and inspection by the ministry of manpower to monitor living standards would at ensure a minimum level of protection.

The honest truth is that under the current system it’s easier in many cases to hire a live-in maid than adopt a dog as many pet adoption agencies insist on home visits and follow up visits.

The end result of this patently flawed and deeply callous system is a national disgrace — a daily reality of sadism and abuse that reflects on all of us and not just the minority of abusers.


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