SINGAPORE — A woman who made her maid eat hair from the toilet floor and a piece of dirty cotton wool was jailed for eight weeks on Wednesday (5 May).
Tan Hui Mei, who was visibly pregnant with her fourth child, will also have to pay a compensation of $3,200 to her maid, a 26-year-old Indonesian. She started working for Tan from around 17 November 2018.
The maid, then 24, was paid $600 and was tasked to do household chores, cook and look after the youngest of Tan’s three daughters while Tan was at work.
Tan, a 35-year-old administrative staff, pleaded guilty to two charges of voluntarily causing hurt, with one count of a similar nature taken into consideration for sentencing.
The charges of making her eat hair and wool were also taken into consideration. Both constitute causing distress to the maid, which are breaches under the Protection from Harassment Act.
Alleged physical abuse
In December 2018, the maid had called the police to file a complaint against her employer, who slapped her a few times as she was unhappy with the maid’s performance. However, the maid then decided to continue working for Tan.
On 30 March 2019, at Tan’s home, the maid bathed and fed her toddler charge, before leaving the girl with Tan’s mother. She started doing her household chores while Tan slept in her bedroom.
When the toddler started crying, the maid did not attend to the her as she thought that Tan’s mother or eldest daughter would do so.
As the toddler continued to bawl, Tan confronted the maid and asked her why she did care for the toddler. Tan did not listen to the maid’s explanations but slapped her on both sides of her face and hit her thrice on the forehead. The maid’s forehead began swelling.
The next day, at about 11pm, Tan called the helper to her bedroom and told her that she could not sleep as her legs were aching. She asked the maid to massage her legs.
While the maid was doing so, she fell asleep, prompting her employer to pinch her on the right forearm. Tan told the maid not to close her eyes. The maid apologised and continued to massage Tan’s legs.
She later informed her sister, who also worked in Singapore, about the incidents and her sister called the Centre for Domestic Employees for help.
The police were informed and visited Tan’s flat at around 11am on 2 April 2019.
The maid was conveyed to the hospital, where she was found with a bruise on her forehead and right arm. She was unemployed for about seven months from 2 April 2019. She only began working for a new household in December 2019.
Tan denied committing the offences when she was first investigated.
Testimonial from a previous helper
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kathy Chu sought 12 to 15 weeks’ jail for Tan
Tan’s lawyer Genesa Tan said in mitigation that the offences were “completely out of character” for her client, who had been employing domestic helpers for over 10 years. One of her past helpers wrote a testimonial to vouch for Tan’s good treatment of her.
The lawyer highlighted that the victim in this case had previously made a police report but nothing had come out of it as the police had investigated and it was unfounded.
“Despite this, our client endeavoured to make the victim feel more welcome in her home,” she said.
There were also instances where the maid agency had contacted Tan to ascertain the victim’s wellbeing, and the agent had been satisfied with the work conditions.
“I don’t believe our client is able to explain why she did what she did except that it was an impulsive act and she is remorseful,” the lawyer added.
Addressing the court, Tan asked for leniency as she needed to care for her children, especially a young daughter who slept and ate with her. She also needs to care for her mother, who was admitted to hospital last month.
“I also don’t wish to give birth in prison and be separate from my children,” she pleaded.
Sentencing Tan to prison, the judge rejected a fine or probation as “wholly inappropriate”. She said she did not find Tan’s circumstances so exceptional as to not warrant a jail term.
She noted that the act of making the victim consume a piece of dirty cotton wool and hair to be “degrading”.
A charge of voluntarily causing hurt carries a jail term of up to two years, and/or a fine of up to $5,000. As an employer who caused hurt to a maid under her employ, Tan’s punishment could have been enhanced by up to one and a half times.
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