Couple on trial for underfeeding maid

(From left) Chong Sui Foon and her husband Lim Choon Hong claimed trial to charges of failing to provide Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan with adequate food. Ms Thelma said she was not allowed to brush her teeth, and could take a cold shower only once or twi
(From left) Chong Sui Foon and her husband Lim Choon Hong claimed trial to charges of failing to provide Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan with adequate food. Ms Thelma said she was not allowed to brush her teeth, and could take a cold shower only once or twice a week at a public toilet.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
(From left) Chong Sui Foon and her husband Lim Choon Hong claimed trial to charges of failing to provide Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan with adequate food. Ms Thelma said she was not allowed to brush her teeth, and could take a cold shower only once or twi
Chong Sui Foon and her husband Lim Choon Hong claimed trial to charges of failing to provide Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan with adequate food. Ms Thelma said she was not allowed to brush her teeth, and could take a cold shower only once or twice a week at a public toilet.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

Filipina claims they gave her bread and instant noodles twice a day; she lost 20kg

When Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan joined a Singaporean household in January 2013, the 1.42m Filipino domestic helper weighed 49kg. After a year and three months, she was down to 29kg.

Ms Thelma, 40, claimed she was given only bread and instant noodles twice a day, worked long and odd hours, and slept in a storeroom.

She was not allowed to brush her teeth, and could take a shower only once or twice a week - with cold water - at a public toilet in her employer's condominium in the Orchard area.

Yesterday, Ms Thelma's former employer Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, claimed trial to charges of failing to provide her with adequate food.

Lim, a trader, faces one charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012. Chong, a housewife, faces one count of abetting Lim in committing the offence.

A district court heard that Lim told Ms Thelma that she had to be flexible in her work hours, as he worked on European timing.

She told the court through a Tagalog interpreter: "If I wake up at 7pm on Monday, I can sleep only on Wednesday morning."

She was given two meals a day.

"I felt my body was very tense, and I was hungry and I was shivering due to hunger," she said.

Within two weeks, her clothes became loose; her hair started falling after a few months.

"My ma'am provided me with Maggi mee and bread, and when I'm hungry I will ask for more and sometimes she will give."

But Chong would then give the maid less food for her next meal.

Initially, for each meal, Ms Thelma got two packets of instant noodles, a few slices of bread, "a slice of tomato or a slice of cucumber" and a little bit of meat. Sometimes, she would get a bit of rice or leftovers.

 

But later, she got less food. She was allowed to eat only what Chong gave her, and had to ask for permission before drinking water.

Ms Thelma tried to ask Lim for more food, but he allegedly told her once: "Just receive what ma'am is giving you. I don't want to have a misunderstanding with her."

When the couple went overseas for a month in September 2013, Ms Thelma stayed with Chong's mother. But she still had to take along her ration of instant noodles and bread.

And when her employer's family stayed at Raffles Hotel another time, she was also made to take instant noodles and bread.

Ms Thelma, who seemed nervous and timid on the stand, broke down when asked by the deputy public prosecutor about what happened to her. "I became very skinny. I couldn't recognise myself when I saw myself in the mirror," she said.

In April last year, Ms Thelma ran away to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), which reported her complaints to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

MOM investigation officer Christina Quek asked Home to send Ms Thelma to a general practitioner for a check-up, and later to a hospital. Lim paid the first bill, but refused to pay the helper's hospital bill as he said she was "not sick", Ms Quek said.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Dr Lin Huiyu told the court that Ms Thelma said she did not get enough food, found it hard to sleep, and had not had her menses for about a year. Ms Thelma was hospitalised for five days and given 18 days of hospitalisation leave. At a review in June last year, after her discharge, she weighed 43kg.

She now works for another family. The trial continues today.

Lim and Chong are out on bail of $3,000 each. If convicted, both face a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Couple on trial for starving maid'. Print Edition | Subscribe