Maid starvation case

'Employers watched my every move'

Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan (far left), whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg in 15 months, said she had no way of buying food as her employers (left), trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, kept her salary from her, claiming they were s
Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan (left), whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg in 15 months, said she had no way of buying food as her employers (right), trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, kept her salary from her, claiming they were saving it for her. Madam Gawidan also said she was not allowed to go out on her own, nor get any days off.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

She tells court that employers did not let her speak to anyone and kept her salary

A couple on trial for starving their Filipino domestic helper allegedly observed her every move and did not let her speak to anyone.

While they lived in a condominium in the upscale Cuscaden area, she was fed a daily diet of instant noodles and plain bread.

Testifying on the second day of the trial yesterday, Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg in 15 months, said she had no way of buying food as her employers, trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, kept her salary from her, claiming they were saving it for her.

Nor could she call anyone as they had her mobile phone. She was not allowed to go out on her own, nor get any days off while she was employed from January 2013 to April last year.

For failing to provide Madam Gawidan with adequate food, Lim faces one charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, and Chong, of abetting him.

Asked why she did not tell anyone about her alleged maltreatment, Madam Gawidan said: "I was scared of them. They were always guarding me in the house, every movement I make in the house. They were always watching me."

When she asked to speak with her maid agency, they said they would pass on any message she had.

Once, she tried to gesture to an Indonesian helper at an apartment opposite, but Chong scolded her, saying she was not allowed to communicate with anyone.

Madam Gawidan said others noticed her plight. Shortly before she ran away, an embassy employee called Lim and asked to speak with her, as she had not called her family or sent any money back to her husband and three children, aged 17, 15 and 11. The employee advised her to take a taxi to the embassy.

On another occasion, a Filipino domestic worker, noticing her at the market, asked why she was so thin. Another time, when she was in Hong Kong with Chong and her daughter, a Filipino helper said: "Your employer is not treating you well, you have to report them."

On that family trip, Madam Gawidan said, her bosses took along instant noodles and bread for her while they ate at restaurants.

In April last year, she finally made her escape. She said: "They made me clean around the elevator area, and this time they didn't follow me, so I pressed the elevator button down and went inside."

She fled to Far East Shopping Centre, where she borrowed a phone and called someone she knew. Her friend took her to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

In her cross-examination by defence lawyer Tan Hee Liang, Madam Gawidan admitted that she was not assaulted by her employers.

 
 

She also agreed that on an overseas trip, Lim once took her to eat at a McDonald's outlet and have coffee at Starbucks. But she denied his assertion that she also ate at a Crystal Jade restaurant with him.

She also agreed that she ate chicken rice on that trip, "but that was because my supply of Maggi mee was finished", she said.

When Mr Tan pointed out that her employers said they had also taken her along to a barbecue party in 2013, Madam Gawidan said she could not recollect the incident.

She also could not recall staying with Chong's mother in Bedok, save for one time in September 2013. During the stay there, which lasted over a month, she sometimes ate food cooked by Chong's mother.

Dr Alan Ho, a general practitioner who examined Madam Gawidan shortly after she fled, told the court yesterday that her body mass index was "off the charts", and she looked pale and malnourished.

Madam Gawidan now works for another family.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline ''Employers watched my every move''. Print Edition | Subscribe