The case of domestic worker Murni Panengsih ("Jailed for assaulting employer's mum, 96"; last Tuesday) highlights the pressing need to address several issues, such as the lack of training for maids hired to look after the elderly and the high levels of stress the workers face.
While Murni's inability to cope with work and mental stress is certainly no excuse for her actions, we wish to raise the issue of the lack of proper training for domestic workers, especially those who have to care for the elderly suffering from dementia and other complicated health problems.
Caring for the elderly comes with its fair share of challenges and requires specific knowledge and skills. A domestic worker who does not receive proper training and is expected to be the main caregiver will find it difficult to cope with the complex demands of eldercare.
Murni's assigned lawyer said a psychiatrist had diagnosed the maid with adjustment disorder and stated that her mental illness contributed significantly to her offences. Her stress levels were compounded by round-the-clock supervision of her elderly charge.
In a health and well-being research study conducted by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economicslast year, almost a quarter of the 700 domestic workers interviewed suffered from mental problems. And only 40 per cent of them enjoyed a weekly day off.
The study also reveals that "having sufficient rest, one's own room to sleep in, a stable social network and adequate nutritional and medical attention are crucial for good mental health" in foreign domestic workers.
Singapore is an ageing population, and a White Paper released in 2012 projected the number of domestic workers to increase to 300,000 by 2030. Domestic workers will continue to be hired to provide essential caregiving duties to our young and elderly.
It is important that issues such as caregiving duties be addressed holistically, including the training of domestic workers, their welfare and living conditions.
Sheena Kanwar (Ms)
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics