Time to consider rights-based protection for abused maids

I refer to the report (Woman who beat maid jailed 25 months; July 18).

Domestic worker Ei Phyu Tun was under the care of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and stayed for three years in our shelter.

Despite the protracted and difficult process, we are glad that justice was finally meted out and that she was compensated for her grievous suffering.

Home continues to see survivors of physical abuse, who often find it difficult to file reports against their perpetrators because of shame and fear of retaliation. Many are concerned about jeopardising their livelihoods and "creating trouble" in a foreign country.

It is a difficult choice for survivors of violence and abuse to publicly relive their trauma and undertake the extended and unpredictable journey to remedial justice.

The Singapore Government requires migrant worker victims who are key witnesses to remain in the country with no guarantee of financial support (In some cases they are given permission to find work). They do not have the choice to stay with their agencies or a shelter of their preference.

The vulnerability of live-in migrant domestic workers to multiple forms of abuse is especially pronounced because of their high levels of dependency on employers and the hidden nature of their work and living arrangements.

This is exacerbated by practices that further isolate them and control their movements: the denial of rest days, confiscation of mobile phones, intrusive surveillance, and the withholding of identity papers and documents.

It is encouraging that the courts have signalled their recognition of domestic workers' increased vulnerability through a more severe sentencing framework for abuse.

It is time to also consider a more rights-based approach to victim protection.

Research has shown that a victim-centric approach is the most effective way of fighting abuse.

Without legally guaranteed social support services and protection, it will be difficult to encourage migrant women workers to assist in investigations and bring perpetrators to justice.

Stephanie Chok Juin Mei (Ms)

Manager, Advocacy and Communications

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics