Couple's jail terms raised to 10 months for starving maid who lost 20kg

Chong Sui Foon and her husband Lim Choon Hong failed to comply with work pass conditions and provide adequate food to Madam Gawidan (right) for 15 months, causing her weight to fall from 49kg to 29.4kg. PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, ST FILE
Chong Sui Foon and her husband Lim Choon Hong were originally given jail sentences of three months and three weeks, respectively. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A couple who starved their maid for more than a year and caused her weight to plummet from 49kg to 29.4kg will have to serve longer jail terms, following an appeal by the prosecution.

On Friday (Sept 15), the jail sentence of housewife Chong Sui Foon, 48, was raised from three months to 10. Instead of his original sentence of three weeks' jail and a $10,000 fine, her husband Lim Choon Hong, 48, will now have to serve 10 months' jail.

The original sentences were "patently and manifestly inadequate", said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. He added that the couple subjected Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan to "systematic cruelty and denial of her basic human dignity".

The Chief Justice said that while Chong was the one who restricted the maid's meals to slices of bread and instant noodles for 15 months, her husband, with full knowledge of what was going on, was equally culpable for allowing the cruelty to continue.

He gave some weight to the couple's compensation of $20,000 paid to the maid, though he noted it was done in part to avoid a harsher sentence.

They had initially offered $10,000 but the maid asked for $20,000, the court heard. Madam Gawidan, now 41, has since returned home.

Chief Justice Menon allowed the couple to stagger their sentences in the interest of making acceptable arrangements for their three children. Chong will begin serving her sentence first, and Lim will go to jail one week after she is released from prison.

When she worked for the couple, Madam Gawidan was given two meals a day, largely made up of plain white bread, tap water when she asked for a drink, and instant noodles. Chong did not allow her to buy food or eat any other food at home.

The maid finally fled from the couple's eighth-storey apartment at The Boulevard Residence condominium in Cuscaden Walk on April 19, 2014.

In March last year, Lim, a freelance trader, pleaded guilty to failing to provide Madam Gawidan with adequate food. Chong pleaded guilty to abetting him.

The maximum punishment for the offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act is a jail term of up to a year and a fine of up to $10,000.

According to the Ministry of Manpower, the couple have been permanently barred from employing maids.

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