Fatal abuse of Myanmar maid: Govt to review 3 areas to ensure it doesn't happen again

Law Minister K. Shanmugam described the abuse of Ms Piang Ngaih Don (right) by her employer Gaiyathiri Murugayan (left) as "evil", and stressed that the law has to come down with full force.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam described the abuse of Ms Piang Ngaih Don (right) by her employer Gaiyathiri Murugayan (left) as "evil", and stressed that the law has to come down with full force.PHOTOS: HELPING HANDS FOR MIGRANT WORKERS, LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - The abuse suffered by Myanmar domestic helper Piang Ngaih Don must never happen again, and the Government is reviewing three key areas to ensure this.

Speaking to the media at a virtual doorstop on Thursday (Feb 25), Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the three areas are safeguards against abusive employers, the reporting system for doctors, and the involvement of community and partner organisations.

"Let me be absolutely clear. There is no place for abuse against foreign domestic workers in Singapore. There is simply no place for it," she stressed.

Mrs Teo, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs, said: "The Singapore Government takes very seriously the safety of all of our foreign domestic workers who are here."

She noted that while there are already safeguards in place, Singapore, as a society, must do better.

"We appreciate the many foreign domestic workers who have come to Singapore to help us look after our families," she said. "We recognise the sacrifices that they have made and we are determined to put an end to any form of abuse towards them and to ensure their safety."

Ms Piang was 24 when she died on July 26, 2016.

She weighed just 24kg then, having lost 38 per cent of her weight since she started working here on May 28, 2015.

On Tuesday, Ms Piang's Singaporean employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, the wife of police officer Kevin Chelvam, 41, admitted to starving, torturing and ultimately killing her.

Chelvam was suspended from service on Aug 8, 2016, and faces multiple charges in connection with the abuse and death of Ms Piang.

Gaiyathiri's mother, who was living with the couple, was also charged in 2016.

The cases are still before the courts.

Ms Piang was examined by doctors twice during her employment, and her employment agency also spoke with her on two occasions. But no signs of her distress were picked up.

Court documents state that at her last check-up before her death, the doctor saw bruises around both of Ms Piang's eye sockets and cheeks and mild swelling on both feet.

But Gaiyathiri claimed this was because Ms Piang was clumsy and fell down frequently.

Asked if any action will be taken against the doctor who last examined Ms Piang, or others who may have known about the abuse such as two tenants who lived with the couple and the mother, Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who also spoke at the doorstop, said it was difficult to comment as the cases are still before the courts.

He said: "Those matters have all been looked into, but I think we ought to be careful commenting on them until these three cases are disposed of."

Mr Shanmugam said, however, that regardless of the outcome of the criminal case against Chelvam, he will face internal disciplinary proceedings by the police after the criminal proceedings have been completed.

"Regardless of the outcome of the criminal proceedings, even if he gets acquitted, he will face disciplinary proceedings," he said.

The minister also described the abuse of Ms Piang as "evil", and stressed that the law has to come down with full force.

He said: "The point I’ll make is that people who seem ordinary are capable of extraordinary evil, and there are two pillars in any society to keep evil in check.  One is education. Two, we need rule of law to keep such evil in check. The law has to come down with full force, when the rules are broken."

Mr Shanmugam added: "We need, and thankfully, we have a system, where it doesn’t matter who you are, whether you are a police officer, civil servant, or man on the street. If the investigation shows that you ought to be charged, you will be charged, and you will face the full weight of the law."