SINGAPORE - The sole proprietor of an employment agency brought in a maid from Myanmar whose passport stated that she was of the minimum age of 23, only to find out later that the girl was just 13 years old.
The teenager's real age came to light last year when she went for her finger-printing and photo image appointment at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) service centre in Bendemeer Road. It emerged that her agent was the one who had applied for her passport.
Khor Siew Tiang, 35, who owns Vista Employment Services, was given the maximum fine of $5,000 on Thursday (July 12) after admitting that she had failed to ascertain the girl's real age on July 29 last year.
She is the second offender in recent weeks to be dealt with in court for bringing in an underage maid. On June 14, Casa Employment Specialist was also fined $5,000 after pleading guilty to a similar offence.
On Thursday, MOM prosecutor Vala Muthupalaniappan told the court that Khor would usually conduct Skype interviews with maids from Indonesia before processing their applications as she could speak Bahasa Indonesia.
However, she was unable to do the same with the Myanmar national as she could not speak her language and had to rely on an agent.
The court heard that Khor had failed to conduct a basic interview with the girl on matters such as her family history and work experience to ensure that she was of the right age.
Instead, Khor chose to solely rely on information provided in the Myanmar national's passport and biodata even though it had been stated in alerts from MOM that such sources of information were insufficient.
Ms Vala urged District Judge Adam Nakhoda to give Khor the maximum fine, adding: "The accused had totally disregarded the duties and responsibilities entrusted to her."
Khor's lawyer, Mr Nicholas Ngoh from Optimus Chambers law firm, said that his client's employment agency licence has been suspended.
Pleading for Khor to be given a fine of between $2,000 and $4,000, he said: "She has now lost her sole means of employment where she had at least 12 years of working experience."
On May 27, The Straits Times reported that as of last year, Singapore has 240,000 maids and that lately, more underage maids have been uncovered.
MOM disclosed that for every 10,000 maids who arrived in Singapore, 8.7 were sent home last year for being underage. The rate was 4.3 in 2016 and 6.4 in 2015.
Last year, the ministry punished more than 80 employment agencies for bringing in underage maids - an exponential rise from nine between 2012 and 2016.
The punishments ranged from warnings and demerit points to the suspension of their licences.
Responding to queries from The Straits Times, MOM said that since last year, it has stepped up its detection efforts and taken sterner action against such errant employment agencies.
It added that foreign domestic workers are also told at their Settling-in Programme about the minimum age requirement.
They are then given a chance to step forward if they are underage. The one-day orientation programme is for first-time maids to learn about safety precautions and living in Singapore.
An MOM spokesman said: “On detection, MOM looks out for underage foreign domestic workers at multiple touch points... such as at the Settling-in Programme and at the MOM’s Work Pass Services Centre, where staff will verify the foreign domestic worker’s particulars, including her age, against official passport details.”