Two employment agencies were charged yesterday with bringing in underage maids as young as 13 to work in Singapore.
They are Casa Employment Specialist and Vista Employment Services - specifically Khor Siew Tiang, 35, its sole proprietor.
Their prosecution for underage-related offences is a first under the Employment Agencies Act. Court documents show each faces one charge of breaching the conditions of their agency licence last year when the two maids they brought in from Myanmar allegedly did not meet the minimum age requirement of 23.
Naw Hla San and Htet Htet Phyo Wai were then 13 years old, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement yesterday.
The duo had confessed their real age to the ministry's officers at the the MOM Services Centre last June and July when they were being interviewed, after it was suspected that they could be underage.
Their work applications were subsequently cancelled and MOM ordered Casa and Khor to send them home. The Myanmar Embassy was also informed.
In the last three years, the ministry has taken enforcement action against 98 employment agencies for failing to ensure their foreign maids meet the age requirement. The action taken included issuing warnings and imposing demerit points.
Casa and Khor, however, are the first to be charged.
Singapore raised the minimum age for maids from 18 to 23 in 2005.
The ministry holds employment agencies legally responsible for ensuring that the maids they bring in meet all entry requirements.
Its spokesman reminded them yesterdayto take extra steps to verify the age of a maid and not just rely on information in her passport.
The agencies were urged to interview a maid about her family, education and work history to ascertain if her declared age is consistent with other information gathered.
They should also assess her age from her physical appearance and mannerisms, the spokesman said.
Foreign maids are notified before they arrive in Singapore of the entry requirements, and this is done via an in-principle approval letter in their native language.
If convicted, Khor could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed a maximum of six months, or both. Casa Employment could be fined up to $5,000.
The suspension of Vista's licence will take effect today, while Casa was told its licence will be suspended with effect from June 7.
If convicted, their licences could be revoked.