SINGAPORE – Over a period of six months, a woman abused her Indonesian domestic helper by punching her repeatedly, and on one occasion using a clothes hanger to hit her eyes, causing her to permanently lose her sight.
On Tuesday, Ummi Kalsum Ali, 43, was sentenced to 10 years’ jail and fined $4,500. She had pleaded guilty to six charges, including voluntarily causing grievous hurt to a maid and ill-treating a maid by neglecting to give her medical attention. Other charges, including not providing adequate food to the victim on several occasions, were also taken into consideration during sentencing.
The court heard that the victim, Ms Sugiyem Samad Radimah, 51, started working for Ummi as a domestic helper some time in August 2019. Ummi had installed a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera in the kitchen in early 2020 to monitor her.
In April 2020, Ummi was displeased with the victim and slapped her face and ears repeatedly, causing her left ear to swell and harden.
Despite observing that Ms Sugiyem’s ear was swollen, Ummi did not provide any medical aid and did not take her to a doctor.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang said that as a result of the accused’s multiple assaults on the victim’s ear, the victim’s left ear became deformed.
During the same incident in April 2020, Ummi also directly punched both of the victim’s eyes repeatedly. When Ms Sugiyem attempted to shield her eyes from the blows, Ummi grabbed and pulled down one of her hands and continued to punch both the maid’s eyes. The helper lost the vision in her right eye after one of the accused’s punches.
Ummi then used her mobile phone and a clothes hanger to hit Ms Sugiyem’s head, shoulder and back. When the victim fell to the ground during the assault, Ummi pulled her ponytail and tried to make her stand. She then continued to hit the victim with a clothes hanger until it broke.
This incident led to Ms Sugiyem completely losing sight in her right eye. A few days later, she told Ummi that she had become blind in her right eye and wanted to see a doctor.
“The accused, however, denied her request to seek medical attention and threatened her that if she left the house, she could no longer return,” said DPP Yang.
Between April 2020 and September 2020, Ummi continued hitting both of the victim’s eyes, despite knowing that she had completely lost vision in her right eye.
After one of the assaults, Ms Sugiyem completely lost vision in her left eye.
After becoming completely blind as a result of these assaults, Ms Sugiyem had to touch the walls and floor to feel her way around the house, while continuing to do household chores.
When Ummi realised the victim could not see at all, she would tap Ms Sugiyem with a hanger to warn her against touching certain objects that were dirty and to direct her to wash her hands.
In October 2020, the victim was sent back to Indonesia. Her injuries were eventually discovered after she returned to Semarang. She was then flown back to Singapore to assist in investigations.
Ms Sugiyem weighed 52.8kg on February 2021. Her weight was 76kg in July 2019 when she went through a pre-employment medical check-up mandated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Ms Sugiyem was also given medical attention in Singapore, but her blindness is irreversible, the court heard.
In several CCTV videos played in court, the victim could be seen crawling on the ground as she tried to make her way around the kitchen. When the victim accidentally touched the accused’s husband, he shouted loudly at her. The court heard that he is not facing any charges.
The case is handled by DPPs Yang and Phoebe Tan, as well as a Ministry of Manpower prosecutor.
Seeking 10 years’ jail, the DPPs said the victim came to Singapore to work and earn an honest living, but was subjected to prolonged physical abuse.
Defence lawyer Sui Yi Siong of Harry Elias Partnership sought a jail term of six years and six months for his client, saying that as Ummi is a homemaker who takes care of her relatively young children while her husband works in shifts, an enhanced jail time would impose significant hardship on her.
The ages of her children and her husband’s occupation were not mentioned in court.
Before meting out the sentence, Senior District Judge Bala Reddy said he found it aggravating that the victim had been put through humiliating and degrading punishments that ultimately resulted in, among other things, her becoming irreversibly blind.
“To make matters worse, the accused doesn’t seem to show much remorse for her actions,” said Judge Reddy, adding that Ummi instructed her counsel that the victim may not be completely blind as she could move around the house.
Judge Reddy also pointed out that the harm Ummi caused to the victim was not just physical, but also psychological.
He granted Ummi’s request to defer her sentence to Nov 8 to settle matters, including childcare arrangements, and extended her $20,000 bail.
Voluntarily causing grievous hurt carries a punishment of up to 10 years’ jail, and offenders are also liable to be fined or caned. If the crimes involve a domestic helper, offenders may receive twice the maximum punishment.
Ummi cannot be caned as she is a woman.
MOM said in a statement on Tuesday night that Ummi has been permanently barred from employing a domestic worker.
The spokesman added that the ministry will take firm action against those who do not perform their duties as employers of domestic workers.
She noted that MOM-appointed officers conduct house visits to randomly selected homes and mandate post-placement checks by employment agencies.
Other cases of maid abuse in Singapore
30 years’ jail for torturing maid to death
A woman who starved, tortured and ultimately killed her domestic worker from Myanmar, was sentenced to 30 years’ jail in June 2021, in what is the longest jail term meted out here in a maid abuse case. Gaiyathiri Murugayan poured cold water on the victim, Ms Piang Ngaih Don, and slapped, punched and stomped on her. She also burned her with a heated iron and choked her. In the last 12 days of her life, Ms Piang was tied to the window grille at night while she slept on the floor.
Woman jailed for punching, kicking maid
A woman was enraged when her domestic worker said she wanted to quit and rained blows on her head and body as she sobbed on the floor. Chinese national Bai Yihong, 34, was jailed for eight months and six weeks in May. On one occasion, Bai, who was not happy with the way her helper did the laundry, shoved the victim into a storeroom causing her to hit her head against the wall.
Woman abused maid in front of young son
A woman who repeatedly assaulted her domestic helper, at times in front of her then four-year-old son, was sentenced to five months’ jail and a fine of $1,000 in May. Zhao Lin, 35, also slashed the Myanmar national’s salary from $500 to $200 a month over mistakes the helper had made. On one occasion, Zhao slapped the victim’s cheeks 10 times and said: “I will do it until you are really, really scared.”
Housewife forced maid to shower in front of her
A housewife forced her Indonesian domestic helper to shower with the toilet door open and get dressed in front of open windows. Rosdiana Abdul Rahim, 33, also pinched the victim on the right breast, before kicking her twice in the genitals. Rosdiana was sentenced to 15 months and two weeks’ jail in August 2021.