Embassies working with MOM to nip problem of underage maids

A new maid having her thumbprint taken during registration for her work permit at the Ministry of Manpower Services Centre.
A new maid having her thumbprint taken during registration for her work permit at the Ministry of Manpower Services Centre. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

The Myanmar Embassy in Singapore is aware of the problem of its underage nationals coming here to work as maids.

Its spokesman, following queries from The Sunday Times, said it is working closely with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to resolve the issue. But it was mum about what measures Myanmar has in place to address the problem of rogue recruiters who deceive underage maids to work in Singapore.

Some other embassies, when contacted, said extra measures have been put in place to ensure the underage do not come here.

Mr Jayabo Wijayasundara, head of the labour section at the Sri Lanka High Commission, said his country conducts background checks to ensure the authenticity and accuracy of the information in the maids' official documents.

The Indonesian Embassy works with MOM and the Indonesian manpower office to ensure maids who are sent home do not pay any fees to agents when they return, said a spokesman. In the last five years, the Indonesian government has also been improving the country's civil registration system to eliminate the possibility of forging documents, he added.

Non-governmental organisations, however, said there are several hindrances to successfully tackling the underage problem. Chief among them is the financial pressure, especially on first-timers, which prevent them from confessing their true age to MOM.

Some could owe recruiters back home between $2,000 and $3,000, which can amount to around six to eight months of their pay, said Ms Stephanie Chok, a case manager with the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home). "They will want to have a shot at earning money here, especially if they are already in debt."

A spokesman for Chab Dai, a Cambodian non-profit organisation, said it broadcasts the legal requirements for working abroad, such as by going on radio shows.


But many underage maids are tricked into not going to the Cambodian police, so many cases go unreported, he added. "The desire to support the family and an easy solution presented by recruitment agents can be very tempting."

They may also be deterred by threats when they return home.

"They will have very real reason to believe their recruiters will come after them and their families to obtain any money they still feel they are entitled to," said Mr John Gee, head of research at Transient Workers Count Too.

Ms Chok added that Home has encountered cases in which agents lie in wait at airports to harass maids who are sent home for their purported fees.

Yanna (not her real name), 32, an Indonesian maid working here, said it is important to educate maids about their rights. She was only 17 when she started work as a maid in Malaysia, although her passport stated she was 25. The minimum legal age for a foreign maid in Malaysia is 21.

"It was hard to handle the stress and not all employers are as patient and willing to teach you and help you adapt. Many young maids ended up running away from their employers as they can't adapt."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 27, 2018, with the headline 'Embassies working with MOM to nip the problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe