Two employment agencies charged over bringing in 13-year-old maids, in first such cases here

Khor Siew Tiang (left) from Vista Employment Services and a representative from Casa Employment Specialist. Khor and Casa Employment each face one charge of breaching the conditions of their agency licences.

SINGAPORE - Two employment agencies were charged on Thursday (May 24) over allegedly bringing in underage maids as young as 13 years old to work in Singapore.

This is the first time employment agencies have been prosecuted under the Employment Agencies Act for underage-related offences.

According to court documents, Casa Employment Specialist and Khor Siew Tiang, 35, from Vista Employment Services, each face one charge of breaching the conditions of their agency licences by bringing into Singapore maids from Myanmar who did not meet the minimum age requirement of 23.

Both maids - Naw Hla San and Htet Htet Phyo Wai - were only 13 years old then, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement.

This came to light after investigations were conducted between June and July last year. The cases were first detected at the MOM Services Centre, and the maids disclosed their actual ages after being interviewed by MOM officers.

Both maids' applications to work here were cancelled. Khor and Casa were directed by MOM to send them home. The maids have been barred from seeking employment in Singapore.The Myanmar Embassy was also informed.

In the past three years, MOM has taken enforcement action against 98 employment agencies for failing to ensure that the maids they bring in meet the age requirement, it said in a statement - although these are the first cases of charges being brought.

The minimum age requirement for maids here was raised from 18 to 23 in 2005.

All employment agencies have a legal responsibility to ensure that the maids they bring into Singapore to work in households meet all entry requirements, an MOM spokesman said.

Employment agencies should not merely rely on information from their passports, MOM added. They should take extra steps to verify the age of maids, such as interviewing the maid to gather information on family, education and work history - to ascertain if her declared age is consistent with other information gathered - as well as assessing the maid based on her physical appearance and mannerisms.

If they suspect that they may be underage, they should stop them from being sent to households to work and should send them home.

Maids are also notified before their arrival here of Singapore's entry requirements, via an In-Principle Approval letter in their native language.

If convicted, Khor, who is a sole proprietor of Vista Employment Services, could be fined up to $5,000 and jailed for up to six months, or both. Casa Employment could be fined up to $5,000.

Both employment agencies have been served notices of license suspensions. Their licenses may also be revoked if they are convicted.

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