Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Maid abuse case: Couple jailed for starving maid; Wife gets 3 months while husband gets 3 weeks and a fine

Couple plead guilty after three days of trial
They are undergoing psychiatric tests, may be assessed by IMH at prosecution's request
By Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 24 Mar 2016

A Singaporean couple who denied charges of failing to provide their former Filipino domestic worker with adequate food for 15 months, causing her weight to drop by 20kg, have thrown in the towel after three days of hearing.

Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, weighed just 29.4kg in April 2014, compared with 49kg when she came to Singapore in late 2012.

Her former employer, freelance trader Lim Choon Hong, 47, pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, which requires employers to pay and provide adequate food and medical treatment for their domestic helpers.

Lim's spouse, Chong Sui Foon, also 47, admitted to a count of abetting Lim in committing the offence, which carries a punishment of up to 12 months' jail and a $10,000 fine.

Their maid would only receive two meals a day, consisting mostly of white bread and instant noodles, had to ask for permission to drink water, and was forbidden from using the toilets in the house.
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The couple stood calmly in the dock as they entered their pleas and admitted to the facts of the case - a sharp contrast to when Lim broke down on the stand and Chong sobbed in the dock during his cross-examination at the trial in December last year.

But the case - which engrossed the public, particularly when Madam Gawidan spoke of her ordeal, in which her salary and cellphone were kept from her and she had no days off and was not allowed to go out on her own - may be far from over.

The couple's newly appointed lawyer, Mr Raymond Lye, told the court his clients were undergoing assessment by a psychiatrist and requested more time for the reports to be prepared.

Once they are ready, the prosecution told the court it may ask either, or both Lim and Chong to undergo another assessment at the Institute of Mental Health. And if the defence and prosecution psychiatrists give differing opinions, a Newton hearing, in which both experts will testify in court and be cross-examined, may be held.

District Judge Low Wee Ping adjourned the case to April 20. The couple are out on bail of $3,000.

Lim's cross-examination had been scheduled to resume on Tuesday, with five more days of hearing set aside for the trial. But Mr Lye told the judge his clients would be pleading guilty instead.

While on the stand last year, Lim testified his wife had suffered before from anorexia nervosa - an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat - and from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Due to her preferences, their lifestyle "revolved around food and cleanliness", he said. In 2010, their second child ran away from home because of his wife's "tendencies" and has yet to return, Lim said.

The couple gave Madam Gawidan two meals a day at their home in Cuscaden Walk. The first meal, usually provided at around 1am to 2am, comprised two to three slices of plain white bread and one to two packets of instant noodles. Occasionally, Chong mixed very small portions of vegetables and meat with the noodles. The second meal, given in the late morning or early afternoon, would consist of five to six slices of plain white bread.

Lim bought Madam Gawidan's food. Lim, Chong and their children, aged 22, 19 and 17 years, ate different food, which was greater in quantity and more nutritious.

On April 19, 2014, Madam Gawidan fled the apartment after she was left alone near the lift. She now works for another household.

Couple on trial for starving maid
Filipina claims they gave her bread and instant noodles twice a day; she lost 20kg
By Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2015

When Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan joined a Singaporean household in January 2013, the 1.42m Filipino domestic helper weighed 49kg. After a year and three months, she was down to 29kg.

Ms Thelma, 40, claimed she was given only bread and instant noodles twice a day, worked long and odd hours, and slept in a storeroom.

She was not allowed to brush her teeth, and could take a shower only once or twice a week - with cold water - at a public toilet in her employer's condominium in the Orchard area.

Yesterday, Ms Thelma's former employer Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, claimed trial to charges of failing to provide her with adequate food.

Lim, a trader, faces one charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012. Chong, a housewife, faces one count of abetting Lim in committing the offence.

The court was told that they fed their maid instant noodles, made her sleep in the storeroom and forbade her from...
Posted by The New Paper on Monday, December 14, 2015

A district court heard that Lim told Ms Thelma that she had to be flexible in her work hours, as he worked on European timing.

She told the court through a Tagalog interpreter: "If I wake up at 7pm on Monday, I can sleep only on Wednesday morning."

She was given two meals a day.

"I felt my body was very tense, and I was hungry and I was shivering due to hunger," she said.

Within two weeks, her clothes became loose; her hair started falling after a few months.

"My ma'am provided me with Maggi mee and bread, and when I'm hungry I will ask for more and sometimes she will give."

But Chong would then give the maid less food for her next meal.

Initially, for each meal, Ms Thelma got two packets of instant noodles, a few slices of bread, "a slice of tomato or a slice of cucumber" and a little bit of meat. Sometimes, she would get a bit of rice or leftovers.

But later, she got less food. She was allowed to eat only what Chong gave her, and had to ask for permission before drinking water.

Ms Thelma tried to ask Lim for more food, but he allegedly told her once: "Just receive what ma'am is giving you. I don't want to have a misunderstanding with her."

When the couple went overseas for a month in September 2013, Ms Thelma stayed with Chong's mother. But she still had to take along her ration of instant noodles and bread.

And when her employer's family stayed at Raffles Hotel another time, she was also made to take instant noodles and bread.

Ms Thelma, who seemed nervous and timid on the stand, broke down when asked by the deputy public prosecutor about what happened to her. "I became very skinny. I couldn't recognise myself when I saw myself in the mirror," she said.

In April last year, Ms Thelma ran away to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), which reported her complaints to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

MOM investigation officer Christina Quek asked Home to send Ms Thelma to a general practitioner for a check-up, and later to a hospital. Lim paid the first bill, but refused to pay the helper's hospital bill as he said she was "not sick", Ms Quek said.

Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Dr Lin Huiyu told the court that Ms Thelma said she did not get enough food, found it hard to sleep, and had not had her menses for about a year. Ms Thelma was hospitalised for five days and given 18 days of hospitalisation leave. At a review in June last year, after her discharge, she weighed 43kg.

She now works for another family. The trial continues today.

Lim and Chong are out on bail of $3,000 each. If convicted, both face a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

Filipino domestic worker Thelma Oyasan Gawidan testified today in court that she did not receive her salary and had her mobile phone kept from her when she was working for the couple.
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, December 14, 2015

Posted by Lianhe Wanbao 联合晚报 on Tuesday, December 15, 2015

'Employers watched my every move'
She tells court that employers did not let her speak to anyone and kept her salary
By Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 16 Dec 2015

A couple on trial for starving their Filipino domestic helper allegedly observed her every move and did not let her speak to anyone.

While they lived in a condominium in the upscale Cuscaden area, she was fed a daily diet of instant noodles and plain bread.

Testifying on the second day of the trial yesterday, Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, whose weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg in 15 months, said she had no way of buying food as her employers, trader Lim Choon Hong and his wife Chong Sui Foon, both 47, kept her salary from her, claiming they were saving it for her.

Nor could she call anyone as they had her mobile phone. She was not allowed to go out on her own, nor get any days off while she was employed from January 2013 to April last year.

They forbade her from talking to anyone, including other maids. She lost all contact with her family, including her...
Posted by The New Paper on Tuesday, December 15, 2015

For failing to provide Madam Gawidan with adequate food, Lim faces one charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, and Chong, of abetting him.

Asked why she did not tell anyone about her alleged maltreatment, Madam Gawidan said: "I was scared of them. They were always guarding me in the house, every movement I make in the house. They were always watching me."

When she asked to speak with her maid agency, they said they would pass on any message she had.

Once, she tried to gesture to an Indonesian helper at an apartment opposite, but Chong scolded her, saying she was not allowed to communicate with anyone.

Madam Gawidan said others noticed her plight. Shortly before she ran away, an embassy employee called Lim and asked to speak with her, as she had not called her family or sent any money back to her husband and three children, aged 17, 15 and 11. The employee advised her to take a taxi to the embassy.

On another occasion, a Filipino domestic worker, noticing her at the market, asked why she was so thin. Another time, when she was in Hong Kong with Chong and her daughter, a Filipino helper said: "Your employer is not treating you well, you have to report them."

On that family trip, Madam Gawidan said, her bosses took along instant noodles and bread for her while they ate at restaurants.

In April last year, she finally made her escape. She said: "They made me clean around the elevator area, and this time they didn't follow me, so I pressed the elevator button down and went inside."

She fled to Far East Shopping Centre, where she borrowed a phone and called someone she knew. Her friend took her to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics.

In her cross-examination by defence lawyer Tan Hee Liang, Madam Gawidan admitted that she was not assaulted by her employers.

She also agreed that on an overseas trip, Lim once took her to eat at a McDonald's outlet and have coffee at Starbucks. But she denied his assertion that she also ate at a Crystal Jade restaurant with him.

She also agreed that she ate chicken rice on that trip, "but that was because my supply of Maggi mee was finished", she said.

When Mr Tan pointed out that her employers said they had also taken her along to a barbecue party in 2013, Madam Gawidan said she could not recollect the incident.

She also could not recall staying with Chong's mother in Bedok, save for one time in September 2013. During the stay there, which lasted over a month, she sometimes ate food cooked by Chong's mother.

Dr Alan Ho, a general practitioner who examined Madam Gawidan shortly after she fled, told the court yesterday that her body mass index was "off the charts", and she looked pale and malnourished.

Madam Gawidan now works for another family.

Their previous maid, an Indonesian, was also regularly given only bread and instant noodles to eat.
Posted by The Straits Times on Tuesday, December 15, 2015

'There's no evil in my wife's heart'
Businessman says his wife was anorexic and did not intend to harm their helper
By Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2015

A businessman yesterday denied he and his wife starved their former maid, tearfully telling a court that his wife was not "evil" or "wicked", but that she was anorexic and had obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Lim Choon Hong said he often travelled for work and left his wife, Chong Sui Foon, in charge at home.

Lim said Chong, who takes psychiatric medication, did not intend to harm Filipina helper Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, between January 2013 and April last year.

"I do admit that Thelma has lost weight, but it's definitely not because of my wife's evil intention or the wickedness in her heart; it's just unfortunate," he said, crying.

The couple, both 47, face charges of failing to provide their maid with adequate food, contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012. According to the law, employers have to pay for their helpers' food.

Testifying on the third day of the trial, Lim said Chong left school after Primary 5."My wife is not academically inclined; she's a simple person," he said. "There's no evil in her heart... she didn't do this to hurt anyone. There's no point depriving another human being of food."

Her husband told the court yesterday that his wife eats "very plain and bland food".And the kind of food she consumes...
Posted by The New Paper on Wednesday, December 16, 2015

They wed in 1990 and Lim later found out his wife had seen a psychiatrist and been hospitalised a few times for anorexia nervosa - an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. She also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and treated cleanliness "like a religion".

Due to her preferences, Lim said their lifestyle "revolved around food and cleanliness".

In 2010, their second child, a son, ran away from home "because of my wife's tendencies", Lim said. He has yet to return. The couple now live with their three other children; their eldest, a daughter, is 21.

There was no cooking done in their former condominium in Cuscaden. It was kept bare, and packed food was bought "for simplicity".

"If the kitchen is dirtied, to clean it takes a long time," Lim said.

The family usually ate two meals a day, but sometimes the couple would have only a single meal. Occasionally, Chong would not eat at all.

Lim said she would eat bread and occasionally rice, and that before tidying a wardrobe, she would take out the clothes and place them on a "protective sheet", clean the cupboard, then put them back.

"It really beggars belief," he cried. Chong, who sat in the dock, also sobbed as she listened.

Since cleaning the rooms would take up much time, the family ended up "camping out in the living room" so the rooms could be cleaned less frequently, Lim said.

They also showered in a public toilet by the swimming pool, to save time on cleaning their bathroom.

As the household ran on a fixed "schedule", Lim said he and Madam Gawidan at times did not shower.

While the helper requested a transfer, Lim said he persuaded her to stay on until he sold the home.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) S. Sellakumaran showed Lim a photo of Madam Gawidan, taken days after she fled to a shelter in April last year, when she was 29kg.

Lim said he noticed she started to look so thin only around March last year. "If she looked like this, I would definitely be shocked," he said.

"She didn't complain. I would expect her to tell me if she was feeling unwell, but she did not."

Lim also denied the maid had spoken to him about the inadequacy of her food. She spoke to him only about "food in general", to which he replied: "The whole household is like that, so you just follow."

Lim claimed Madam Gawidan was given meat, eggs and vegetables but, pressed by the DPP, he conceded he had never seen her eat.

Asked to clarify if she ate at all, Lim said in exasperation: "She has to eat right? She doesn't run on air."

Earlier yesterday, maid agency owner Toh Ah Choon told the court that Lim's previous Indonesian helper had transferred out after a short while. She had complained to him that she was given only bread and instant noodles to eat. Madam Gawidan had testified that she was given the same diet twice a day. She now works for another family.

The trial is expected to resume next month. If convicted, Lim and Chong could each be fined up to $10,000, and jailed for 12 months.

She was allowed to bathe only once every three days. She was punched, kicked and scratched for eating 4 slices of bread,...
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, February 21, 2016



* Jail and fine for couple who starved maid, causing her to lose 20kg

Wife gets 3 months while husband gets 3 weeks and a fine; DPP plans to appeal
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2017

The couple who starved a maid and caused her weight to plummet from 49kg to 29.4kg was sentenced to jail, but the saga is far from over.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Soo Tet said the prosecution will be filing an appeal after District Judge Low Wee Ping sentenced housewife Chong Sui Foon, 48, to three months in jail yesterday.

Her husband, Lim Choon Hong, also 48, was sentenced to three weeks in jail and fined $10,000.

DPP Tan, who had earlier urged the judge to sentence the couple to the maximum jail term of a year behind bars, told the court yesterday that the couple had shown a complete lack of remorse.

He acknowledged that the couple had paid $20,000 to their former maid, Filipina Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, as part of a settlement agreement which Madam Gawidan's lawyers had requested on her behalf. The lawyers were not named.

But DPP Tan added: "The payment of $20,000... does not emanate from genuine remorse, but is motivated by the hope of obtaining a lower sentence and of settling once and for all the civil claims that the victim has against the accused persons."

He also said they had originally claimed trial before pleading guilty to their offence last year.

The couple's lawyer, Mr Raymond Lye, said both of them agreed to the settlement and terms without making a single amendment. The terms were not mentioned in court.

He said: "Agreeing to Madam Gawidan's request in full without negotiation, including the terms of the agreement as drafted by her lawyers, shows remorse and regret."

Judge Low said the couple failed to comply with the work pass conditions and provide adequate food to Madam Gawidan for 15 months, between Jan 23, 2013, and April 18, 2014.

He told Chong: "Depriving (Madam Gawidan) of food for one year and three months is extremely aggravating."

But Judge Low said the couple were remorseful and did not intentionally seek to starve Madam Gawidan, now aged 41.

Madam Gawidan was given two meals a day while working for the couple, who have three children between 17 and 22 years old. The meals largely comprised plain white bread, tap water when she asked for a drink, and instant noodles. Chong did not allow her to buy food or eat any other food at home.

She finally fled from the couple's eighth-storey apartment at The Boulevard Residence condominium in Cuscaden Walk on April 19, 2014.

On March 23 last year, Lim, a freelance trader, pleaded guilty to failing to provide Madam Gawidan with adequate food.

Chong pleaded guilty to abetting him. They are now out on bail of $3,000 each.

For committing the offence, they can each be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $10,000.

In a statement after the sentencing, the Ministry of Manpower said the couple have been permanently barred from employing maids.

Madam Gawidan is now working for another household here.

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