Singaporean couple jailed for starving their domestic helper

Judge dismisses defence lawyer’s argument that helper was anorexic

A Singaporean husband and wife who starved their Filipino domestic helper for over 15 months were sentenced to jail for three weeks’ and three months respectively.

Former freelance trader Lim Choon Hong, 47, who was convicted of one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 for failing to provide adequate food to his domestic helper, was also given the maximum fine of S$10,000 (US$7,178) on top of the three-week jail sentence.

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Lim and his wife, Chong Sui Foon, 47, who was also found guilty of starving the maid, caused her to lose over 20kg in the 15-month period.

During the trial, which started in December 2015, the court heard that Ms Gawidan was given only slices of bread and instant noodles twice a day when she worked for the couple.

As a result, Ms Gawidan’s weight, which was 49kg in January 2013, fell to 29kg in April 2014 when she was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The 40-year-old also had to ask for permission before drinking water and was not allowed to use the toilets in the couple’s home at Boulevard Residence in Cuscaden Walk.

Instead, Ms Gawidan had to use the common toilet in the condominium. She was also only allowed to shower once or twice a week, with Chong watching over her inside the toilet.

On the morning of April 19, 2014, Ms Gawidan fled from her employer’s home and went to a shopping centre, where she borrowed a phone to call a friend.

She was later brought to a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and her complaints were raised to the Ministry of Manpower.

The couple’s defence lawyer told the court that Chong was driven to commit those actions as she suffered from anorexia – an eating disorder – and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

However, district judge Low Wee Ping had dismissed the argument, saying that she had made a conscious choice to restrict her domestic helper’s food intake.

The prosecution, which had sought for a maximum jail term of 12 months each, argued that the couple were not remorseful of their actions.

This was evident as they offered Ms Gawidan a settlement of S$20,000 (US$14,356)- an act which was not done voluntarily but with advice from their lawyer – in a bid to obtain a lower sentence.

The prosecution also noted that the couple had cast unfounded and insulting aspersions on Ms Gawidan, saying that her weight loss was due to the victim’s own psychological issues.

However, the couple’s lawyer Mr Raymond Lye said that there have been past legal cases where compensation is attached as a mitigating factor.

In sentencing Lim, District Judge Low Wee Ping said that he accepted that Lim was remorseful and did not intend to starve Ms Gawidan. Still, he had failed to comply with the conditions under Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 by not giving adequate food to his domestic helper for a prolonged period.

Turning to Chong, District Judge Low said that her actions of depriving her maid of food is extremely aggravating but accepted her lawyer’s argument that she did not intentionally seek to starve Ms Gawidan as well.

The prosecution has indicated that they will be appealing against the sentence.

-SCMP

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