Filipina maid starved by wealthy employers lost 40 per cent bodyweight

Husband and wife Lim Choon Hong and Chong Sui Foon and, right, Thelma Gawidan, who has now recovered from her ordeal. Picture: The Straits Times

A wealthy Singapore couple have been jailed for starving their Filipina maid, who lost up to 40 per cent of her body weight.

Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, aged 40, lost 40 per cent of her bodyweight, dropping to just 29.4kg (65lb or less than four-and-a-half stone) after being given too little to eat for about 15 months, prosecutors said.

Her two meals a day were two or three slices of plain white bread and some noodles for breakfast with just five or six slices of bread later in the day. She was also made to sleep in a storeroom, and allowed to shower only once or twice a week.

Ms Gawidan said she was unable to seek help earlier as her employers had confiscated her mobile phone and passport.

Lim Choon Hong, a financial trader, was jailed for three weeks and fined $7,200USD, while his wife, Chong Sui Foon, got three months with no fine. They had both pleaded guilty to the charges.


Prosecutors have said they will appeal the light sentences — the maximum penalty is a year imprisonment.

Handing down the sentence, Judge Low Wee Ping said: “I accept that you are remorseful and that you did not intentionally seek to starve your maid.”

There are currently 239,700 domestic helpers working in Singapore, many from the Philippines

For the defence, Raymond Lye said his clients had no intention to cause harm to the maid. The more common cases of domestic helper abuse were of “physical assault, which are intentional offences”, he said.

In her defence, Chong had said she suffered from an eating disorder when younger and had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as an adult. The judge ruled that there was no link.

The couple paid the domestic helper, who now works for another employer, about $15,000USD to settle civil claims, prosecutors said.

John Gee, head of the research team for rights group Transient Workers Count Too, said cases of domestic helpers being given inadequate food “happen with alarming regularity”.

He added that although overall living and working conditions for domestic helpers in Singapore had improved, “a lot more needs to be done”.

Government rules state that employers are responsible for providing “adequate” food, “acceptable” accommodation and medical treatment for domestic helpers.

As of December 2016, there were 239,700 domestic helpers in Singapore, up from 231,500 in 2015, government data shows.

A recent survey named it as the most expensive city in the world.

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