Slavery & Abuse – Modern Day Realities for Maid
“At her death, the 19-year-old girl – who was 50 kg when she arrived in Singapore – weighed only 36 kg and had more than 200 injuries on her body.”(Lee, para.3) The evolution of domestic workers in Singapore dates back to the mui tsai, migrant girls from China in the early 1890s who were the virtual slaves of the rich families.
They worked from dawn to dusk and into the wee hours of the morning. However, the number of foreign domestic workers started to grow only in the 1970s, a result perhaps of the economic boom then, and the desire for more leisure.
The number continued to rise rapidly. In 2005, there were more than 140,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. (Chew, pg. 152) It may seem that maids working in a first world country like Singapore, has it easy off, compared to those working in second world countries, but there is a hidden claw that scars maids in this roaring Lion City. Some may say that maid abuse is not a widespread problem and that the irresponsible reporting of maid abuse by the local papers and television is the problem. On the other hand, others believe that maid abuse still remains a widespread problem. Singaporean, para. 12) Singapore maids undergo the risk of being abused due to financial and educational circumstances for their family, leaving them with psychological effects during and after abusive treatment. Foreign Domestic Workers come to Singapore in search for a job, without the protection of the Singapore government, to get them out of a poverty stricken life they have back in their hometown. They earn money to be able to build a home and be able to afford a decent education and keep their children sufficiently fed and clothed.
However, the cost of this may lead to a permanent psychological trauma caused by employers, which follows them for the rest of their lives after their contract is up, if they do not commit suicide. These abusers come from all walks of life: A school teacher had forced her maid to eat her own feces(Singaporean, para. 11), a father of two kicked and threw chairs at his maid(Singapore, para. 3), an air force staff sergeant tortured his sleep deprived maid by whipping her(Chong, para. 8), even children slap and hit their maids repeatedly to the encouragement of their parents(Rhonda, entry 5, para. ). Something has to change. Background Singapore for the past century has been a country growing in population and world status and recognition. Once an island of fishing village, and a British settlement, today Singapore is a republican country, which had undergone tremendous change. This is a result of the workforce Singapore has and its strategic location on the globe, being located off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, making it an ideal destination to port ship between traveling between the Indian and Pacific Ocean, thus being a highly growing and expanding nation.
With a huge amount of Singapore’s society holding jobs that requires long hours, they hire helpers, maids, to lighten their work load for the chores they have to do. In 2005, there were more than 140,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore(Chew, pg. 152), under the care of employers who hire these helpers from one of the 700 maid agencies in Singapore. (Chew, pg. 152) These employers may hold high paying jobs or high posts in the company they work for, but there is always a hidden side to people.
In 1997, Singapore has reported 157 cases, 89 cases in 1998, 82 cases in 1999. (Sierakowski, pg. 133) it may seem that there is a downward trend with maid abuse cases of such in Singapore, however, there was 87 cases in 2000 and it has since been rising. (Chew, pg. 133) The cases of abusive behavior implicated upon the employer’s helper, usually happens behind closed doors of the employers resident: be it in their HDB’s (government funded Housing and Development Board in Singapore), landed properties, condominiums or private properties.
The implications of such abusive inflictions on their helpers, causes physiological traumas embedded forever with their helpers. Unfortunately, some of these traumas unfortunately do end with the loss of lives. Description The idea of maid abuse parallels the idea of slavery. In Singapore, there was no term known as maid abuse till the recent decade. Each year, an average of 90 maids report the abuse cases and are documented into the system, however, many goes unheard. (Chew, pg. 33) The basic ideology of maid abuse happens when a worker under the employment of an employer is ill treated to an extent that would cause side effects to a person physically and mentally. A recent case of maid abuse consisted of a maid being kicked in the belly, slapped, and thrown multiple items at her for not preparing curry puffs as instructed properly. This maid, suffered injuries to her arms and toes, but managed to flee the apartment and reported the abuse to the police.
The abuser, Mat Nooh, a father of two, and teacher, was found guilty, and this particular case was settled. Singapore, para. 2) It is important to know that even a person holding a profession as a teacher, who provides an education to others, and is a highly respected job that others trust and seek information from, is able to carry out such abusive behavior towards a fellow human being. It leads us to question the fact of how much a person can appear to be what he is not, question the true identity of others. However, not all abused are able to take the physical and psychological abuse. There was another maid who is referred to as Imelda, had acquired bruises all over her body.
She alleged that her employer’s brother had hit her repeatedly whenever he would get drunk. In January 1988, he had handed her his knife and told her to kill herself. By doing this action, the employer’s brother had not only physically abused the maid, but also had imprinted the underlying idea that Imelda was useless and would be better off to the world to be dead. Imelda has initially fled to Philippine Community Center, which has since been closed down, to take refuge. However the psychological impact of the matter was too much for her to take, and she had plummeted from the hospital window, to her death. (Sampang, pg. 8) This is significant to the fact that the abuse of a maid does not stop when the maid leaves the abusive environment, but the effects of it continue to linger in her subconscious mind and it would impair her judgment and thought process in the future due to the abusive acts inflicted upon the maid. Leaving a permanent psychological scar on the maid, forever.
There are laws in Singapore that protect helpers, for the most part, from being hurt physically, being wrongfully confined and outraged of modesty, but, it is important to note that foreign domestic workers are not protected under the Employment Act, 1968(Chew, pg. 53), that all employees in Singapore are protected by. If you enter a foreign country to work in it as a domestic helper and you realize that the government of that country does not protect you the way it protects the other 5. 5 million people living in the same country, it results in not just fear in the back of your mind but it trips a wire that subconsciously tells you, you are not of the same value of others. Analysis A psychological effect on a person doesn’t require drastic measures to happen before changes in a person’s mind occur.
Even a simple thing such as that, maids who are employed by couples are often made by the employer’s wife to cut their hairs short and not to wear any makeup so they will be less attractive to the employer(Perlez, para. 25), may be of mental harm towards a maid. This may not seem to be a big deal, however not being able to look good for herself, psychologically impairs the person to think that she is ugly and not worth the trouble, consequently causing a decrease of self respect , ego and insecurity in looks, with the possibly of resulting in the state of depression.
In simple terms, the maid turns suicidal as a result of abuse. However, the effect of maid abuse does not stop there, but carries on as a chain reaction. If a child sees his/her parents abusing their maid when they are young, the child will think that it is the norm and would carry this trait into the future, and would abuse the possible maid he/she would employ. Abuse may not only be in the form of physical contact between the two parties, derogatory verbal statements made about these domestic helpers may also be considered as an abuse.
It may not seem that verbal statements could be an abuse, however when you start referring to a person as said ‘maid’, it lowers a person’s self-respect and in their subconscious mind, they feel like they are being told that they are worth less than others as they have to ‘serve’ their employers. However, in this seemingly dark and grim topic, there is a glimmer of hope for this matter. If we are able to raise awareness within the community, then the rate of abuse cases would decline over time, consequently saving the lives of possible future victims. Solutions H. O. M. E (Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics), is one of the charities in Singapore that is helping out the situations of abused maids in Singapore. H. O. M. E helps these maids by offering them to be told of their rights and options in their own native tongue. In addition to that, H. O. M. E aids abused migrant workers by informing the MOM (Ministry of Manpower) of the case and follows up onto it, be it negative or embarrassing towards the ministry. (Maid, para. 24) H. O. M. E also provides referral services, shelter, income-generating opportunities, and legal aid to abused migrant workers.
It helps workers navigate the justice system in Singapore and has been cultivating a working relationship with the Ministry of Manpower and sending countries’ embassies to respond to cases of abuse. (Maid, para. 54) An idea to a new solution would be to create an advertisement campaign to educate the young public. This would be the solution to the maid abuse problem. It would be to educate the young to prevent these problems in the future, as the past has already happened. The condition of maid abuse cannot be changed overnight by campaigning about it.
The elder generation’s mindsets have already been written in stone and so it would be hard to sway their mindset. However, the younger generation is easily influenced and so by educating them on respect of other human beings regardless of their ethnicity and background, it would prove to be worthwhile, with the outcome of a new generation of people who would respect, understand and have more compassion. Even though MOM had held a photographed campaign against the abusive behavior towards maids, I felt that I could approach my campaign from a totally new and different perspective.
The advertisement campaign could consist of three different compositions that mirror the layout of TIME magazine, so the viewer would be draw to see the image. The first could consist of an image of an abused maid cowering in a dark corner, accompanied with shocking text as topics. The second could consist of an image of a shadowed fist about to strike maid, accompanied with socking text as topics. The third could consist of a picture of an abused maid with a tear rolling down her cheek, portraying her cry for help.
The campaign will be up on the internet alongside being posted in strategic locations around my school, for maximum exposure. This campaign could possibly have a very strong impact on the audience. However, the limitation of this would be the amount of audience that this would receive, and if they would even care. Conclusion There are many implications to the extent of abuse possible. Even in this magnificent Lion City, Singapore, there are abusive behaviors occurring to the employed helpers of households. This leaves a mental imprinted scar in he minds of such victims through and subsequent to abusive treatment. The abused will feel that they are inferior to the general public and start to decline into the start of depression, with the possibility of resulting in death. However, there are solutions to the problem at hand, by raising awareness within the community. Maids have plunged from top stories of buildings, slit their wrist, starved, beaten and abused to death. We must not let them die in vain. Each and every one of them has a story to tell. Let us carry their voices on.