Enhancing Protection for Survivors of Abuse: Rights-Based Approach Needed

24 September 2018

Since our founding in 2004, HOME has supported domestic workers who are survivors of physical abuse. In the last year, several of our shelter residents’ court proceedings have resulted in their employers’ prosecution.

Fitriyah and Moe Moe Than’s cases against their employers’ have spanned more than five years. In December 2012, the two women filed a police report against their employers for egregrious physical abuse. Their male employer, Tay Wee Kiat, faced a total of 12 charges, including voluntarily causing hurt and instigating a false statement.

The High Court ruled in March of this year that Fitriyah’s male employer, Tay Wee Kiat, be sentenced to 43 months in jail for his ‘plainly cruel and almost sadistic’ behaviour. His wife, Chia Yun Ling, was sentenced to two months in jail for slapping and punching Fitriyah. The court also ruled that the couple should pay Fitriyah S$7,800 in compensation.

Fitriyah, however, may not be receiving the compensation awarded. It appears that her employers are opting to serve additional days in jail rather than pay the compensation amount. Meanwhile, the trial for Moe Moe Than is still ongoing.

Fitriyah speaks about her experiences as a survivor of abuse in this  Channel NewsAsia  TV programme,  Spotlight: More Protection for Foreign Domestic Workers .

Fitriyah speaks about her experiences as a survivor of abuse in this Channel NewsAsia TV programme, Spotlight: More Protection for Foreign Domestic Workers.

Here are some other migrant domestic workers HOME has assisted whose employers were recently prosecuted:

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Suhaeni Saleh

Suhaeni’s employer, Siti Faseha, received a four-week jail sentence at the State Courts on 27 June 2018, after she pled guilty to one count of voluntarily causing hurt to Suhaeni. Upset that Suhaeni returned from a market with potatoes instead of onions, the enraged employer threw a potato at her face, causing Saleh’s nose to bleed. The investigation also revealed that the employer had also pushed Suhaeni’s head into a wall and slapped her on two prior occasions.

Suhaeni began her employment in April 2015, and over its course, endured the consistent denial of her salary, verbal abuse, and unreasonable restriction of her handphone which meant she was prevented from contacting her family. Suhaeni sought HOME’s assistance in June 2017, and we assisted her through the referral process with MOM to reclaim her salary and then secure legal support as her police investigations moved to the courts. Her court case took almost one year to reach a verdict.

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Ei Phyu Tun

Ei Phyu’s employer was sentenced to two years and one month’s jail on Tuesday 17 July, on two counts of voluntarily causing hurt to Ei Phyu with weapons, including metal poles, the metal handle of a duster and an improvised metal hanger. A medical report from Tan Tock Seng Hospital documented that Ei Phyu sustained multiple injuries, including bruising on her forehead, swelling on her cheek, lacerations on her ear and back, a rib fracture,  and bruising on her legs.

Ei Phyu began her employment in April 2015, but started experiencing physical abuse by June of the same year. HOME was connected to Ei Phyu in September 2015 and assisted Ei Phyu in securing legal representation and providing food and shelter until the conclusion of her police investigations. After over three years of legal proceedings, Ei Phyu finally obtained compensation of  S$10,300 this past July.

Penal Code Review Timely

It is encouraging that the courts have signaled their recognition of domestic workers’ increased vulnerability through a more severe sentencing framework for abuse. In addition, a review of Singapore’s Penal Code is set to take place later this year, with the Penal Code Review Committee submitting a 500-page report with recommendations, one of which is to enhance penalties for offences against vulnerable victims, including domestic workers.

HOME supports this move to enhance penalties as a means to signal such abuse will not be tolerated by the authorities. At the same time, efforts to punish perpetrators of abuse should be complemented by parallel efforts to improve protection and support services for victims of abuse.

In addition to the psychological and physical harm induced by abuse, legal recourse places a disproportionate burden on migrant domestic workers who are survivors of abuse: these women are obligated to stay in Singapore over the duration of investigations (which are often protracted), they must publicly relive their traumas, and their cases ensue without the guarantee of compensation or of them receiving the compensation, even if it is awarded.

A comprehensive rights-based approach to support survivors of abuse acknowledges the interrelated components  of wellbeing and empowerment, including: the right to shelter, healthcare, equal protection of the law, as well as financial and legal support. This approach emphasizes the necessity of systems that guarantee such services, including decent employment opportunities, legal aid, counselling, rehabilitation services and medical treatment.

Research has shown that a victim-centric approach is the most effective way of fighting abuse. Without legally guaranteed social support services and protection, it will be difficult to encourage migrant women workers to assist in investigations and bring perpetrators to justice.

Stephanie Chok