Maid Abuse in Singapore: Getting Help and Legal Penalties

maid, tired and sitting on the floor

Singapore is one of the most popular work destinations for maids (i.e. Foreign Domestic Workers (FDW)) in Southeast Asia.

Unfortunately, 60% of maids working in Singapore report being exploited by their employers, according to a 2017 survey conducted by independent consultancy Research Across Borders. This includes excessive working hours, poor living conditions, wage cuts or even abuse.

Abuse of maids occurs when employers neglect the maid’s well-being. Abuse can be of a physical, sexual, mental or emotional nature. Physical abuse can include starvation, violence or physical harassment.

On the other hand, abuse in the form of mental or emotional nature can include verbal abuse that humiliates or degrades the maid, possibly causing him/her psychological harm.

Legal Penalties 

Maid abuse is illegal in Singapore. Employers are liable to severe penalties if they are convicted of abusing an FDW. They will also be permanently banned from employing another maid.

The following are possible criminal offences that may be committed when maids are abused and their penalties:

Possible Offences  Penalties
Voluntarily causing hurt (any bodily pain) under section 321 of the Penal Code Fine up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment up to a term of 3 years. 
Voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means under section 324 of the Penal Code Imprisonment up to a term of 7 years, fine, caning or any combination of these punishments.
Voluntarily causing grievous hurt (where the abuse causes permanent disability or death) under section 325 of the Penal Code  Imprisonment up to a term of 10 years and either a fine or caning. 
Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means under section 326 of the Penal Code Either caning and life imprisonment, or caning,  imprisonment up to a term of 15 years and a fine. 
Assault or use of criminal force with intent to outrage modesty under section 354 of the Penal Code Imprisonment up to a term of 2 years, fine caning or any combination of these punishments. 
Rape under section 375 of the Penal Code Imprisonment up to a term of 20 years and either a fine or caning. 
Allowing neglect, physical or sexual abuse of maids under section 335A of the Penal Code. A person would be guilty of this offence if he/she, being a member of the employer’s household, knew or had reason to believe that the maid was at risk of neglect, physical or sexual by another person but failed to take reasonable steps to protect the maid and the act occurred in foreseeable circumstances.  Where death is caused: Fine up to $20,000 and/or imprisonment up to a term of 7 years. In any other case: Fine up to $4,000 and/or imprisonment up to a term of 4 years. 

 

When employers or any member of the employer’s household members commits an offence under the Penal Code against their domestic workers, the court may sentence the employer to twice the maximum punishment provided for any of the offences mentioned above, excluding section 335A.

This is unless it can be proven that the relationship between the abuser and the maid did not adversely affect the maid’s ability to protect herself from the harm she has suffered.

For all the offences in the table above, the Supreme Court has also adjusted the sentencing benchmarks upwards. Sentencing will be determined by the extent of physical or psychological abuse inflicted, as shown in the following table:

Indicative sentences corresponding to degree of harm Less serious physical harm More serious physical harm
Less serious psychological harm  3 to 6 months’ imprisonment 6 to 18 months’ imprisonment
More serious psychological harm 6 to 18 months’ imprisonment 20 to 30 months’ imprisonment

The employer may also be required to pay compensation to the maid for the injuries she has suffered. If they refuse to do so, they may have their imprisonment term increased.

Cases of Maid Abuse in Singapore

In one of the worst cases of maid abuse in Singapore, a woman physically abused her maid using household items like a hammer, chopper, bamboo pole and stone pounder. This resulted in permanent disfigurements on the victim’s face and functional impairment of one of her fingers. Further, there was significant psychological harm because the victim was not allowed to call home, use the phone, or speak to the neighbours.

The woman was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment and made to pay nearly $56,000 in compensation to the victim. The woman’s husband, who had also physically abused the victim by hitting her head with a frying pan, was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment and made to pay $1,000 in compensation to the victim.

In another case, a married couple had physically and mentally abused 2 maids. One of the maids had rice and sugar forced down her throat through a funnel and was even forced to eat her own vomit.

In one incident, the maids were made to get into a push-up position and kicked by the husband. During another, the maids were made to slap each other 10 times. In addition, despite one maid being Christian and the other being Muslim, the maids were made to bow and get up before a Buddhist altar 100 times. The husband was sentenced to an imprisonment of 6 years and 1 month while the wife was sentenced to imprisonment of 4 years and 1 month.

What to Do in a Situation of Abuse 

If you have been abused by your employer, you should make a police report immediately. Reports of abuse will be investigated by the police.

You can also report the abuse to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) by using this online portal, calling 1800 339 5505, sending an email to mom_fmmd@mom.gov.sg or reporting in person at MOM Services Centre (Hall A) 1500 Bendemeer Road Singapore 339946.

If the circumstances of abuse are so dire that you are unable to live with your employers anymore, you may approach your foreign embassy, the HOME Academy or the Centre for Domestic Employees to seek shelter. For instance, the Philippines Embassy provides shelter for an average of 12 to 18 workers each day.

The HOME Academy provides direct assistance, shelter and food for abused maids. The Centre for Domestic Employees housed 556 maids in 2019 and provides counselling to mitigate the adverse effects of abuse.

Maid abuse in Singapore is illegal and cannot be tolerated. If you find yourself in a situation of abuse, do not hesitate to take action by reporting the abuse and seeking shelter if necessary.