Abusing maids – again

The report in the Straits Times (31 march, 2007) titled “Some maids found to be under-fed by employers” is troubling. It leaves one wondering why and how anyone could do this to a fellow human being.  

In the report, it says that some maids get only a slice of bread and a bowl of porridge in a day. It also reports how one maid was beaten to death in 2002, after she was caught stealing apple juice and porridge from the employers’ children. 

It would seem that employers are adopting a new tactic to punish their maids – perhaps avoiding physical abuse like in the past. This may be because of tougher sentences that were meted out to employers who physically abused their maids. 

Are we, therefore, seeing starvation of maids as the new method employers are using?

Besides the questions of calories and nutrients intake which a maid, who spends her day doing physical work, would need, we also need to question the morality, ethics and mindsets of such employers – and society in general, and ask ourselves if this is something we should tolerate. I am sure that most people would agree that it should not be tolerated. And I hope that the courts will mete out punishments which will deter employers from resorting to such inhumane treatment. The question remains: Why do employers treat their maids in such a fashion?

Some reasons cited include cultural differences between the maid and the employer, a lack of communication, the employer may be stressed at work and takes it out on the maid, the employer may be trying to establish boundaries of power. These reasons may help to explain why these deeds are done but still, one will wonder why such employers lack the ability to first, be humane and second, restrain himself or herself. Are domestic maids easy targets for the employers to unleash their anger, frustrations and stress on? What would restrain these employers from doing such things?  

Deterrence sentences is one. Education is another. I would also suggest screening potential employers but I am aware of how difficult and complicated that can be. Perhaps we do not need to do this. Maybe the answer is as simple as giving the maid a telephone number to call in times of trouble.

A telephone number which is manned 24 hours everyday. And all maid agencies must be required by law to inform their maids of such a hotline. I am not sure if this is the practice. (If it is, one would have to wonder why maids, apparently, are not making use of this avenue to report abuse.)  

This would have to go hand in hand with teaching the maid how to use a telephone – cellphone or public phone – and making sure that she knows how to make an emergency call to the hotline.  Would such expense be justified?  

If one were to consider the number of domestic maids in Singapore (some 200,000 I believe) and abuse cases throughout the years, as reported in the media, perhaps it would not be too much expense to do this simple thing in order to save lives – even if it’s the life of someone whom some of us may consider to be of “less worth”. 

The question is: would we tolerate even one of our own children being abused in such a way say, in a child care centre? Would we tolerate such treatment of our children? The answer would be no, of course. We will be up in arms and be crying for blood if our kids were starved or abused in any child care centers or under the care of anyone else, for that matter. We would spare no expense in making sure that it never ever happens again. Is the life of a domestic maid, therefore, of any less worth than the lives of any of our children?  

Therein lies the answer to why some Singaporeans treat their maids the way they do. 

It is time we did the necessary thing – and stop such abuse once and for all. Lets do whatever is necessary. One life lost through such abuse is unacceptable – be it a Singaporean life or a “foreign” life.