Singaporean employer, Chong Sui Foon claimed that her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) led her to starve her Filipino domestic worker, however, District Judge Low Wee Ping ruled on Thursday (22 December) that her preoccupation with cleanliness would not have led her to restrict the quantity of food given to the victim.
In March 2016, Chong and her husband, Lim Choon Hong, both 48, were found guilty of starving Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan.
Lim, a freelance trader, faces one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, which requires employers to be responsible for the maintenance of their foreign employees, including providing them with adequate food.
While, Chong faces one count of abetting her husband in committing the offence.
Ms Thelma, 40, had worked for the couple for almost 1.5 years before she escaped from the condominium. She lost 20kgs from her intital weight of 49kg in January 2013 to 29kg. when she escaped from the condominium she worked in and sought refuge at HOME, a non-profit organisation (NGO) in April 2014.
HOME then reported Ms Thelma’s conditions to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), who directed the NGO to send Ms Thelma for a medical check up with a general practitioner (GP) and later at the hospital.
Ms Christina Quek, the investigation officer in charge of the case told the court that Chong only allowed Ms Thelma to shower once or twice a week at the condominium’s public toilet and how she was given two meals a day, with each ration consisting of instant noodles and a slice of bread.
Ms Quek also shared that although Lim footed the GP’s bill, he refused to pay for Ms Thelma’s hospital bill as he said she “is not sick”.
Dr Lim Huiyu, senior resident at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s department of gastroenterology and hepatology who examined Ms Thelma in April this year, testified in court today that she suffered “significant weight loss due to insufficient intake of food”. The doctor added that Ms Thelma was so malnourished that she did not have her period for a year.
Ms Thelma weighed merely 43kgs at a review conducted in June, two months after her escape in April. She was later allowed to be re-hired as a domestic worker under a new employer after months being taken care by HOME.
The couple was later decided to plead guilty after a highly publicised three-day trial in December last year. It revealed that their domestic worker was provided with two meals a day.
The court heard that the first meal consisted of two to three slices of white bread and one to two packets of instant noodles, and at times, a slice of tomato or cucumber and a small piece of meat. The second meal would include just five to six slices of white bread.
A three-day Newton hearing was held in October for psychiatrists from both sides to testify as to Chong’s mental condition. This hearing was held to resolve disputed points for sentencing
Both parties agreed then that Chong suffers from OCD. This results in an obsession with cleanliness and a fear of dirt and contamination. The hearing also concluded that she also retains a residual dysfunctional attitude towards food and nutrition after she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa as a teenager.
However, District Judge Low found that Chong’s OCD or attitude towards food did not bear any causal link to her committing the offence. It also did not impair her ability to understand the nature of her actions.
He then noted that there was also no evidence that her OCD extended to the obsession and compulsion to restrict the quantity of food for the victim.
The Judge remarked that Chong’s preoccupation with cleanliness would have affected only the type of food she chose to provide, such as foods that did not require much cooking, saying, that it does not explain why she restricted both the type and quantity of food she gave to her victim.
Judge Low stated that there is no evidence of a scientific nature that Chong’s underlying mental disorder can manifest in completely different treatment and outcomes for different parties, which was starving and depriving Ms Thelma of food while feeding more and nutritionally better food to her family.
He added that the contrasting manifestations of (Chong’s) conduct stem from and reflect a selective and discriminatory perception of the victim, and are not related to an underlying disorder.
Judge Low said that some “closure” could be obtained from the remarks made by the Institute of Mental Health’s psychiatrist Stephen Phang during the Newton hearing as members of the public then question what could have caused Chong’s offending behaviour.
Dr Phang, who testified for the prosecution, said, “If I may venture, that the starving of the maid probably emanates from what would likely have been essentially very ordinary, non-pathological. Normal emotions such as normal frustrations and normal anger, so on and so forth. But this is in the realm of speculation.”
Chong and Lim are expected to be sentenced on 23 February. If found guilty, the couple could be jailed up to 12 months and/or fined up to S$10,000.