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Baby’s death “could have been avoided” if domestic helper’s welfare was “taken care of”: Jolovan Wham

The tragic death of one-year-old Richelle Teo Yan Jia two years ago could have been prevented had her parents cared for the welfare of their domestic helper, said labour rights activist Jolovan Wham.

Mr Wham highlighted in his Facebook post on Thursday (22 Nov) that the domestic helper, identified as Maryani Usman Utar, was subjected to “18-hour” working days “throughout the one and a half years she was with the employer,” and “did not have a day off, and contacted her family only 6 times” throughout the same period, on top of being subjected to regular scolding by her employer.

Maryani was also “not allowed to use or own a mobile phone,” according to the report by Yahoo! which he referred to.

The then-23-year-old Indonesian woman also “requested to change employers 3 times but was denied.”

Yahoo! Singapore reported that a government psychiatrist’s assessment found that Maryani had been suffering “a depressive disorder of at least moderate intensity in the months prior to the incident,” on top of “an acute stress reaction in the days immediately prior to the incident.”

Subsequently, the psychiatrist issued a report which highlighted that “Maryani’s mental condition had impaired her mental responsibility in committing the acts.”

Mr Wham said this was “hardly surprising,” as a 2015 survey by HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics found that “24 percent of domestic workers had a mental health problem”.

He added that “the exclusion of domestic workers from labour laws makes it legal for employers to treat them like slaves.”

Mr Wham also noted that “MOM officers are in Hong Kong this week to understand its policies and laws on domestic workers,” and hopes that they will “implement much needed reforms when they return.”

“We have to ensure that the rights of domestic workers are protected and such tragedies don’t happen again,” warned Mr Wham.

The High Court sentenced Maryani, who is now 25, to seven years’ imprisonment following her guilty plea to one charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder on Thursday (22 Nov).

Defence lawyer Mohamed Muzammil Mohamed said: “Maryani genuinely and sincerely apologises to Mr and Mrs Teo and other family members for causing the death of Richelle. The guilt will remain with her throughout her life even after she returns to her village to reunite with her family.”

While some have questioned the sentence for Maryani as being too light as a life was lost due to her actions, some also voiced their sympathy on what the domestic worker had to go through and questioned the mindset of the parents.