There is an increasing number of under-aged women being employed as maids in Singapore.
In a 2017 report, at least 240,000 domestic workers were recorded based on the estimated data of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Of this, more than 200 workers were believed to be underage. More and more cases have been observed in recent years.
According to MOM’s data, the country’s ministry of human resources, the recruitment of underage help has become prevalent.
In 2017 alone, the agency estimated underage workers to be at 8.7% per 10,000 domestic workers, up from 4.3% and 6.4% in the previous years, respectively.
For the past three years, MOM has acted against 98 job agencies for providing minors as domestic helpers in Singapore.
In May 2018, two agencies were penalised for bringing in 13-year-old Myanmar workers. The agencies were fined S$5,000, sentenced to jail for six months, and their licenses revoked.
John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) research subcommittee president, noted most of the trafficked workers were Myanmar teenagers that were easily victimized since the recruitment in their country is “much less regulated.”
He cited recruitment agencies get big bucks without hassle based on how many maids they can provide to Singaporean employers.
In case no suitable candidates want to travel abroad to work as maids, they simply persuade the younger girls to give it a try to help their families’ alleviate their living conditions.
Sometimes, they approach young girls’ parents to convince their daughters to work overseas.
The recruitment modus
Most agencies play a vital role in the recruitment process. It depends on how they operate when it comes to hiring minors.
As is common practice by some illegal agencies in poor Asian countries, maids are forced to use false passports with a different age so it will not be obvious that they are still teenagers.
Most recruiters mainly consider the young girls’ appearance when hiring them.
When the young maids reach Singapore, they are confronted with the high transport cost, accommodation, and rising agency fees. So the minor maids have no choice but to stay and are forced to lie about their real age. Otherwise, they would have to come back home debt-ridden and empty-handed.
The recruited young girls get low salaries in Singapore. However, these are higher compared to what they receive in their home countries where their living conditions are even more uncertain.
The report cited that domestic helpers on average receive about S$381 monthly. When they send money back home, this is reduced to S$158.
The disparity in pay is great compared to the average Singaporean who earns a monthly salary of S$3,694. Compared to the pay of a foreign domestic helper, it is at least one-tenth of the average.
According to Singapore legislation, a domestic workers’ age in the city-state should be at least 23.
However, in extreme cases, such as agents in Myanmar, they reportedly bribe officials in the Immigration Department to change the young girls’ birth dates on their passports to make it easy to enter Singapore.
Several of the girls are barely in their teens. However, as their documents have been falsified, their real ages are hard to detect once they arrive in Singapore.
Myanmar agents strictly instruct the girls never to tell anyone their real age.