Plight of maids grows more complex with added caregiver duties on top of mistreatment and criminal activity

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Recent events of maids’ involvement in criminal activity, mistreatment of maids by employers, and now additional caregiving duties have compounded the already complex situation of maids working in Singapore.

In a letter to the media, Daniel Tan, the Vice President of the Caregiving Welfare Association, addresses the recent cases of maids inflicting injury on elderly charges. While acknowledging the disturbing nature of the incidents, he said that “rather than focusing on strengthening the Penal Code to deal with such abuse, perhaps we should look at the underlying issues giving rise to it.”

In March of this year, an Indonesian maid was discovered to be assaulting the 89-year-old woman she was taking care of. The elderly woman, who has mild form of Alzheimer’s disease, could not recall the repeated incidents. The maid, who said she was tired of being called “stupid” was sentenced to eight months after admitting to two counts of causing hurt to the older woman.

While inflicting injury on others is doubtless wrong and criminal, Tan urges people to look deeper into the pressure maids feel and questions whether maids are properly equipped to handle caregiving, which is no small feat.

Tan points out that “most domestic helpers have very rudimentary training in caregiving skills. This, coupled with the toil of being responsible for the care of a frail elderly member, puts undue pressure on them.”

He says the stress of being overworked plus trying to cope with extra caregiving duties like “transferring, tube feeding, giving medication and others with little lead time” can lead to “burnout” and ultimately, “a breaking point”, where they tragically turn to violence to release their frustrations.

Tan said, “It is only when we look after our domestic helpers and treat them like our extended family members will they look upon our family members like their own.”
This piece of wisdom, if adhered to, could lead to so much good for the maid-employer relationship in Singapore, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter.

Throughout the years, Singapore has seen many tragic cases of domestic helper abuse.

In March of this year, the High Court laid down new laws for stricter sentencing of maid abuse cases, placing extra focus on mental anguish and psychological abuse suffered by domestic helpers in situations of fear, physical abuse, inequality and oppression.

Just last weekend, a maid committed suicide after being locked up by her employer for three months straight. In August, a woman was sentenced to a year and eight months of prison time after punching her helper in the face “whenever she got angry”, leaving the maid nearly blind. Also in August, the Ministry of Manpower removed two maids from their employers’, after it was confirmed that the maids were being forced to sleep outdoors and given only S$20 a week for food.

Besides reminding people to treat their helpers as their own family and seriously consider the maids’ skillset before assigning them to caregiving, Tan affirms the need for us “to acknowledge the invaluable support domestic helpers can give to families who are looking after their frail or sick relatives.”

He ended his letter by saying, “Rather than threaten more severe punitive laws, [we should] reframe the discussion to ask ourselves: Are our domestic helpers really suited to be both a housekeeper and a caregiver?

Netizens weigh in with their opinions, concurring with Tan and adding their own comments:

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