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The Dark Side of Maids




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Madam Loh Ah Lek, 87, speaks fluent Malay and a smattering of Teochew; hence her preference for an Indonesian maid.

After spending close to an hour screening the list of maids and going through their resumes at the employment agency, she finally settled on Dewi, 24.

However, past the pleasant looking, baby-faced Indonesian maid, whom she interviewed over webcam, lay a troubled character. Dewi enjoyed sitting on the kitchen floor under the window, staring into the open sky. She burst into irrational rages when Madam Loh woke her up in the middle of the night to get her help to go the bathroom. All this happened during the first two days of work.

Then came the last straw. On Dewi’s third day of work, she accused Madam Loh of trying to push her out of the window when she was chided for standing on a high chair to sun the laundry. “I nearly had a heart attack. I couldn’t take it anymore; so I sent her back to the agency and asked for an immediate replacement,” said Madam Loh.

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Lifestyle blogger Normah Ahmad, 30, had a similar experience with her Indonesian maid. Writing on her blog, Normah shares how she discovered that her maid, Nur Aliyah, believed to be 23 at that point in time, added bleach to her son’s food. She reported the matter to the police, but was told by investigation officers that such cases take a long time to arrive at a verdict. She decided to let the maid agency handle the matter.

Maids like Dewi and Nur Aliyah are few, but their actions do cast a shadow over the entire profession.

Between 2005 and 2013, six maids from Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been charged with murdering their employers’ and or their employers’ family members. Of this number, half of the maids charged were under 23, the minimum age for being eligible to work as a maid in Singapore.

Generally, teenagers are too emotional to take on the responsibilities of an adult, however nice or nasty the employer may be.

This begs these questions: If a maid is found to be underage, is her employment contract valid? Should the employment agency that hired her assume full responsibility and pay for her repatriation? Can the employer claim back the S$5,000 security deposit on grounds of breach of contract?

According to the Ministry of Manpower, the security bond is returned only if the maid and or employer does not violate any of the conditions listed under the ministry’s conditions of work permit act.

As of now, the Ministry of Manpower has a bank of blacklisted maids who are banned from re-entering Singapore to seek employment. Employers can check on their maids’ employment history on the ministry’s website.

Meanwhile, migrant worker groups like the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training (FAST) and Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME) are campaigning for employers to give their maids a day-off from work.


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