New sentencing framework for maid abuse cases highlights impact of psychological harm

New sentencing framework for maid abuse cases highlights impact of psychological harm

FIle photo of child abuse
Photo illustration of child abuse.

SINGAPORE: In a landmark decision on Friday (Mar 2), the High Court laid down a new sentencing framework for maid abuse cases, emphasising the mental anguish suffered by domestic helpers, who are "particularly vulnerable” in such situations.

The new rules acknowledge “the psychological harm and mental anguish that a maid suffers from being trapped in a situation of fear, abuse and oppression”, Justice See Kee Oon said.

He delivered the 47-page judgment of a specially convened three-judge panel of the High Court, which included Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang.

The High Court stressed that maid abuse cases cannot be treated “like any other Section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) case”, in which the severity of the victim’s injury is considered in the offender’s sentence.

Maid abuse “occurs in circumstances of inequality and oppression”, distinguishing such offences from other cases of assault.

In maid abuse cases, “mental abuse and humiliating or degrading treatment” must assume significance, the High Court said.

“Psychological abuse, in conjunction with physical harm, is what characterises egregious instances of maid abuse and makes them especially abhorrent”, Justice See added.

The High Court set the following indicative sentencing ranges:

maid abuse sentencing framework table


The new sentencing framework follows several maid abuse cases that have manifested "blatant displays of violence, cruelty, and humiliating and demeaning, even dehumanising, behaviour", the High Court said.

On Friday, the High Court upheld the convictions of married couple Tay Wee Kiat and Chia Yun Ling, who were convicted of abusing their Indonesian domestic helper for almost two years when she worked there between December 2010 and December 2012.

The prosecution was led by Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck.

Tay, 39, was convicted of 10 charges of assaulting Ms Fitriyah, 33. The IT manager was also found guilty of one charge of bribing Ms Fitriyah in an effort to dissuade her from reporting the abuse, and one charge of instigating her to lie to the police.

Chia, 41, was convicted of two charges for assaulting Ms Fitriyah and sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

On Friday, Tay’s original 28-month jail term was increased to 43 months. The High Court had increased Tay’s sentence because the original sentence was “manifestly inadequate given the degree of psychological harm” Ms Fitriyah suffered.


Sometime in 2012, Tay had forced Ms Fitriyah and their other Myamar helper, Moe Moe Than, to slap each other 10 times.

“But the physical pain is only half the story,” the High Court said.

Tay also forced both helpers to clasp the palms of their hands together and bow 100 times before a Buddhist altar in the Tay family home.

“This was notwithstanding that Fitriyah was Muslim and Moe Moe Than was Christian,” the High Court noted.

“The extent of humiliation, bullying and cruelty reflected in Tay’s behaviour placed … (him) firmly in the category of more serious psychological harm.”

The court also cited a second incident that took place in 2011.

The couple’s daughter had knocked a religious statue off a cabinet in the house, causing it to break. Tay, however, blamed Ms Fitriyah.

As punishment, he forced her to stand on a plastic stool on one leg, and hold up another plastic stool with one hand.

“This was a serious affront to her dignity,” the court said.

While she did this, Tay pushed an empty plastic bottle into her mouth, even though Ms Fitriyah was crying and begging him to stop.

This was “demeaning and invasive” behaviour, the court said.

Ms Fitriyah’s ordeal lasted 30 minutes, until Chia told her husband they would be late for Chinese New Year visiting. “Tay’s behaviour was painly cruel and sadistic,” the High Court said.

Ms Fitriyah had tried to leave the couple's employment in 2011 by requesting for a transfer to another employer. The couple refused.

Desperate, the maid stole S$50 from Chia’s wallet and told her employers about the theft, hoping she would be sent back to the employment agency.

The couple’s offences only came to light when their other helper, Ms Than, complained of being abused after she left Singapore. She was flown back into the country to assist in investigations and testify against her former employers.

The High Court on Friday ordered the couple to pay compensation to Ms Fitriyah, although the final amount has yet to be agreed upon.

The trial involving the abuse of Ms Than is ongoing, and is expected to conclude later this year. 

The couple will begin serving their jail terms once this trial is concluded.

Source: CNA/aj