SINGAPORE: A Singaporean couple who abused a domestic helper from Myanmar by caning her, force-feeding her and instructing her to eat her vomit, was sentenced to jail and fined on Monday (Mar 18).
Moe Moe Than was subjected to various forms of abuse in 2012, sleeping fewer than six hours a day on a mattress in the living room without a pillow or blanket, eating mostly rice on its own or with sugar, and being slapped and caned by her employers.
Former IT manager Tay Wee Kiat, 41, was sentenced to two years’ jail for abusing the 31-year-old helper by caning her, hitting her with a broomstick, kicking her while she was in a push-up position, and making another maid and her slap each other.
Tay’s wife Chia Yun Ling, 43, received a total sentence of three years and 11 months’ jail and a fine of S$4,000.
If she cannot pay the fine — her defence counsel Wee Pan Lee indicated in court that the couple has “exhausted all their resources in connection with this trial” — she will serve two weeks’ jail in default.
Chia was convicted of 15 charges earlier this month regarding Ms Than. She had forced a mixture of rice and sugar down Ms Than's throat through a funnel after the helper complained that she did not have enough to eat.
After Ms Than ran to the toilet choking, Chia instructed her to throw up inside a plastic bag and eat her vomit.
On one occasion, Chia pulled Ms Than by the hair into a bedroom, pushing her to the floor and stepping on her chest.
District Judge Oliva Low said “the systematic pattern of violence and psychological abuse” inflicted on Ms Than required that the total sentence to reflect Chia’s culpability and the harm caused to the victim.
ALLOWED TO USE TOILET ONLY THREE TIMES A DAY
The judge had given the maximum six-month jail sentence after Chia restricted Ms Than's use of the toilet. The helper was allowed to use the toilet only three times a day, a rule that was enforced by Chia monitoring her movements through closed-circuit television and asking another maid, Ms Fitriyah, to check on Ms Than.
“The deprivation of a basic human right to manage one’s bodily functions strikes at the core of one’s dignity and was clearly detrimental to the victim’s health and welfare," said the judge.
“The fact that the victim had been punished when she used the toilet for a fourth time in a day meant that this was not merely a verbal threat by Chia."
Ms Than was made to jump like a rabbit, among other forms of punishment, if she used the toilet more than thrice.
She was also made to remove her blouse and clean the house wearing only her bra and shorts, an act the judge said was "ill-treatment by humiliation without having regard to the victim’s welfare".
"In terms of Chia’s mitigation plea, I found economic hardship, health issues and caretaking difficulties to be of little mitigating value," said the judge.
"There was no evidence of remorse shown given that the two domestic workers were not spared the ordeal of testifying in a full trial."
Ms Than is the second maid the couple are convicted of abusing. They had hired her to help another maid, Ms Fitriyah, whose period of employment overlapped Ms Than's.
Turning to Tay, who was convicted of six charges, the judge agreed with the prosecution that there should be a slight uplift for his act of asking both maids to slap each other 10 times, as there was a lack of remorse.
Tay had already been found guilty and sentenced for the same act in the trial concerning Ms Fitriyah, the prosecution said, but claimed trial again for Ms Than’s case.
District Judge Olivia Low granted the defence’s request to defer sentences by two weeks, for domestic arrangements to be made for the couple’s children. The couple, who has been in and out of court for the past five years, had been allowed to begin their sentences for abusing their other maid, Ms Fitriyah, only after the end of Ms Than’s abuse trial.
For abusing Ms Fitriyah, Tay had been given 43 months’ jail, an increase from 28 months’ jail upon appeal, while his wife had received a two-months prison sentence. The case will be heard again in High Court, when decisions regarding these earlier sentences will be made.
After receiving their sentences, the pair sat in the dock with their heads bowed.
The prosecution has appealed against discharges amounting to acquittals for other charges that the couple had faced.