Defence witness says housewife's disorders led her to starve maid
Prosecution witness says if that was true, she would have starved her family
She was suffering from a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) linked to cleanliness, as well as residual effects of an eating disorder that she was treated for when she was young.
But these conditions – even if combined – did not cause housewife Chong Sui Foon, 48, to deprive her Filipino maid of adequate food, a psychiatrist testified in court yesterday.
Chong and her husband, trader Lim Choon Hong, also 48, had pleaded guilty in March to starving Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, after a three-day trial.
Ms Gawidan lost 20kg in 15 months.
THE NEW PAPER, MARCH 24
Yesterday, prosecution witness Dr Stephen Phang of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) took the stand on the second day of the hearing to determine Chong's mental state ahead of the couple's sentencing.
The defence called for Chong to be placed on a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO), while the prosecution is seeking jail terms for both accused.
Dr Phang, who is a senior consultant of IMH's general and forensic psychiatry department, told the court that he had examined Chong on two occasions in May this year.
STARVED: Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan. TNP FILE PHOTO
He found that she was suffering from a severe case of OCD, which made her obsessed with cleanliness.
He also said that although she had recovered from anorexia nervosa – an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat, which she suffered from when she was a teenager – there were still residual effects of the eating disorder that made her have a dysfunctional attitude towards food.
For example, Chong would force feed her family members even when they were full, while limiting what she herself ate, he said.
The defence's case is that the combination of these two conditions led to Chong making her family members eat more, while restricting Ms Gawidan to only bread and instant noodles because these would not dirty the home.
ACROSS THE BOARD
But Dr Phang disagreed, saying that there was no causal link between the two conditions and Chong's offence.
He said if Chong had starved her maid, she would have done the same to all those in her family.
"It would be across the board... Would not be specific to one individual," he said, echoing the Deputy Public Prosecutor's position on Wednesday.
He also said the conditions did not limit Chong's mental capacity, her ability to choose, or her understanding of right and wrong.
Defence counsel Raymond Lye had called for Chong to be placed on a MTO, under which offenders must attend treatment sessions with psychiatrists assigned by the Health Ministry and IMH.
Dr Phang disagreed, saying Chong would not be suitable as her mental conditions did not contribute to the commission of the offence.
On Wednesday, two psychiatrists had testified for the defence that Chong's failure to provide Ms Gawidan with enough food resulted from her OCD and eating disorder, reported Channel NewsAsia.
Chong was obsessed with cleanliness and excessive control to the extent that she would control what, when and how much her husband, children and maid ate, psychiatrist Dr Lim Yun Chin said.
The second expert witness, Dr Rasaiah Munidasa Winslow, testified that although Chong knew her actions were hurting her family, she was unable to control herself.
District Judge Low Wee Ping adjourned the hearing to a later date for parties to make their submissions.
About the case
Lim Choon Hong and his wife, Chong Sui Foon, both 48, pleaded guilty in March to charges of failing to provide their former Filipino domestic worker with adequate food for 15 months, causing her weight to drop by almost 20kg.
Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, who now works for another household, weighed just 29.4kg in April 2014, compared with 49kg when she came to Singapore in late 2012.
The couple slept during the day because of Lim's work as a freelance trader. They gave Madam Gawidan two meals a day at their home in Cuscaden Walk.
The first meal, usually provided at around 1am to 2am, comprised two to three slices of plain white bread and one to two packets of instant noodles.
Occasionally, Chong mixed very small portions of vegetables and meat with the noodles.
The second meal, given in the late morning or early afternoon, would be five to six slices of bread.
Lim bought Madam Gawidan's food.
Meanwhile, Lim, Chong and their children, aged 22, 19 and 17, ate different food, which was greater in quantity and more nutritious.
On April 19, 2014, Madam Gawidan fled the apartment after she was left alone near the lift.
In March this year, Lim pleaded guilty to a charge of contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, which requires employers to pay and provide adequate food and medical treatment for their helpers.
Chong admitted to a count of abetting Lim in committing the offence, which carries a punishment of up to 12 months' jail and a $10,000 fine.