Singapore

Entry of underage maids a thorny issue for hirers, agencies

She had thought her Indonesian maid was 28 as stated on her passport. But Madam Rachel Chan's helper confessed a month later that she was 19.

Two months later, her "23-year-old" replacement maid from another agency turned out to be 21. The minimum age to work as a foreign maid in Singapore is 23.

Madam Chan, 29, sent both home, not wanting to be penalised for hiring underage maids.

She lost around $3,000 in fees.

The issue of underage maids came to light recently after the father of Myanmar national Zin Mar Oo, who fell to her death at the Interlace on June 12, said his daughter was only 20.

Mr Tin Shwe, 46, who was here for his only child's funeral, said he did not know why her documents showed she was 25.

A spokesman for the Manpower Ministry (MOM) said it takes a "serious view" of underage maids.

Said the spokesman: "MOM has made clear to all employment agencies that they are required to check on the age of the foreign domestic workers (FDWs) they bring into Singapore. These checks include interviews and examination of the passports, birth documents and educational certificates."

All new FDWs also have to attend a settling-in programme, where they will be told the entry requirements, including the age limit, said the spokesman.

MOM also checks if agencies are up to par on audits. From 2012 to 2016, it has taken to task nine employment agencies that brought in underage maids.

"Errant employment agencies that contravene these regulations face fines up to $5,000 and six months' imprisonment. Their licences may also be revoked," said its spokesman.

The issue is a thorny one for MOM, which faces calls from advocacy groups to step up enforcement and calls from agencies to lower the age restriction.

Maid agencies told ST that they conduct checks too, but the rigour of these checks vary.

Madam Monica Leong, proprietor of Faith Employment Agency, said: "Some less reliable agents will close one eye, even if they suspect the maid is under 23. That is why employers should check the agencies' track record on the MOM website."

A telltale sign is the maid's appearance as documents can be unreliable or unavailable, said a representative from the Maids and Manpower Agency.

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MINISTRY OF MANPOWER (MOM)