Maid’s death: ‘Full force of law needed to keep evil in check’
Shanmugam highlights 'extreme cruelty' inflicted on Myanmar maid as new safeguards are announced
As the Government yesterday acted to prevent a repeat of the sort of abuse that led to the death of a Myanmar domestic worker, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam spoke of the "extreme inhumanity, extreme cruelty" of what was done to the victim.
When Ms Piang Ngaih Don died on July 16, 2016, she weighed just 24kg after close to 10 months of being assaulted, tortured and starved by her employer. She was 24.
Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 28 charges, the most serious being culpable homicide, for which the prosecution is seeking life imprisonment.
Mr Shanmugam said at a virtual meeting with the media that what was done to Ms Piang was "terrible, completely unacceptable".
"In fact, none of these words describe adequately what actually happened to her," he added.
"She was tied up, burned with heated iron, denied food, hit repeatedly, and more. She was starved and beaten to death. The bestiality of the conduct is shocking."
The minister noted that "ordinary people are capable of extreme evil" but added that two pillars in society can keep evil in check. One is education. The other is rule of law.
"The law has to come down with full force when the rules are broken," he stressed.
Referring to Gaiyathri's husband, a police officer, Mr Shanmugam added: "Thankfully, we have a system where it doesn't matter who you are, whether you are a police officer, civil servant, or man on the street, if the investigation shows that you ought to be charged, you will be charged, and you will face the full weight of the law."
Kevin Chelvam, 41, and his mother-in-law, Prema S. Naraynasamy, 61, face multiple hurt-related charges in connection with Ms Piang. Their cases are pending.
Chelvam, a staff sergeant, has been suspended from the force since Aug 8, 2016.
While noting that presumption of innocence will prevail until the case is dealt with in court, Mr Shanmugam said that Chelvam will face disciplinary proceedings regardless of the outcome of the trial.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who was also at the interview, said that a thorough review focusing on three areas is being carried out to ensure domestic workers get enough protection.
They are safeguards against abusive employers, a reporting system for doctors who periodically examine domestic helpers, and looking at how the community can detect and flag cases of abuse.
Mrs Teo, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs, said doctors are required to report to the police or the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) if they detect signs of abuse or distress in domestic workers.
This requirement, introduced in 2017, will continue to be strengthened.
Mrs Teo said: "Let me be absolutely clear that there is no place for abuse of foreign domestic workers in Singapore. This is not the kind of society we are. We will do what we can to protect them while they are here.
"The Singapore Government takes very seriously the safety of all of our foreign domestic workers who are here."
Mrs Teo said several safeguards are already in place to ensure that domestic helpers are not abused.
They undergo a mandatory settling-in programme, during which they are informed of their rights and responsibilities, and they also have six-monthly medical check-ups.
Ms Piang was examined by doctors twice during her employment, but no signs of distress were flagged.
In her last check-up before her death, a doctor saw bruises around the maid's eye sockets and cheeks and mild swelling on both feet. Gaiyathiri claimed this was because she was clumsy and fell down often.
Mrs Teo said the Health Ministry would have to look into the doctor's responsibility.
MOM said on Wednesday that it will be intensifying efforts to interview all new foreign domestic workers about their well-being.
"Our starting point must be the safety of our foreign domestic workers. If there are areas where we can improve on to strengthen the support to the foreign domestic workers, we will do so," said Mrs Teo.