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Housewife gets 10 years' jail, fine for abusing maid till she became blind, withholding her salary

SINGAPORE — Several months after her domestic worker began working for her household, Ummi Kalsum Ali punched the older woman multiple times until she became blind in her right eye.

Ummi Kalsum Ali arriving at the State Courts on Oct 25, 2022.

Ummi Kalsum Ali arriving at the State Courts on Oct 25, 2022.

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  • Ummi Kalsum Ali, 43, pleaded guilty to six charges that included voluntarily causing grievous hurt
  • She abused her Indonesian domestic worker for about five months in 2020
  • She also did not pay the worker's salary
  • The worker, Ms Sugiyem Samad Radimah, became permanently blind and her ear deformed

SINGAPORE — Several months after her domestic worker began working for her household, Ummi Kalsum Ali punched the older woman multiple times until she became blind in her right eye.

The assaults continued for the next few months till September 2020, leading to Ms Sugiyem Samad Radimah becoming permanently blind in both eyes.

Ummi felt that the Indonesian worker was pretending to have lost her sight and ignored her pleas for medical attention. She also did not take Ms Sugiyem to the doctor out of fear of contracting Covid-19.

The worker's injuries only came to light when Ummi sent her back to Indonesia.

On Tuesday (Oct 25), Ummi, now aged 43, was sentenced to 10 years' jail and a fine of S$4,500.

The Singaporean housewife pleaded guilty to six charges in the State Courts. These included voluntarily causing grievous hurt, failing to pay Ms Sugiyem her fixed monthly salary of S$670 on time for several months, and repeatedly neglecting to provide timely and adequate medical attention and treatment.

Ten other similar charges, including failing to provide Ms Sugiyem with adequate food on several occasions between February and Oct 23 in 2020, were taken into consideration for sentencing.

She will begin serving her jail time on Nov 8 in order to settle her affairs and make childcare arrangements, and remains out on bail of S$20,000.

She earlier paid Ms Sugiyem an undisclosed sum of money as part of a civil suit settlement.

This case came after public ire erupted over the case of Gaiyathiri Murugaiyan, who was sentenced to 30 years’ jail last year for fatally abusing her Myanmarese domestic worker Piang Ngaih Don.


The court heard that Ms Sugiyem, now aged 51, began working for Ummi’s household in August 2019. The family briefly moved to Malaysia when their home was being renovated.

When they returned to Singapore in early 2020, Ummi confiscated the worker's mobile phone and installed a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera in the kitchen to monitor her.

Prosecutors played several CCTV video clips in court, which showed Ummi’s husband shouting at Ms Sugiyem. She had accidentally touched him while feeling her way around the house, having become blind by then.

In response to Senior District Judge Bala Reddy’s query, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Yang Ziliang said that Ummi’s husband does not face any criminal charges.

The abuse began in April 2020 when Singapore entered a semi-lockdown period to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Ummi became displeased at Ms Sugiyem for not wearing a headscarf, then slapped her on the face and ears repeatedly. She also used her clenched fists to hit Ms Sugiyem’s ears, which caused her left ear to swell and harden.

Ummi noticed this but did not give medical aid or take her to a doctor. Ms Sugiyem suffered a left ear deformity as a result of the assaults.

During the same incident, Ummi punched Ms Sugiyem’s eyes multiple times. The worker tried to cover her eyes with her hands, but Ummi pulled down one of her hands before continuing to punch her eyes.

Ms Sugiyem tried to use her other hand to cover her eyes to no avail.

Ummi then used her fists and various implements, such as a mobile phone and clothes hanger, to hit Ms Sugiyem’s hands, shoulders and back.

When the worker fell to the ground, Ummi pulled her up and struck her eyes again, this time using her fists and the clothes hanger.

The hanger broke from the force of Ummi’s blows.

She eventually stopped the attack and left Ms Sugiyem alone. By then, the worker had completely lost vision in her right eye.

When Ms Sugiyem told Ummi a few days later that she had become blind and asked to see a doctor, Ummi denied the request and told her that she could not return if she left the house.

She also turned down Ms Sugiyem’s suggestion to accompany her to the doctor. Ms Sugiyem did not tell anyone else about the assaults

CCTV video clips played in court showed Ms Sugiyem having to touch the flat’s walls and floor to move around. Her eyes were also shut and she crouched at certain points.

On one occasion, Ummi applied a hot iron to Ms Sugiyem’s forearm repeatedly after Ms Sugiyem accidentally burned some clothes due to her blindness. The worker did not scream or move away out of fear of her employer.


Ms Sugiyem continued performing her household chores to the best of her abilities. Ummi realised that she had become blind after instructing her to do certain household chores, but merely tapped her with a hanger to warn her against touching dirty objects.

In late October 2020, Ummi took Ms Sugiyem to Changi Airport in a wheelchair and left her there with airport personnel. She was left to find her own way home.

Ummi also handed Ms Sugiyem about S$6,000 in cash.

When Ms Sugiyem had to take a transit flight in Jakarta, Indonesia, she was forced to ask a staff member to contact her friend’s son to pick her up from Semarang Airport.

Her injuries were discovered when she returned to Semarang. She did not seek medical attention before she was flown back to Singapore to aid investigations.

She weighed about 52kg at the Indonesian embassy here on Feb 9, 2021, though she weighed 76kg when she began working for Ummi. She underwent laser surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital but her blindness was irreversible.

On Tuesday, Senior District Judge Bala Reddy told the court that Ummi inflicted "humiliating and degrading punishment" that led to Ms Sugiyem going blind.

"To make matters worse, she does not seem to show much remorse for her actions. She originally instructed (her lawyer that) the victim was not blind because she could move around the house," the judge added.

The prosecution was led by DPPs Yang and Phoebe Tan, along with Mr Houston Johannus from the Ministry of Manpower. Ummi was defended by Mr Sui Yi Siong from Harry Elias Partnership LLP.

Voluntarily causing grievous hurt carries a punishment of up to 10 years’ jail, and offenders are also liable to be fined or caned. If the crimes involve a domestic worker, offenders may receive twice the maximum punishment. 

Those convicted of ill-treating a foreign employee can be jailed for up to two years or fined up to S$20,000, or both.

For failing to pay her foreign employee on time, Ummi could have been jailed for up to a year or fined up to S$10,000, or punished with both, for each charge.

Related topics

court crime maid abuse assault

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