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Court raises man’s jail term for maid abuse; sets new sentencing framework for similar cases

SINGAPORE — A man found guilty of maid abuse saw his appeal against his conviction thrown out and had his sentence extended by 15 months, as the High Court set out a new sentencing framework for such cases.

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SINGAPORE — A man found guilty of maid abuse saw his appeal against his conviction thrown out and had his sentence extended by 15 months, as the High Court set out a new sentencing framework for such cases.

Tay Wee Kiat, 39, and his wife Chia Yun Ling, 41, were sentenced to 28 months’ and two months’ jail respectively last March by a district court for abusing their Indonesian domestic helper for a period of two years. Tay and Chia filed an appeal against their conviction, while the prosecution appealed for higher sentences for the couple.

On Friday (March 2), a panel of three judges — comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Justice See Kee Oon — found Tay’s original sentence “manifestly inadequate” and raised his jail term to 43 months. Chia’s sentence still stands at two months.

During the 14-day trial earlier, the district court heard that the couple, who have three children, subjected Ms Fitriyah to constant physical and emotional abuse when she worked for them from December 2010 to December 2012.

Tay, a former regional IT manager, accused Ms Fitriyah of breaking a religious statue, which the couple’s daughter had knocked off a cabinet. As punishment, he forced the helper to stand on a stool for half an hour on one leg while holding another stool over her head. He also stuffed an incense bottle in her mouth.

On two other occasions, he accused Ms Fitriyah of stealing his medicine and not reporting his daughter’s refusal to study. He then hit her head with a bamboo stick, and also with a bundle of three canes on a separate occasion. Chia also slapped and punched her on the forehead.

Tay made Ms Fitriyah and their other Burmese domestic helper, Ms Moe Moe Than, kneel and get up in front of a Buddhist altar 100 times, then slap each other 10 times. He also made them assume a push-up position and kicked Ms Fitriyah at her waist.

Additionally, Tay tried to bribe Ms Fitriyah by offering to pay her full salary and send her back to Indonesia, in exchange for not reporting his offences to the police. He also instructed her to lie to the police by saying he did not abuse Ms Than.

Delivering the decision on Friday, Justice See noted that psychological abuse along with physical harm characterises “egregious” instances of maid abuse, with domestic helpers being particularly vulnerable due to their circumstances. The court also takes into critical consideration “the emotional trauma resulting from psychological abuse”.

“The psychological harm and mental anguish they can suffer from being trapped in a situation of fear, abuse and oppression can be just as acute and enduring as physical harm, if not more,” Justice See added.

In dismissing the prosecution’s appeal against Chia’s sentence, Justice See said Chia had inflicted “predominantly physical” harm to Ms Fitriyah. But he noted Tay’s sentence was manifestly inadequate, given the degree of psychological and physical harm the employer had caused the helper.

In their written judgement, the three judges pointed out the “humiliating and degrading” nature of the abuse, especially for a Muslim like Ms Fitriyah and a Christian like Ms Than, who were made to bow before a Buddhist altar.

“Although Tay had no past convictions, the number and frequency of the attacks show that he was habitual and unrestrained in his abuse,” the judgement read.

To that end, the High Court set out a sentencing framework for cases of maid abuse.

If the abuse was mainly physical, the court should consider the degree of harm, as well as the aggravating and mitigating factors, in deciding on the appropriate sentence. If the abuse was both physical and psychological, the court then needs to identify the degree of harm caused in relation to each charge.

The court should then adjust the sentence for each charge in light of aggravating factors — such as preventing the victim from getting help — and mitigating circumstances, such as cooperating with the authorities.

Following that, the court should then decide which sentences to run consecutively, taking into account the duration and frequency of the abuse.

The High Court also set out indicative ranges corresponding to the degree of harm caused:

Tay and Chia are currently on trial for abusing Ms Than. The panel of three judges granted their application to remain being out on bail till the trial is over later this year. They will serve their sentences after the other has completed his or her jail term, as they have their children to care for.

Chief Justice Menon also ordered Tay and Chia to pay compensation to Ms Fitriyah, but the amount will be decided subsequently. Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck asked for a higher sum from Tay, “given the duration of psychological harm” he had caused.

Related topics

jail court crime domestic helper abuse

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