Tag Archives: Law

Finding the father: Rohini’s quest for justice

Rohini*, a domestic worker from Sri Lanka, met Sandeep, a Singaporean of Tamil descent, on the Internet. They chatted frequently, and Sandeep courted Rohini, wowing her with promises of love and marriage, and a good life in Singapore. When they finally met in real life, Rohini fell in love.

‘Day by day he was closer to my heart, and gave me hope of marriage.’

One day, Sandeep told Rohini he would like her to meet his parents. Happy to meet her prospective in-laws, Rohini followed Sandeep to his family home, only to find the parents absent. There, Sandeep argued forcefully that since they were getting married soon, they should consummate the relationship. Rohini preferred to wait, but eventually gave in.

A few weeks later Rohini found out she was pregnant. Sandeep was happy when he heard the news, renewed his promises of marriage, and took her to see a doctor. As Rohini was struggling with her tasks as a domestic worker, he suggested she go back to her parents in Sri Lanka to rest, for the benefit of the child. Sandeep sent her some money, but not nearly enough to support an expecting mother. She had to borrow money to pay her medical bills. Last November, Rohini gave birth to a little girl, Marika.

‘It is difficult to live in this society with a fatherless baby.’

Soon after Marika was born, Rohini never heard from Sandeep again. His number had been disconnected. Being a single mother is not easy in a conservative society like Sri Lanka, especially as Rohini’s family is poor. With a young baby to take care of, Rohini could not find a new job to pay off her loans. She decided to return to Singapore to find the child’s father and force him to take responsibility for her. Rohini filed a case with the Singapore Family Court for maintenance for his daughter.

‘My intention is to find him, marry him, and give my innocent daughter her father’s protection and love.’

Rohini still had hopes to marry Sandeep. But when the Court tracked him down, it turned out Sandeep had a wife already. HOME arranged for Rohini to be assisted by a pro bono lawyer, and eventually a financial settlement was agreed on.

‘If he rejects to marry me, I have no choice expect asking him for compensation.’

Rohini is happy with the outcome of the case. Even though she has not managed to convince Sandeep to marry her, her immediate financial problems are now solved. But she still has to face the shame of being a single mother, and raise her daughter alone. Just before being driven to the airport by Sandeep, she told HOME she was glad about her ‘happy ending.’

‘I am happy, I can give my daughter a future now.’

Rohini did not realise that under Singapore law, domestic workers are not allowed to marry Singaporean men without authorisation from the government. Pregnancy results in immediate deportation, and domestic workers often feel pressured to undergo abortion just to keep their jobs.

Rather than repatriate foreign domestic workers when they become pregnant, Hong Kong grants ten weeks of maternity leave to those that choose to return to work after they give birth. In this way the mothers can provide for their young children, which is especially important if they are a single parent.

Even if their partners are willing to ‘do the right thing’ and take responsibility for their actions, Singapore law does not encourage them to do so. Authorisation to get married is difficult to obtain, and living together unmarried is not socially accepted in many communities.

The result is that these children are likely to grow up in poverty, with a mother that is ostracised by society, and sometimes even rejected by her own family. It is in the best interest of the child that fathers are held accountable for their children’s upkeep.

During her stay in Singapore Rohini stayed at the HOME shelter, and was assisted with legal advice, a pro bono lawyer and supplies for her baby. Help HOME help others like her by donating at http://www.home.org.sg/give/donate.html.

* Rohini and Sandeep’s names have been changed to protect their privacy

Law and You: Legal education starts at HOME

 By Sneha Gupta

In 2014, I was part of a team of dedicated NUS Law students who worked closely with HOME to develop a series of workshops aimed at educating foreign domestic workers about their rights under Singapore law. Focusing particularly on employment and criminal law, the workshops sparked a dialogue between the NUS team and the workers about the difference between law on the books, and law in practice.

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The aim of the workshops was to empower foreign domestic workers by improving their understanding of the Singapore legal framework. We wanted to give workers a platform to discuss issues that they confront in their work and lives order to help the workers feel more confident about their position in Singapore. One of the big challenges for us was to explain the relevant law in a manner that was both simple and engaging and to take into account the divide that sometimes arises between law in theory and law in practice in Singapore.

Over four sessions, we talked with a group of around 20 domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia about employment issues like contracts, illegal deployment, salary deductions, rest days, safety issues, transfer and repatriation. We also discussed criminal law and procedure with the guidance of Josephus Tan, Associate Director at Fortis Law. What was especially noteworthy was the fact that the information flowed both ways— we learned a lot from the workers and were impressed by their creative ways of resolving the issues that had arisen for them.

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The NUS team felt gratified with the positive feedback after the sessions and an email from one participant thanking us for our passionate involvement. This project widened our perception of FDWs and their problems. It entailed a steep learning curve, as we were involved in all stages of preparation and presentation of the course. We came to appreciate the close relationship between law and society and how a little knowledge conveyed over a few sessions can go a long distance in making workers feel more secure in their workplaces.

Moving forward, we have realised that there is a need to reach out to foreign domestic workers who cannot take a day off to attend these sessions, as well as those who speak other languages. We plan to create an online portal to allow workers to access the answers to commonly asked questions about their rights and responsibilities living and working in Singapore.

To support HOME and NUS’s project to expand the reach of the Law & You course, please get in touch or make a donation here (www.sggives.org/home), specifying “Law & You” in the comment field.

HOME would like to thank NUS Law students Sneha, Jude, Daniel, Zhi Ying, Amelia, Sanjana and Yi Zhen and Professors Jaclyn and Sheila for their commitment and contribution to the project.