Tag Archives: repatriation

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


Repatriated without due process

Gita*, who comes from a rural village in India does not speak much English. But as the main breadwinner for her family, she decided to apply for a job as a domestic worker in Singapore. Gita worked for her Singapore employer for a year, but was not very happy. One day, according to Gita, her employer slapped her and twisted her arm. Gita told her employer that he had to stop this abusive behaviour, or else she would report him to MOM. A day later, he put her on a plane back to India.

Still in need of money, Gita decided to put her experience behind her and return to Singapore to work for another employer. She got her ‘In Principal Approval (IPA) from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and boarded the flight the Singapore. When she handed over her documents at customs, the Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority took her aside. Gita was handcuffed and arrested.

Gita struggled to understand what was happening to her. She was being accused of using her employer’s credit card without permission. The amount that she allegedly stole is unclear. Gita admits to having handled the card given to her by her employer to buy groceries, and some personal items. She insists that she had permission to do so, and that the money she spent for herself was deducted from her salary. It is Gita’s word against her employer’s.

Gita stayed in HOME’s shelter while investigations continued. Gita was not charged, but was this week instead issued with a ‘Letter of Warning’. The letter was written in English, and stated that investigations had been completed and that the police had decided that ‘a stern warning would be administered to [Gita] in lieu of prosecution.’ Gita was told to sign the letter. According to her, it was only translated into Tamil after she had signed it.

HOME has met many domestic workers and foreign workers whose work permits were revoked even though they have not been convicted for any wrongdoing but were issued a warning letter which they were unable to challenge. These workers are usually not allowed to return to Singapore to work. Gita was not given any information about the reasons for the warning letter or her options to appeal it.

Foreign workers’ entitlement to due judicial process has been the subject of discussion in the past. In the context of the Little India riots in 2013, the Ministry of Law stated “a foreign national who is subject to repatriation… has no right under our laws to challenge the repatriation order in court.” However, when such repatriation is based on evidence that is not independently tested by a court, and carries consequences similar to a criminal conviction (such as a ban on returning to Singapore to work), is it right that a worker who maintains her innocence would not be given the opportunity to defend herself?

Gita has less than a week to leave Singapore. As she has not been able to work and make any money in Singapore, HOME is raising the money for her ticket back to India.

To help HOME help Gita and people like her, please donate to our fund for repatriating migrant workers in distress here. Include the name ‘Gita’ in the comment field.

* Gita’s name has been changed to protect her privacy

She slaved away for nothing

photo 2-3

Maria Luisa, a domestic worker from the Philippines, stayed sixteen months at our HOME shelter waiting for MOM to help her recover two years’ worth of salary (she says it was about S$9,000) owed to her by her employer. As her employer has declared bankruptcy, she has been informed that she will be sent home to the Philippines – with nothing.

A family friend from Maria Luisa’s hometown in the Philippines was married to a Singaporean, and ran a restaurant in Katong. She offered to hire Maria Luisa and bring her – and her son – over to Singapore. Maria Luisa trusted her friend, and arrived in Singapore in early 2009. For almost four years, she worked in the couple’s restaurant – delivering food, preparing sauces, and serving tables – for fifteen-hour shifts at time, seven days a week, for $400 a month.

As her employers were friends of her family, Maria Luisa placed her trust in them and did not know that she should not be working in the restaurant. Her son remained in the Philippines; the promise to bring him over unfulfilled. Maria Luisa has not seen her son since she arrived in Singapore more than five years ago.

Maria Luisa’s employers treated her well at first, buying her jewellery for her birthday and new clothes for Chinese New Year. But they stopped paying her salary sometime in 2011. She was told that there was no money to pay her. But Maria Luisa saw the restaurant still running, and other bills being paid. She repeatedly asked for money to send to her school-going son, but was always rebuffed – even on the happy occasion of her son’s graduation from elementary school.

She couldn’t sleep, and often shed tears worrying that she had nothing to send back to her sister who was caring for her son and their parents. But she continued to work, hoping and trusting that her employers would be touched by her dedication.

“They kept telling me that they would pay me, so I just waited and waited. Sometimes I was too scared to ask them.

In March 2013, two years after her salary payments stopped, Maria Luisa finally filed a complaint with MOM. She was referred to the HOME shelter, and stayed there on a special pass during the on-going investigations.

After sixteen long months, the long-awaited call from MOM came. Maria Luisa’s employer had declared bankruptcy. The MOM officer said it would be too difficult to demand the owed salary from them. MOM was closing the case, and sending her home within 10 days. Maria Luisa broke down.

“How can I go home without any money, after waiting for three long years? I cannot accept it.”

Maria Luisa’s employer has pleaded guilty to several charges of failing to pay her and for illegal deployment, and has been jailed for six weeks as a result. But this is cold comfort for Maria Luisa, who now returns to the Philippines with nothing to show for three years of lost time. While she is happy to finally see her son, it is a bittersweet reunion because of her inability to contribute to her family’s finances.

“I’m not angry with them. But I can’t help but cry every night because I have nothing to bring back to my family.”

photo 1-3

Maria Luisa’s story was featured on the front page of The New Paper on Wednesday 23 July 2014.