Tag Archives: shelter

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

Sent away for being hit

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Eva (not her real name), a domestic worker from Indonesia, is staying at the HOME shelter in Batam, Indonesia. She would like to be working as a domestic worker in Singapore, but her previous employers forced her to leave the country. Despite abusing Eva physically and verbally, Eva’s employers were able to cancel her work permit, which meant that she could not stay in Singapore. With HOME’s help, Eva travelled to Batam, where she is trying to arrange to return to Singapore.

Eva had worked as a domestic worker in Singapore for many years. She took up her latest assignment in August 2013, taking care of a family with two young children. Her new employer was very particular about things such as the way vegetables were chopped, or the arrangement of jars in the cupboard. Small misunderstandings soon led to scolding and verbal abuse. Eva was also punished for mistakes by her employer reducing the hours that Eva could spend outside the house on her day off, and holding back her wages. The employer threatened Eva that they would send her back to Indonesia, or that they would hit her.

One day this threat became a reality. After she made a mistake, Eva was hit on her arms with a wooden spoon and slapped on the face by the employer. Once she was hit, Eva knew she had to leave the house. She had actually made up her mind months ago that she wanted to leave and look for another employer. However, in spite of having offers from other employers, Eva couldn’t accept any offer as her employer had refused to sign a release form.

In Singapore, migrant workers are tied to their employers by their work pass. Employers can cancel the worker’s work permit and send them home at any time. The foreign worker, on the other hand does not have the option to quit, unless her employer agrees to release her, either to go home or to transfer to another employer.

Eva left her employer’s house and reported the abuse she had suffered to the Ministry of Manpower and the Police, but decided not to press charges with the Police, as she wanted to move on and find a new job to support her family. Investigation by the police could take a long time, and in the meanwhile Eva would be unlikely to have been allowed to work and support her family. In the meantime, the employer cancelled her work permit. Eva had to leave the country..

The fact that migrant workers in Singapore do not have the right not to switch employers encourages exploitation, and forced labour. It makes abuse hard to fight. The difficulties encountered by workers like Eva to change employers, act as a disincentive for workers to report abuses by their employer. They feel they need to endure bad conditions in order to keep their job.

Eva is still in Batam, waiting for arrangements with a new employer to be finalised.

The business of making money from ‘maids’

By Jessel

Jessel is a domestic worker from the Philippines currently staying at the HOME shelter. She shares with us her story of her agent, who when she complained about having been deceived with a false contract, send Jessel a text message stating ‘I told you before my business is making money’.

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‘Getting married at an early age is quite difficult. At 19, I gave birth to my eldest daughter, and the following year to my second. Life was hard with my husband having no permanent work. So I decided to apply for work abroad, in Singapore. Applying to work in another country takes time, money and patience. My first attempt failed and I had no choice but to stay with my family. I gave birth to my third and fourth child.

At that point, life got even harder. When my youngest son turned two I decided to apply again to work in Singapore. I had to pay six months of salary to the agent, but my employer let me pay small deductions every month. I was lucky, my employers were good people. I felt at home with them, even if I did not have any days off and they did not allow me a handphone. The first three months were hard. I missed my children. I cried a lot. But I got through that, as my family in Singapore was treating me well. After two years, my contract finished, and I had to find another employer. I did not go home to take a vacation because I wanted to earn money. To transfer I had to pay two months of salary to the agent again.

My second employers were good people too. They treated me as family. When my mam gave birth, I felt like I was having a baby too. After a year and a half, I made a mistake that I regret badly. I decided to go back home. My mam wanted me to stay, and I am now very sorry she agreed to send me home.

Life back home was difficult, as I did not have any income and could not provide for my four kids. I felt so down. I applied for a job in Singapore again. Processing went very fast and after only one month I was back in Singapore. I was very shocked when the agent told me seven months of my salary were going to be deducted as an agent fee. I did not get to see my contract until I had been working for the new employer for three weeks already. By that time I had little choice but to sign it. I felt that I had been fooled. Why had they not told me this when I was still in my own country? They had said that because I had worked in Singapore before, I would be a direct hire and would only get four months of salary deductions, spread out over a longer period. I had trusted them to tell the truth. Another mistake.

This time, I had left for Singapore together with a friend, through the same agency. My friend’s contract stated she would pay four months of salary deductions, and that they were going to be spread out over ten months, just like we were promised. Me, I would not have any money to send home to my family for seven months.

I asked my agent, who had turned out to be my mam’s sister, why my loan was so much higher than my friends. The agent said my friend was different, but when I asked why, she would not answer me. Neither did she answer me when I asked to go home. When I told the agent I was very disappointed in her, she texted me back, saying: ‘I told you before my business is making money.’

I thought I was very strong. I thought I had patience. But now, I started to feel unhappy with my work. Every time my mam raised her voice to her kids, every time I even saw her, I felt nervous. I could not fight the thoughts anymore about my own kids, now I could not send them any money. If I can’t send any money to my kids, they will starve. I was worrying so much I could not work properly. I felt depressed. I wanted to go home. That is why I ran away .’

HOME has managed to negotiate a reduction of Jessel’s agency fee, and she is hoping to find a new employer soon. It is common for domestic workers to find upon arrival in Singapore that agent’s fees are higher than agreed. Since contracts are either substituted, or not signed until after they have arrived at their employer’s house, domestic workers find they have little choice but to accept the new conditions.

 Singapore’s Employment Agencies Act stipulates that agencies are allowed to charge a maximum of two months salary as a fee to foreign workers entering Singapore, yet most workers end up with a debt that is much higher, either knowingly or unknowingly. Singaporean agencies justify charging higher fees by claiming it is not a debt but a loan, or by claiming that they are merely asking workers to pay off fees charged by agencies overseas, for which they have no responsibility.

The Philippines government regulations stipulate that domestic workers should not be charged any agency fee. By allowing agencies to charge up to 8 months salary, and more in some instances, the Singapore government has contravened its own laws and also violated the Philippine government’s regulations.

‘A maid strong as a tree’ by Marylin

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Marylin (not her real name) is a domestic worker from the Philippines. During a story writing class for women staying the HOME shelter, Marylin wrote about the problems she faced with her employer. She ran away because she could no longer stand the treatment she received. Marylin is currently waiting to find out whether she can transfer to another employer, or needs to return home to the Philippines.

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During the phone interview, when I was still in my country, my employer told me about her family: she said that she was married and had three kids. But when I arrived in their house, I was shocked because there were so many members of the family in the house, which means more people to take care of. More than she mentioned during the phone interview. But even still, I had to accept it and stay, because I was already there.

They let me sleep in the living room without a blanket. I had to hand-wash all the clothes, everyday, hand-mop the floors, and iron everything. I needed to wake up very early to do all this work, with no rest at all until late at night. They did not give me enough food. Every day I felt hungry, until my cousin sometimes bought me food. I thought that if I stayed with them longer and worked harder, they would change, but they did not.

Every time they yelled at me I stayed very humble, obedient, and I did not answer back at all. But I am a human so I do get hurt. I am not a tree that bends and sways, and needs only air and water for survival. Sometimes, if a very strong wind comes, even the tree gets uprooted or the branches will break. How much more will this wind do to a human?

If you throw a bone for a dog to catch, the dog needs to run before catching it, and he does it happily. There is always proper food for a dog, sometimes more than for a human.

Maids, helpers; they will not run away if their employers treat them as a human.