SINGAPORE — Unable to tolerate a year of continuous physical abuse, including having hot water splashed onto her, a domestic helper attempted to commit suicide by jumping from height.
San Pa Pa, a Myanmar national, was restrained by the wife of her tormentor and another domestic helper. The incidents of abuse experienced by her were later investigated by the police.
James Ong Teck Keong, 48, was sentenced to 10 months and 12 weeks’ jail on Thursday (7 January) following a trial, for which he was convicted on three counts of voluntarily causing hurt, one count of causing hurt with a weapon, and one count of committing a rash act which endangered the victim’s safety.
Following the close of the trial, he was acquitted of a single count of hitting the then 24-year-old maid’s face and arm with a rolled-up newspaper in June 2017.
San Pa Pa began working for Ong’s family from August 2014 and left in July 2017. A year into her employment, Ong began abusing her as he was upset over the quality of her work.
Between late-2015 and 2016, he slapped the maid face three times. During one incident, Ong thought that the maid had been rude to him and slapped her cheek with the back of one hand.
In another incident, Ong was upset that the maid had failed to pick up the phone when he called. He was dissatisfied with her explanation that she was bathing the baby. He slapped her again before throwing a filled water bottle at her. The bottle missed her.
The third time, Ong slapped the maid after finding a dirty spot in the kitchen even after the victim had cleaned it.
Towards the end of 2016, after a dispute about the temperature of the water used to make his son’s milk, Ong splashed hot water onto San Pa Pa’s waist and left arm. He did so after the maid disagreed that the water in the kettle was hot.
Ong’s wife testified in court that the maid’s skin blistered and later broke open. The maid sustained a burn wound on her left waist and was unable to shower or sleep properly for two weeks.
As Ong had locked her mobile phone away, the maid was unable to call her mother. She approached a fellow maid, who lived nearby, for help to call home. The fellow maid, Htay Win, saw the victim’s burn scar.
On 14 July 2017, San Pa Pa tried to commit suicide by jumping off the corridor on the ninth floor of the block where she stayed. She was restrained and brought to the police station to be investigated.
While the victim had left Singapore and could not be located, her two statements, recorded on 14 July 2017 and 4 October 2017, were admitted to court. She also submitted a victim impact statement on 4 September 2018.
The prosecution sought a jail term of at least 16 months, citing how the victim was subjected to other abusive conduct by Ong and his wife.
Apart from locking her phone in a drawer, the couple withheld her salary for a prolonged period and threatened to make unreasonable deductions from her salary. They frequently shouted at San so loudly that Htay Win would hear the noise and San’s cries two floors away.
Mitigating for their client, lawyers Ng Yuan Sheng and Lalwani Anil Mangan said that Ong had to take daily injections for diabetes, and so a jail term would be detrimental to his health.
Ng added that his family was dependent on him for financial support.
For voluntarily causing hurt, Ong could have been jailed up to three years, or with a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. For voluntarily causing hurt with a weapon, he could have been jailed up to seven years, or fined, or caned, or with any combination of the penalties. For committing a rash act, he could have been jailed up to six months, or fined up to $2,500, or both.
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