Happenings

MAID ABUSE: One Christian’s response

Nov 2002    

IN ORDER to work in Singapore as a domestic help for a two-year period, an Indonesian woman has to fork out 7 million rupiahs (S$1,400) to a maid agency.

However, she does not come out with the cash upfront. The moment she lands in Singapore, the family whom she will be assigned to pays the agency the $1,400. In addition the agency charges the family a handling fee of $500. You will see that in the end the agency emerges the risk-free winner in this game for the family also has to post a $5,000 security deposit with the Government, an amount which will be forfeited if the family fails to repatriate the maid at the end of her employment period. In addition, each month the family has to pay a foreign worker levy of $345 to the Government.

The family then pays the maid a salary of $230 a month. However, the maid does not get to see any money until after six months later when the amount of $1,400 has been totally deducted from her monthly salary.

The family then pays the maid a salary of $230 a month. However, the maid does not get to see any money until after six months later when the amount of $1,400 has been totally deducted from her monthly salary.

On top of that, many families also deduct another $600 from the maid – the amount is supposedly for the purchase of an air ticket for the maid to return to Indonesia if she gets sacked or if she is unable to complete her two-year term due to one reason or another. If she completes the two-year term, the amount of $600 is supposed to be returned to her.

Indonesian maids do not get a good life – they get paid less than Filipino maids, they work long hours, have no days off, and are sometimes given only instant noodle for food. (I’ve heard people say “Oh, Indonesian maids? They are relatively low-maintenance types. One fried egg and a plate of rice would make them happy.”)

Oftentimes they suffer physical and other abuse.

Recently 47-year old Ng Hua Chye physically abused his 19-year old Indonesian maid Muawanatul Chasanah until she died. Ng was jailed and caned. Why do Indonesian women subject themselves to such treatment?

Nearly two-thirds of Indonesia’s total population of 210 million are living below the poverty line. Get this right — 140 million Indonesians live below the poverty line. They earn US$1 (S$1.75) or less a day. More than 2 million Indonesian children under the age of five are malnourished.

It appears that slavery is alive and well in modern Singapore. How should Christians respond? I cannot speak for others but here are my thoughts:

Nothing is a more powerful evangelical tool than the way you live your life. At home, your maid sees you as you are, warts and all. How Christian are you at home? Are you, who enjoy God’s generosity and blessings, magnanimous and kind – and above all, human and humane?

Remember the Golden Rule. And the Golden Rule is not “He who has the gold makes the rules!” It is called the Golden Rule because it was indeed a teaching of the law – see Leviticus 19:15. The Golden Rule states “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31).

Some at Covenant Community Methodist Church have chosen to refer to maids as “home helpers” – the deliberate use of this term and the accompanying shift in perception may make some people be more conscious of what the maid’s role really is. Indeed, your maid is not a slave but a human being with needs, feelings, hurts and pains and she is here as your help.

Be realistic as to the quality and amount of help she is able to render in a culture totally alien from her own and while she is still brokenhearted over having to leave her family – surely you cannot expect her to take over your parenting and tutoring.n Each time there is a non-equitable relationship – such as in the employer-maid situation where the maid is in reality quite helpless and powerless (and most come from rather non-confrontational cultures, a factor which works against their favour) – there is a tendency for the dark side of human beings to emerge. Such is the sinful nature of men — and women. Indeed, we seem to hear more of vicious attacks of maids committed by women. When we see or have reasons to even suspect abuse, we should not just go away and pray but we should do something about it. As Christians we should be good citizens too and being socially responsible is certainly part of good citizenship. Being socially responsible does not always mean minding your own business.

Accept the maid as someone who is now a part of your family life – ask about her family; every so often, ask to find out if everything’s all right. Remember significant dates in her life such as her birthday, wedding anniversary, etc. Celebrating your own birthday? Include her in the celebration. Check if she needs help sending stuff home. Small gestures go a long way and are edifying.

Go to bed every night, and wake up every morning with these two verses in your mind – Hebrews 13:1-2: “Continue to love each other with true Christian love. Be not forgetful to show hospitality to strangers: for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Would you let an angel sleep on the kitchen floor? Would you let an angel eat only instant noodle? Would you shout at an angel? Would you exclude an angel from celebrations at home?

Finally, it is so easy to read this, make your comments and then move on with your own issues. There are about 150,000 foreign workers in Singapore and there are more than 350,000 Christians here. There are ample opportunities for us to make a difference.

Some may think that our being kind may be misinterpreted by others that we are weaklings.

But we should not forget that when God sent His Son to die for us, He did this out of His unconditional love for us. When we care for others, we may feel that we are making ourselves vulnerable and may be taken advantage of – if God had felt this way, none of us would ever be saved.

“Let’s not forget to be the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14).

Dr Michael Toon-Seng Loh is a member of Covenant Community Methodist Church.

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