Singapore Merlion
Singapore's Merlion Reuters

A Singaporean couple are facing possible jail terms for allegedly failing to provide for their former Filipino domestic worker with adequate food, resulting in her losing 20kg (44 pounds) to only 29kg (63 pounds) over a 15 month period. Thelma Oyasan Gawidan claims that she was fed only instant noodles and bread twice a day.

Her former employer, Singaporean Lim Choon Hong, a trader, and his wife Chong Sui Foon, a housewife, both 47, are facing a charge each under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act which states that employers are responsible for the 'maintenance' of their foreign employee, which includes providing them with adequate food.

Gawidan, 40, worked for the couple for nearly one and a half years before she escaped and sought refuge at HOME, non-profit organisation that helps migrant workers, including domestic helpers. She told the NGO that she was only given noodles twice a day for over a year and fed bread on some occasions.

She was also only allowed to shower once or twice a week, with Chong keeping tabs on her to ensure she did not use any hot water, despite forcing her to shower in the apartment block's public toilet, the investigation officer Christina Quek told the court.

Dr Lim Huiyu, a senior resident at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, told the court that Gawidan had suffered from "significant weight loss due to insufficient intake of food," after ruling out medical or organic causes. She was so malnourished that Gawidan did not have her period for a year, Dr Lim added.

Gawidan told the court that even when the couple took their three children to stay at the Raffles Hotel, they packed instant noodles and bread for her. "I became skinny. I didn't recognise myself when I looked in the mirror." She said she felt weak in general and that after a while, her hair started dropping. Her period stopped a month after she started work for the couple.

If found guilty the couple could be jailed up to 12 months and or fined up to 10,000 sgd. (£4,675, €6,434, $7,091).