Woman faces 80 charges of abusing her maid

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The Independent Online

A woman in Singapore is facing trial on 80 separate counts of physically abusing her domestic maid, in a case highlighting the mistreatment domestic servants suffer across much of Asia at the hands of their employers.

Sazarina Madzin is accused of punching and slapping her Indonesian maid, and poking her in the eye. She is accused of hitting her with shoes, a tomato sauce bottle, and a plastic chopping board, and pulling her hair. It took the judge half an hour to read the charges against Ms Madzin, said the Singapore newspaper, The Straits Times.

In the most serious charge, she is accused of threatening to kill her servant. For the death threat, she could face seven years in jail. For the physical assaults, she faces up to 18 months' imprisonment, and a fine of up to 1,000 Singapore dollars (£330).

Domestic servants may be largely a thing of the past in the West, but in much of Asia, from the Arab Gulf states to Indonesia, they are still common. The large populations in poorer Asian countries provide a huge supply of cheap labour, and in countries such as India all middle-class families employ servants.

In wealthy Singapore, cheap labour is imported from nearby poorer countries, mainly Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. More than 140,000 women are employed as domestic servants in Singapore. Weak labour laws mean there is little protection for domestic servants. Many are forced to work every waking hour, seven days a week. They are not allowed to use the telephone, and can leave the house only with their employer's permission, even outside working hours.

They are often paid very low wages. In Malaysia it can be as little as £60 a month. In India it is often less. Many suffer physical abuse. In one notorious case in Malaysia last year, photographs of an horrifically scarred 19-year-old Indonesian migrant working as a domestic servant appeared on the front pages of newspapers. Nirmala Bonat had repeatedly been deliberately burnt with a hot iron and scalded with boiling water by her employer's wife over five months.

The case involving Ms Madzin is the most serious case of abuse of a domestic servant to come to light in Singapore. But it is believed many cases go unreported by domestic servants who live in fear of their employers.