S'porean family of 3 jailed for abusing domestic worker by stabbing her & using heated iron

They were also ordered to compensate her over S$20,000.

Syahindah Ishak | March 10, 2023, 04:51 PM

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A Singaporean family— comprising Tan Huat, 70, his wife Tan Ai Tee, 68, and their 46-year-old daughter Tan Pei Ling— were each sentenced to jail on Mar. 7 for physically abusing their domestic worker.

A district court handed Tan Huat three weeks' jail after he admitted to one charge of voluntarily causing hurt to a domestic worker.

Ai Tee, sentenced to nine months' jail, pleaded guilty to a more serious charge of voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, while another two charges were taken into consideration.

Pei Ling faced the most charges — five in total. She pleaded guilty to two charges of voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means, with the remaining charges taken into consideration, and the judge sentenced her to 20 months' jail.

According to court documents, Tan was a Grab driver and part-time mover, Ai Tee was unemployed, and Pei Ling was an events manager.

They lived together with Pei Ling's teenage son and her younger brother.

The women were never satisfied with her work

The family employed Heni Rahayu on Jan. 13, 2020. She was 27, and it was her first time working in Singapore.

Heni's job scope included household chores such as cleaning, cooking, washing, and ironing clothes.

She usually started her work at about 6:00am and often got to bed between 2:00am and 4:00am as she was required to complete her chores before sleeping.

Heni could only communicate with Tan as she was only fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, and Tan spoke Malay.

However, she had difficulty communicating with Ai Tee and Pei Ling, who were the ones who mostly oversaw her work.

After working for about a week, Heni informed Tan that she wished to return to the agency as she felt that Ai Tee and Pei Ling were never satisfied with her work performance.

The start of the physical abuse

After sharing her concerns with Tan, the family started physically abusing Heni.

Ai Tee began hitting Heni whenever they felt unsatisfied with her housework.

Once, Ai Tee knocked her head using her fist. Another time, she used a plastic pail to hit Heni's head and body.

Eventually, Pei Ling also began abusing Heni and had used a plastic chair and a metal pole to hit her.

Tan also slapped Heni in June 2020 on one occasion because he claimed she didn't reply Ai Tee and Pei Ling when they were talking to her.

Pierced her right hand with a knife

Sometime between April and June 2020, Heni was cutting vegetables with a knife in the kitchen when Ai Tee scolded her for being too slow.

Ai Tee then snatched the knife, which had a 10cm-long blade, and pierced the back of Heni's right hand near the wrist.

Heni's hand began to bleed, and Ai Tee sought help from Pei Ling.

However, they did not bring her to a doctor; instead, Ai Tee used tissue paper to stop the bleeding while Pei Ling applied antiseptic medication.

The wound left a scar over Heni's right wrist.

Splashed hot coffee on her

In another incident on Jul. 23, 2020 at about 2:30am, Heni was still doing household chores that she had to complete before sleeping.

As she was hungry and sleepy, she went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of hot coffee.

Pei Ling entered the kitchen and became angry at Heni for "stealing" the coffee.

Out of anger, Pei Ling snatched the cup of hot coffee and splashed it onto Heni's face and body.

Pei Ling then instructed Heni to iron all the clothes in the living room and said that if she did not complete the ironing by 5:00am, she would not be allowed to sleep or have any meals.

Used heated iron to abuse her

At about 4:00am, Heni was still ironing the clothes in the living room.

Pei Ling approached her and asked if the iron was hot enough. Even though Heni replied that it was hot, Pei Ling suddenly became angry.

She picked up the heated iron and placed it on Heni's right forearm for about one to two seconds, causing a burn mark.

After that, she pulled Heni by her hair until she fell backwards and hit a wall.

While Heni was on the ground, Pei Ling stepped on her back three times.

Neighbour called police

A neighbour called the police when he heard shouting, saying he suspected his neighbour was ill-treating their domestic worker.

The police arrived at the unit around 6:00am, and Heni was conveyed to Sengkang General Hospital's emergency department.

After examination, a doctor found that Heni had sustained bruises, swelling, tenderness, burn marks, scars, abrasions and lacerations all over her body.

Ordeal "truly harrowing" for victim

Deputy Public Prosecutor Derek Ee said the ordeal on that fateful morning was "truly harrowing" for the victim.

"She had stayed up the entire night doing house chores but was abused and punished by Pei Ling throughout the night," Ee said.

The prosecutor said Heni did not inform Tan or his other family members of the abuses as she felt they would not help her, especially since Ai Tee and Pei Ling were his family members.

Additionally, Heni could not reach out to her agency for help as she was not allowed access to any forms of communication.

She also had no off days and was not allowed to leave the house alone.

Family ordered to pay compensation

Tan began serving his sentence on Mar. 7 and was ordered to pay S$500 in compensation.

Ai Tee was ordered to pay S$2,500 in compensation, while Pei Ling was ordered to pay S$20,000.

The judge allowed them to begin their sentence on Apr. 3.

LawSoc president says Singaporeans do not think "in the right way"

In a LinkedIn post on Mar. 8, Singaporean lawyer and president of the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) Adrian Tan highlighted the case, calling attention to the ill-treatment she endured.

He said that Heni’s case "isn’t [even] the worst example of [domestic worker] abuse".

He added: "[Domestic workers] have been maimed and even killed by their employers. As a nation, we have a blind spot when it comes to [domestic workers]."

Tan felt that Singaporeans do not think about domestic workers "in the right way".

"We entrust [domestic workers] with the most precious elements of our lives: our homes, our children, our parents and ourselves. We want our [domestic workers] to take good care of us. Yet, we don't take good care of them." Tan said.

Tan suggested having a "simple standard national contract" for domestic workers, which contains basic terms such as stipulated hours of works and breaks, overtime pay, and access to a handphone.

"If Singaporeans have a more professional relationship with their [domestic workers], they will start treating them a lot better," he explained.

Top image via Pixabay.