Singapore domestic worker tried to kill herself after repeated abuse, employer convicted

James Ong Teck Keong was found guilty of five charges of abusing his domestic worker San Pa Pa. — TODAY pic
James Ong Teck Keong was found guilty of five charges of abusing his domestic worker San Pa Pa. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 27 — The abuse started a year after San Pa Pa, a domestic worker from Myanmar, was hired by her Singaporean employer James Ong Teck Keong.

He slapped her, threw a water bottle at her and splashed hot water on her waist and arm, leaving her with a burn wound.

It came to a point where she tried to commit suicide by jumping off the ninth floor of the block of flats where they lived. Yesterday, District Judge Ong Chin Rhu convicted Ong, 47, of voluntarily causing hurt to San Pa Pa, 30.

Ong admitted to most of the acts in his police statements but claimed trial to six charges. He was convicted of five.

The judge acquitted him of hitting the domestic worker’s face and arm with rolled-up newspaper. Ong had said that he hit his wife, son and the helper lightly as a joke and his wife corroborated this.

District Judge Ong found that the prosecution did not prove this charge beyond a reasonable doubt. She declined to convict him on a reduced charge of using criminal force as there was insufficient evidence.

Even though San Pa Pa tried to kill herself the next day after she was hit with the newspaper, the judge said it did not necessarily imply that Ong had abused her earlier. The helper had stated that she was distraught over an argument with Ong’s wife about preparing clothes for the couple’s son that morning.

San Pa Pa had returned to Myanmar and could not be located to give evidence in court, so the prosecution relied on three statements she gave to the police.

District Judge Ong said that even though the statements were untested by cross-examination, due weight should be given since they were consistent with other evidence, including eight statements that Ong himself gave to the police.

He also admitted in court that he did not pay the domestic worker her salary on time and kept the money in a locked drawer for three years.

Ong will return to court on January 7 next year to be sentenced.

Hot water incident 'an accident'

During the trial, the court heard that Ong and his wife employed San Pa Pa in August 2014. She was 24 years old at the time.

Ong later began physically and verbally abusing her.

He was convicted of slapping her on three occasions — once in late 2015, twice in 2016 — and splashing hot water on her in late 2016.He had been unhappy with her attitude or her work. He was also found guilty of throwing a water bottle at her in anger shortly after the second slapping incident.

As for the hot water he splashed on her, Ong was arguing with her at the time about the temperature of the water used to make his son’s milk.

He admitted that the water “had just come off the boil” but insisted that he had accidentally splashed the water on her.

San Pa Pa could not shower or sleep properly for two weeks from the burn wound on her waist. She also could not call her mother because Ong and his wife had locked her mobile phone away in a drawer. 

Soon, she approached a fellow domestic worker in the same block to use her phone. The other worker overheard her telling her mother about the abuse and saw the wound.

More than half a year later, following another lecture by Ong’s wife, San Pa Pa tried to jump from the corridor of the block’s ninth floor.

She was restrained and taken to the police station for investigations.

In her statements to the police about the abuse, she stressed that she did not wish to pursue the matter against Ong and that he was a good person who should be given a chance.

During the trial, Ong submitted a handwritten “contract” between him and San Pa Pa, purportedly signed at an employment agency, where she had to agree to pay S$50 (RM152) to watch television.

Ong’s wife confessed to writing the contract and that the deductions were meant to scare and punish San Pa Pa.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Andre Chong and Benedict Teong said: “It is clear from these admissions by the accused and wife that the tenor of their relationship with the victim was one of fear and exploitation. They regarded the victim as a ‘kid’ or a ‘child' that they could ‘punish’ as they saw fit.”

The maximum penalty for causing hurt is up to two years’ jail and a fine of up to S$5,000.

Employers of domestic workers, or those in their household, are liable to one-and-a-half times the punishment — resulting in up to three years’ jail and a fine of up to S$7,500. — TODAY