MAIDS IN SINGAPORE: HARD WORK, ABUSE, LACK OF RIGHTS AND FALLING FROM WINDOWS

MAIDS IN SINGAPORE:

There are 214,500 foreign women—with about half of them from Indonesia and others mostly from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India—working as domestic workers such as full-time, live-in nannies, cleaners and cooks in Singapore (2013). This up from 140,000 in 2001 and 50,000 in 1990. In the early 2000s, every seventh home had live-in domestic help. Now one in five do. At that time a typical domestic worker was paid about $200 a month plus room and board for cooking, cleaning, washing and looking after children and the elderly. In some cases their employers are hardly ever home and they act as quasi-parents.

Hilary Whiteman of CNN wrote: “Just over 200,000 maids, or foreign domestic workers (FDW), live and work in one in six households in Singapore, according to migrant advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). They came in large numbers in the 1980s when the government encouraged more women and highly skilled workers into the economy, creating the need for more help at home and the money to pay for it. Since then, the city-state has come to rely so much upon its imported help that the government is struggling to balance the demands of its local population with criticism that it's doing too little to protect workers' rights. [Source: Hilary Whiteman, CNN, October 31, 2011]

Many maids are from Indonesia. In September 2003, the Singapore government began requiring Singapore-bound Indonesian maids to enter the country at only place, Batam Island, so the government could monitor them better. Brochures offered by the Philippine government to potential overseas workers bound for Singapore say, "good behavior means it: the maid...will not become pregnant."

Arrangement Between Singapore Maids and Their Employers

Hilary Whiteman of CNN wrote: “The list of house rules make it clear what one Singaporean working mother expects of her new maids. "You cannot choose your food... I will decide the type of food to buy for you. You cannot use the washing machine or dryer... you must hand wash your own clothes and bed sheets. And if (the children) fall down, it's your fault.""Tamarind," as she's known, lists the rules on her blog, which is advertised as "primarily for employers who have suffered at the hands of bad maids." She says her maids aren't punished, if they break the rules, but firm guidance is needed early on. [Source: Hilary Whiteman, CNN, October 31, 2011 ^*^]

“Tamarind gives her current maid two days off a month and doesn't believe the law should be changed. "In Singapore, most Chinese husbands do not help with house work and children. If all maids have a day off every week that would mean that full-time working mothers have no rest at all," she told CNN. She adds: "Maids are not as vulnerable as you think. Many maids will agree to a contract with no day off at first. Then a few months later they ask for a day off; otherwise, they will ask to transfer to a new employer." "Many people think that maids are forced to work with one employer due to the contract. The truth is that the contract is useless," she says. ^*^

“Tamarind says her maid would prefer to earn extra money than take a day off -- something Human Rights Watch says only underscores how little domestic workers are paid. "They're being paid so little that they can't even afford to take off that one day a week," Varia says, adding, "A lot of them are doing this to survive and to support their families back home."^*^

“Nining Djohar worked for three years as a maid in Singapore before she was allowed a day off. And even then it was only after she changed employers. "Of course I am very tired and I can not tell about anything. Three months after going with my employer I wanted to go out. Because the house is so big, there are two children also, two babies. Then after that... yell yell yell, everything is wrong. I try to call my agency, but the agency is no more," she says. ^*^

Conditions have improved since Djohar left Singapore in 2003, with the introduction of the standard contract in 2006. Djohar now works for Migrant Care in Jakarta, helping other Indonesian women to navigate the system. "All of the people ask me one thing; one day off every Sunday," she says. ^*^

Human Rights and Singaporean Maids

Kate Hodal wrote in The Guardian, “Many of Singapore's domestic workers are hired as full-time, live-in nannies, cleaners and cooks, with the majority hailing from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. Seven-day weeks and 14-hour days are common, a report last year found, with only 12 percent of domestic helpers currently getting a day off each week. Runaways, violence, accidents and suicide are not uncommon, and physical and psychological abuse by Singaporean employers – who rate among the richest in the world – has been well documented. [Source: Kate Hodal, The Guardian, March 6, 2012]

"What's really striking is that Singapore has done a good job of addressing cases of physical and sexual abuse against domestic workers... but they have really fallen behind the norm in terms of not including these workers under the labor law and considering them as workers," Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch. "It's something Singapore should feel really embarrassed about." [Source: Hilary Whiteman, CNN, October 31, 2011 ~~]

“While maids are recognized under Singapore's Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, the legislation doesn't regulate pay or working hours. That is agreed in a contract between the employer and employee, along with their recruitment company. While the standard contract asks parties to nominate one day off a month (to be paid in lieu, if the maid chooses to forgo it), the Act only requires employers to provide "adequate rest." Employers who fail to comply can be fined up to $5000 (US$3900) and jailed for up to six months. ~~

In 2010, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) says it took action against 26 employers for failure to provide adequate food, rest or medical care. In the first half of 2011, nine were held to account. "Most FDW employers are responsible and treat their FDWs well," a government spokesperson said. Yet, according to a survey released this year by Transient Workers Count Too, only 12 percent of Singapore's foreign domestic workers, mostly women from Indonesia and the Philippines, were granted a day off each week. Just over half had a day off each month. ~~

“One of the things we noticed from the responses of employers is a kind of panicked reaction when we start talking about a day off," says TWC2's executive director Vincent Wijeysingha. "I think that's based on the fact that we've come to depend so much on our domestic workers for everything. You see them running the household, shopping, paying bills and looking after vulnerable people in the family. "The key reason why we need them is because there are no affordable childcare services and no affordable elderly daycare services. So this represents the cheapest social policy option," he says. ~~

Singapore's Maids to Get a Day Off

In 2012, legislation was passed giving Singapore's 200,000 domestic workers a day off but rights groups feared the new law contained loopholes and delays. Kate Hodal wrote in The Guardian, “It was a day many of them thought might never come: a day off. Long denied what most consider a basic workplace right, domestic workers in Singapore will at last be guaranteed one day of rest each week. Manpower minister Tan Chuan-Jin told parliament that the time off will give maids a "much needed emotional and mental break from work and time apart from their employers". The new legislation, came into force on 1 January 2013 and applies to domestic workers whose work permits are issued or renewed on that date, as well as to employers hiring for the first time, the local Straits Times reported. Kate Hodal, The Guardian, March 6, 2012 \*\]

"I'm happy about the new law, because right now we work 24 hours a day practically, morning to night," said 31-year-old Indonesian helper Meena Jilita, who works as a live-in nanny for two young children and is expected to cook and clean whenever the children are asleep. "We need our own time, a day off, to meet our friends and unwind." Domestic workers will be entitled to negotiate with their employers to forgo the break and receive additional compensation to work that day, although the new regulations will not affect the permits of those maids already under contract. \*\

“Human rights groups applauded the reform but said that it should apply to all domestic workers and take effect this year. Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman of Singapore-based Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said: "Otherwise, there will be quite a significant population of domestic workers who will have to wait for a considerable amount of time before they have access to this basic labour right. \*\

"It should also be made clear what the penalty would be if employers do not oblige by the new legislation, so that those who are inclined to take this new law lightly will be more aware of the consequences of doing so," she added. Domestic helpers receive no minimum wage and instead negotiate contracts directly with their employers. Their salaries can range from £125 to £350 a month, but workers often go unpaid for the first six to 11 months of their contract due to agency placement fees. \*\

“Human Rights Watch cited a "significant risk of abuse" that employers may bully their help into forgoing a day off. Singapore's move follows legislation that already exists in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as domestic laws requiring mandatory orientation programmes for workers and greater regulation of employment agencies. The announcement on Monday has further stoked a fiery debate over workers' rights in Singapore, where an MP's suggestion in year that domestic workers be granted a day off was met with a flurry of anger.” \*\

Singapore Maids to Be Spared, English and Cooking Test

In December 2011, the Singaporean government announced that foreign domestic workers would no longer be tested on their English, cooking and cleaning skills. The Guardian reported, “Singapore’s vast army of maids doesn't have it easy. Expected to cook and clean for their employers at a moment's notice, they also have to pass a test to show they can speak English. But this is now set to change, as the city-state's mandatory examination for maids, which included English language testing, will be scrapped from June 2012 and replaced by a "settling-in programme", with modules on stress management, safety awareness and adapting to life and work abroad. It will not offer English language training, nor any classes on cooking or cleaning. [Source: Guardian, December 6, 2011 |=|]

“Until now it's often been English that has unified employer with employee. The majority of Singapore's maids hail from its poorer neighbours, notably Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Burma. The exam was introduced in 2005 to improve the calibre of domestic workers coming to Singapore, and has often been cited as a source of stress for new arrivals, many of whom have already paid high recruitment fees to agencies back home in anticipation of a new life. |=|

“Around 80 maids take the test every day, but failure is common. One Indonesian maid committed suicide last year after failing the test three times, the maximum number of tries allowed. Tan Chuang-Jin of Singapore's manpower ministry said that the new law should offer a more stress-free environment for domestic workers, four out of five of whom are said to face problems adapting to life in Singapore. "While the entry test was introduced with good intentions … it is not a meaningful measure of quality and does not guarantee that the worker understands the English language," he said. "It discourages some good foreign domestic workers from wanting to work here, while others spend valuable training time mugging for the test." |=|

“Local employers and agencies have welcomed the news, with the Singaporean Association of Employment Agencies expecting the new law to increase the number of foreign maids applying to work in Singapore up to 25 percent. Around 3,000 new domestic workers arrive every month. Others, however, are worried that scrapping the law will pose more, rather than fewer, problems. According to Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, of Indonesia's House of Representatives commission, which oversees labour affairs, poor language skills caused 92 percent of disputes between Singaporean employers and their Indonesian domestic workers between January and July. "Lax requirements will only cause problems, because [poor skills in] language can lead to poor communication between employers and employees," she told the Jakarta Globe.

Singapore Maid's Ten Commandments

Jaime Ee, Business Times, March 4, 2002] With kids (and parents) relying on maids to do everything from fetching shoes to picking up newspapers off the floor (because they're paid to) it's interesting to look at the social contract that we make with every maid that comes into our home. Every employer has expectations of his or her maid. Some more, some less, and some almost unreasonable. If you put them all together, you would have The Maid's Ten Commandments, as compiled by the typical Singapore employer: [Source: Jaime Ee, Business Times, March 4, 2002 +++]

1) Thou shall clean thy employer's house so clean that thou can carry out heart surgery on thy kitchen floor. And thou shall do this from this day hence until thy contract expires or thou runnest away with foreign construction worker. 2) Thou shall not covet thy Ma'am's husband, nor her household jewellery or the loose change thou findest in trouser pockets. 3) Thou shall heed all of thy Ma'am's commands, even those which are still in her head and have not been articulated. 4) Thou shall ensure that thy employer's children are protected from the horror of dirty dishes until they are of marriageable or maid-employing age. 5) Thou shall find housework and childcare so fulfilling that having thoughts of men and making friends among thy countrymen are as horrible as having a thousand ants crawling up thy pants. +++

6) Thou shall be master chef and housekeeper supreme, for only then shall thy $300 monthly salary be justified. 7) Thou shall be able to tell the difference between Ma'am's expensive face towels and the towels for washing the family car or dog. 8) Thou shall also be intimately knowledgeable of a motorcar's mechanical and body parts, as well as the proper shampoo and wax products to use. 9) Thou shall have no opinion of thine own other than to serve thy master well and pull no long face when reprimanded for feeding the baby nasi lemak. 10) There are no good maids, only good employers. +++

Of course, we all know that trouble starts when maids do not live up to the Ten Commandments set out by their employers. But while maids haven't read the commandments written for them, neither are employers aware that maids also have their own set of commandments though maybe not quite as many. They include: 1) Thou has three magic words which can be used to get out of any kind of trouble: 'I don't know'. 2) Ma'am will not know what towel thou uses to wash the bathroom floor if thou remembers to wash it and put it back into her cupboard. 3) Money that goes unnoticed by family members is money that thou can keep. 4) Thou can make as many phone calls as thou likes if thou knows how to erase the caller-ID function. If thou is not so technically savvy, thou can tell Ma'am that thy sister, cousin, long-lost village friend needs desperately to contact thou. 5) There are no good employers, only those that thou can manipulate. Maids. Employers. Put them together and you have enough stories to fill a book. Who is right, who is unreasonable, how do we come to a win-win solution or is there no such thing - so long as we don't want to do our own laundry, this will be a never-ending issue. So what are we going to do about it? In the words of many a maid, I don't know. +++

Maids Die Falling From Singapore High-Rises

Between 1999 and 2004, nearly 100 Indonesian maids fell to their death usually while cleaning windows or hanging out the washing from apartments in high-rise buildings, according to Indonesian embassy figures. Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said that 21 maids had fallen from high-rise buildings in that period. Singapore's Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen told BBC Radio that there were about 18 cases of maids falling to their deaths in 2005. Ng said the government is trying to tackle the issue and the number of deaths has dropped. Half the deaths were suicides, he said.

In 2001, the Strait Times reported: “Indonesia has again imposed a temporary ban, effectively immediately, on the sending of maids to Singapore, in response to what the government said was the high number of accidental deaths of Indonesian maids in the republic since 1999. Manpower and Transmigration Minister Alhilal Hamdi claimed that in the past 30 months, 43 Indonesian maids had fallen to their deaths while attempting to clean windows and other fixtures in high-rise buildings. At least one death was confirmed to be a suicide, while the rest were ruled as work-related fatalities, he said. Although his ministry's ruling is effective immediately, it will not force repatriation of those maids already working in Singapore. [Source: Straits Times, July 19, 2001]

In 2012, at least 11 foreign domestic workers fell to their deaths. In June of that year the government responded by strengthening safety requirements so that domestic workers only clean windows in the presence of their employers and if window bars have been installed and locked. In at least one case, an employer was fined S$5000 (US$4093) for negligence.

In December 2005, a Singapore woman was charged with negligence for ordering her Indonesian maid out of a window from where she fell to her death in December 2003. AFP reported: “Ngu Mei Mei, 37, is charged with ordering the maid, Yanti, to climb with laundry from a study room window to hang out the laundry, a court document said. It said the roof "was not designed for such ordinary human access". The Straits Times reported that Yanti fell to her death but the charge sheet says only that Ngu "did an act so negligently as to endanger human life." She faces three months in jail, a S$250 (US$150) or both. [Source: Agence France Presse, December 16, 2005]

High-Rise Laundry-Hanging Lessons and Maids in Singapore That Survived Falls

In October 2003, Singapore authorities launched a safety course to teach new maids how to avoid falling from high-rise flats following an alarming number of helpers plunging to their deaths, a report said. AFP reported: “Among the teaching tools created by the National Safety Council is a video opening with a shot of a maid's body lying on the ground after falling from an apartment and the words "Don't let this happen to you." The lessons began became compulsory for new maids seeking to obtain a work permit, the Straits Times reported. [Source: Agence France Presse, February 19, 2004]

“In a session, Indonesian maids were instructed not to overload bamboo poles when hanging out the wash and to avoid leaning out of the window or balcony when cleaning the glass. Most Singaporeans live in government-built high-rise apartments and hang their laundry on bamboo poles fitted into slots outside the windows. The maids, most of whom come from remote villages and have never lived in high-rise buildings, were also taught how to take care of children and the elderly, handle electrical equipment and first aid. [Ibid]

January 2011, an Indonesian maid working in Singapore fell from her employer’s ninth story apartment and miraculously survived, according to local news reports by the Sunday Times. The 23-year-old woman was found at the foot of the building surrounded by clothes and bamboo branches, leading local authorities to speculate she may have been trying to bring in laundry when she fell. At a public hospital she was treated for fractures to her pelvis and legs, although doctors have said she will survive the injuries. [Source: Kenya Star, January 17, 2011]

In June 2001, a 21-year-old Indonesian maid was in critical condition after falling seven storeys from her employer's flat. Police said she was found lying on the ground at Blk 477 Pasir Ris Drive 6 early Monday morning. She was, apparently, last seen in the kitchen hanging clothes out to dry. [Source: Straits Times, June 27, Jun 2001]

Singapore Curbs Window Cleaning amid Maid Deaths

Associated Press reported: “Singapore has tightened rules on window cleaning following the deaths of nine maids who fell from high-rise apartments this year. Maids are no longer allowed to clean the outside of windows above ground level unless they are supervised, and window grills must be installed and locked during cleaning, the Manpower Ministry said. The ministry said it plans to notify all households with maids of the new rules, which are effective immediately, and employers who fail to comply may be permanently banned from hiring maids. The ministry said it also plans to introduce legislation later this year that would double the fine and maximum jail sentence for employers who fail to provide maids with a safe working environment. The new penalties would be a fine of 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,750) and a 12-month jail term, the ministry said. [Source: AP, June 5, 2012 ><]

“Singapore is under pressure to improve the working conditions of foreign maids. In May 2012, a court fined an employer SG$5,000 and barred her from hiring domestic workers in the future after a maid fell and died from her fifth-floor apartment while cleaning windows standing on a stool. The ministry said seven of this year's nine maid deaths were due to dangerous window cleaning or hanging of laundry. More than 90 percent of Singapore residents live in high-rise apartments. ><

“Local media featured dramatic front-page photos of a 29-year-old Indonesian maid as she fell from her employer's 12th floor apartment window Sunday. She was grabbed and rescued by neighbors one floor below. The nine maids who fell to their deaths were from Indonesia, which supplies about half of Singapore's 200,000 maids. The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore in recent months had called for a ban on maids cleaning the outside of windows. ><

Maids Jailed for Spiking Drinks with Poison and Menstrual Blood

In 2012, a domestic helper who added menstrual blood to her employer’s coffee was given a jail term of one month. NewsroomYahoo! reported: “The 24-year-old who goes by the name Jumiah pleaded guilty to spiking the drink of her former employer, a 37-year-old man, in August 2011 after keeping the blood in a bottle for five days, Channel NewsAsia reported. Jumiah was confronted when her employer’s mother spotted a bottle containing a brownish liquid on the same day. It was when her employer said he would send the bottle for tests did she come clean, Straits Times reported. [Source: NewsroomYahoo!, May 22, 2012 ^+^]

“Jumiah said she added her menstrual blood into her employer’s drink after being told that doing so would make a person nicer to her, ST said. The helper had felt that the victim’s mother was “very demanding” and had made her re-do her chores if the maid didn’t do them up to standard, according to court documents quoted by the media. It's not clear whose blood was mixed into the drink. The maid had been working for her employer, Phang Nyit Sin, 38, for about a year. The maximum penalty for mischief is one year’s jail and a fine. The maid had requested for a change of employer but was rejected, CNA said. ^+^

In 2004, AFP reported: “An Indonesian maid has been jailed for four years after spiking her employer's milk with insecticide following repeated scoldings over her work, the Straits Times reported. Suliati Warikam, 22, admitted in court she wanted to take revenge on Loh Siew Hong, who reprimanded her and then tapped her head after she overturned some trays containing his documents in the living room. She poured insecticide into a packet of milk that she knew her employer would drink from, but she was found out after Loh spat out the milk because it tasted bad. She had been employed by Loh for less than six weeks. It was the second such case in Singapore involving an Indonesian maid attempting to poison her employer. Last year, a 19-year-old was jailed for 15 months for mixing glue in her employer's soya bean drink. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 14, 2004]

Indonesian Maids That Killed Their Abusive Bosses

In July 2008, an Indonesian maid was sentenced to nine years in jail in Singapore for killing a 70-year-old woman in her care. AFP reported: “Tri Lestari, 22, admitted in the High Court on Monday to suffocating Choy Ah Moy with a pillow in August last year, but said the woman had abused her, The Straits Times said. Lestari had pleaded guilty to culpable homicide not amounting to murder, conviction for which carries a prison term but not the mandatory death penalty imposed for murder. [Source: AFP, July 1, 2008]

“Lestari had worked only 10 days for Choy Ah Moy, a kidney patient, the Straits Times newspaper said. The maid said Choy called her a dog, beat her with a walking stick, and snatched food that she was eating, the newspaper quoted forensic psychiatrist Stephen Phang as saying. The psychiatrist said "the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back" occurred when Choy hit Lestari on the head at about 3:00 am. Choy also tore up a picture of Lestari's 12-year-old brother, the newspaper said, adding that the maid slept on a mattress beside Choy's bed. After she smothered Choy, Lestari wrote a letter to her boss about the abuse she suffered, apologised for what she had done, and fled, it said. Lestari tried to kill herself but failed, and then turned herself in to police, the newspaper said. [Ibid]

In March 2006, The Strait Times reported: “An Indonesian maid whose lawyer alleged she had been abused has been jailed 10 years for killing her Singaporean employer. The Straits Times reports Rohana, who was 20 at the time of the attack, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced over the death of Tan Chiang Eng. Initially charged with murder, which carries the death penalty, the charge against Rohana was later reduced. The Straits Times said she was convicted of repeatedly smashing a heavy crystal ornament against Tan's head and then strangling her in July 2005. Her lawyer alleged she had suffered scoldings, slaps and humiliation by her employer. [Source: Strait Times, March 18, 2006]

In March 2012, Amanda Yong and Bryna Sim wrote in The New Paper, “Just five days into her job here, she was contemplating murdering her elderly employer whom she found to be impatient, demanding and verbally abusive. That night in November 2009, the Indonesian maid, Vitria Depsi Wahyuni (below), then 16, strangled Madam Sng Gek Wah after a vicious, violent struggle. She was jailed 10 years for manslaughter. Dr Parvathy Pathy, the Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist who had examined the maid, said Vitria's young age “with its increased tendency for poor impulse control, low frustration tolerance, and immature and poor problem-solving skills” probably tipped the balance. [Source: Amanda Yong, Bryna Sim, The New Paper, March 8, 2012]

In 2002 Indonesian maid Sundarti Supriyanto stabbed her abusive employer to death and set alight the building where the victim and her three-year-old daughter were in. The daughter died.

Indonesian Maid Kills Her Employer After Being Scolding for Seeing Her Boyfriend

In November 2007, AFP reported, an Indonesian maid was jailed for life in Singapore for killing her 75-year-old Singaporean employer, a court official said Tuesday. Barokah, 27, who uses only one name, admitted in the Supreme Court Monday to killing her female boss in October 2005 following a heated argument when she was caught sneaking back into the house after a tryst with her boyfriend. [Source: AFP, November 28, 2007]

Chong Chee Kin wrote in The Straits Times, “75-year-old Wee Keng Wan caught her maid sneaking back into her flat after a tryst with a boyfriend. In the heated argument that followed, the maid, 28-year-old Barokah, pummeled Mrs Wee into unconsciouness and tossed the elderly woman to her death from a ninth-floor window. Barokah admitted to a charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and was sentenced to life in prison for the killing. [Source: Chong Chee Kin, The Straits Times, November 26, 2007]

Barokah had just returned from a rendezvous with her Bangledeshi boyfriend; her husband was working in Malaysia. When Madam Wee confronted her about her secret meetings, Barokah became unhappy and challenged the older woman to send her back to Indonesia. A fight broke in the bedroom out and Barokah knocked out Madam Wee, who, at 1.55m, stood a head shorter than her maid. Hearing the commotion, Madam's Wee sickly 78-year-old husband, Mr Lee Tang Sang, came into the bedroom. Barokah claimed she had no idea what happened to Madam Wee and even tried reviving the older woman by slapping her face. However, when Mr Lee left the apartment to seek help from the neighbours, Barokah threw Madam Wee out of the window and left the room.

Questioned by police officers at the scene, Barokah first feigned ignorance when asked where Madam Wee was. Pressed for an answer, she told police and relatives of the dead woman that Madam Wee could have wandered off for her morning exercise session. However, her inconsistent answers drew the attention of the police officers and she was soon arrested.

Barokah joined the household in September 2005 to look after the Mr Lee who suffered from Parkinson's disease, hypertension and heart problems. Barokah had a poor track record and worked on an off for Madam Wee. Psychiatrists later diagnosed Barokah with depression and a dependent personality disorder that draws her to men. She had had two affairs and both times she bore children. She gave a son born in 2004 to a friend to raise. After arriving in Singapore in 2005, she had an affair with her Bangladeshi boyfriend and bore a daughter while in prison. In her defence, her lawyers, Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal and Mr Wendell Wong, told the court that Barokah had been struggling with her own infidelity. More importantly, the offence was not pre-meditated. 'It was a wholly irrational and impulsive act of a young, newly pregnant, sleep deprived maid who cracked while labouring under a transient mental disorder,' Mr Singh said.

Maids in Singapore That Killed Their Lovers and Friends

In May 2013, a Sri Lankan maid working in Singapore was jailed for 10 years for killing her Indian lover in 2009. PTI reported: “The High Court heard that 34-year old Tharmalingam Puwaneswary, a Sri Lankan national struck her 32-year old lover Murugaiyan Selvam, a permanent resident of Singapore from India, on the head with an improvised dumb-bell weighing more than 5 kg. Murugaiyan would frequently pick Tharmalingam up from her employers' home in the middle class housing estate of Serangoon Garden after 10 pm, according to court documents. [Source: PTI , May 6 2013 ==]

“The court also heard that Tharmalingam would also lend money as well as buy clothes and jewellery for Murugaiyan, who worked as a supervisor, Channel News Asia reported. But on the night of the incident in December 2009, an argument broke out between the couple in Murugaiyan's room, when he asked Tharmalingam to hand over her employers' chequebook so he could forge a cheque and encash it at the bank. Tharmalingam then accused him of exploiting her for money and sex. Murugaiyan slapped her and later fell asleep after the argument. Tharmalingam then noticed an improvised dumb-bell outside his room, and used it to hit Murugaiyan on the head twice. She also used a sharp object to stab his groin area before leaving the room. ==

“Tharmalingam, who is married with two children back home, had suffered physical abuse by her husband, and continued to have a difficult relationship with him even while working in Singapore, defence lawyers said in mitigation. Noting that the act was not premeditated, they added that Murugaiyan had used her for money and estimated that Tharmalingam had given him some 6,000 Singapore dollars of her own money. There were four other charges on Tharmalingam, involving theft and abetting forgery for the purpose of cheating, which were taken into consideration, the report said.” ==

Filipina Maid Jailed for Dismembering Another Maid in Singapore

In May 2006, a Filipina maid who pleaded guilty to murdering a compatriot and then chopping up her body was sentenced to 10 years in jail by Singapore's high court. Reuters reported: “Guen Garlejo Aguilar, 29, was accused of murdering 26-year-old Jane Parangan La Puebla, a fellow Filipina domestic worker, in September and then dumping parts of her dismembered body at several locations around the city-state. Aguilar narrowly escaped the gallows when the court reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter, after Aguilar's lawyers said she was found to be mentally unsound and had killed La Puebla because of a money dispute. [Source: Reuters, May 29, 2006 *-*]

"Her illness did not in any way dispossess her of that ability to distinguish between right and wrong," said High Court Judge V.K. Raja. "Upon taking all the relevant circumstances, I determine that the appropriate sentence for the accused is a term of imprisonment of 10 years." Aguilar, wearing an orange prison suit, was expressionless when the sentence was read out. Her husband and sister were in the court along with Philippine embassy officials and the mayor of her hometown. "We are happy with the sentencing. Earlier there were some concerns that she might get a life sentence, so this is a huge relief for Guen," *-*

“La Puebla's head and limbs were found stashed inside a sports bag behind a subway station on Singapore's Orchard Road, home to luxury boutiques and large department stores. Hours later, the torso of a woman dressed only in underwear was found in a trolley bag at one of the country's popular nature parks. *-*

Aguilar's case echoes that of Filipina maid Flor Contemplacion who was hanged at Singapore's Changi Prison in 1995 for the murder of fellow Filipina Delia Maga and her 4-year-old Singaporean son. Contemplacion's execution sparked a bitter diplomatic rift between Manila and Singapore, with Filipinos protesting in both countries and blaming their governments for not doing enough to prevent the abuse and stress that many Filipina maids suffer.” *-*

Filipina Maid Executed in Singapore

In March, 1995, a Filipina maid named Flor Contemplation was executed by hanging in Singapore after being convicted of murder of a another maid and a young Singaporean boy. She was convicted after reportedly confessing to the crime.

Many people in the Philippines thought she was innocent and her confession was coerced. There was an international incident of the issue. Protests pushed the Philippines to the brink of severing diplomatic relations The Philippines ambassador to Singapore was recalled and the Philippines government conducted its own investigation in which Contemplation's body was exhumed. The commission concluded Contemplation "could have been a victim of grave injustice" and that "evidence tends to show that she is not guilty." However in July, the government accepted forensic evidence produced by American experts, supposedly demolishing the case for the hanged woman's innocence.

Contemplation lived in a small town south of Manila. She sought work as a maid because her husband, who worked as a farmer and part time jeepney driver, didn't make enough money to take care of their family. While she was gone her husband had affairs with other women who raised her children. Her story was made into a movie called The Flor Contemplation Story

Child Abuse by Maids in Singapore

In March 2003, an Indonesian maid was sentenced to more than two years in prison for child abuse after she was caught on a surveillance camera striking an infant girl on the head with bare hands and objects such as a book and milk container when the child refused to stop crying. The hidden camera was set up by the girls’ parents. In 2002 Indonesian maid Sundarti Supriyanto stabbed her abusive employer to death and set alight the building where the victim and her three-year-old daughter were in. The daughter died.

In November 2004, an Indonesian maid was sentenced to four years in jail by a Singapore's High Court for suffocating the child she was employed to look after. Associated Press reported: “Sumyati Kariyo Dikromo, 24, pleaded guilty to suffocating the 2-year-old boy when she used her handkerchief to cover his mouth in an attempt to keep him from bawling, the Straits Times newspaper said. Sumyati had originally been charged with murder but the charge was reduced to culpable homicide.. [Source: Associated Press, November 27, 2004]

A report by a local Singaporean newspaper said “Sumyati had been trying to coax the toddler to sleep on the afternoon of March 11, 2003, when he began to cry. When she tried to quiet him by covering his mouth and nose with her handkerchief, he kicked and struggled, but she did not let up, the report said. After his struggles ceased and he became still, she left the room to complete her chores, only to discover three hours later that the child was cold and motionless, the newspaper said. Sumyati could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined, it said. [Ibid]

In February 2013, an Indonesian maid who was caught on camera violently tossing a four-month-old baby boy about pleaded guilty to charges of attempted murder and child abuse and was sentenced to 20 years of jailm according to a Straits Times report.. A video sent in by STOMPer Steric showed the maid roughly throwing the child repeatedly onto a mat, even lifting him overhead at one point and dropping him over her shoulder. "Your action has resulted in society being afraid and (parents) not having peace of mind when leaving their children with their maids," said Judge Mohd Azhar Othman when sentencing the 23-year-old. He added that the offence committed was very serious and had a huge impact not only on the victim’s family, but also on society. [Source: Strait Times, February 20, 2013]

The Straits Times reported: “Yuliana, who is from Sukarame in Aceh and has two children, had just started work as a maid with the victim’s family when she committed the offences. The baby’s parents were out having breakfast when they saw their son being thrown by the maid through a closed-circuit camera recording on their cellphone. They then got a neighbour to intervene. [Ibid]

In December 2004, an Indonesian maid jumped off a high-rise apartment after throwing a baby boy under her care down 23 storeys, the Sunday Times reported. A spokesman for the police told AFP Sunday they were investigating the deaths of the 21-year-old maid, identified in the report as Sulastri, and five-month-old Yap Soon Heng. Witnesses told the newspaper they had seen the maid sitting on the window ledge with the crying toddler on her lap. "She was sitting there for about five minutes and kept turning her head back as if she was talking to someone inside the room," businessman John Chua said. "Suddenly, she just extended her arms out and let the baby slip from her hands. A while later, she pushed herself off the ledge with the hands." [Source: Agence France Presse, December 19, 2004]

Maid Abuse in Singapore

Stories of employers abusing maids and retaliatory acts frequently make the headlines. In a 2005 report, New York-based Human Rights Watch said maids in Singapore are abused with physical and verbal aggression, threats, sexual violence, food deprivation, home lock-ups. restrictions on movement, abuse by agents, exorbitant debt payments, long work hours and lack of rest days. The government called the report a gross exaggeration and stressed that maids receive full protection under local law.

Singapore's courts frequently hear cases of maid abuse. At least 147 maids died from workplace accidents or suicides between 1999 and 2005, mostly by jumping or falling from high-rise residential apartments, Human Rights Watch said. Singapore Ministry of Manpower has said that 90 percent of maids are happy working in the city-state and that employers who abuse or exploit maids face fines and jail terms of up to one year.

Many of the domestic workers are poverty-stricken women from small villages. In a judgment at maid abuse case in 2001, Chief Justice Yong Pung How warned the island's affluent citizens against ill-treating their maids. "A maid's abased social status does not mean that she is any less of a human being and any less protected by the law," he said. According to Ministry of Manpower figures, convictions for maid abuse rose from four in 1997 to 39 in 2000, despite increased penalties imposed in 1998. People guilty of hurting their maids can be jailed for more than seven years, or more than 10 years if they knowingly cause grievous hurt, such as a fracture or disabling injury. [Source: Agence France Presse, March 19, 2002 |::|]

Domestic workers are one of the few groups of people in tightly controlled Singapore unprotected by the Employment Act, which sets basic work rights. As a rule in Singapore, migrant workers are not allowed to switch employers without returning to their native country and restarting the application process. But they are required to stay in the city-state when their cases are under investigation or in court. In these cases, they are permitted to work for a new employer under a temporary job scheme. In 2005, Singapore raised the minimum age for maids from 18 to 23 years and required at least eight years of schooling to improve the quality of domestics and curb abuses by employers.

David Foo, who has owned an agency for ten years, told Radio Australia his experience indicates there could be even more cases of maid abuse than those made public. He says one employer, who's maid accused him of molestation, offered financial compensation to silence her. He said we could work out something and tell the girl not to make a police report. He came with a compensation to pay the maid 2,500 dollars to settle the matter. I asked the girl and told her they were willing to give a compensation. She made up her mind that she wanted to go home, and with the 2,500 dollars. So the case was eventually closed. [Source: Radio Australia, June 20, 2002 ***]

According to Foo maid agents often step in as mediators when accusations of abuse arise. He said: “On my part as an agent I would recommend if any case of that sort happen it should be reported. In any case, if the victim does not want to go to police, they have no right to investigate. Like if she wants to settle out of court to go back or with the money, or she feels comfortable with it, its OK. Again more often than not, they would rather settle it between the agency and the employer. If a police report is made, the maid is released from her employer who is no longer be obliged to pay her salary. However, the maid has to remain in the country until investigations are completed - leaving her in a worse position - abused, with no money to send home. ***

Hard Times and Help for Maids in Singapore

There are various 24-hour helplines set up by the Singapore government and private organisations like SOS for abused maids to seek help. Human rights activists say they are not enough. More often enough, maids do not know of the phone number probably because of language barrier. It's very hard for them to communicate on the phone. [Source: Radio Australia, June 20, 2002 ***]

Ayako Hirayama wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Siti Mushorafah had high expectations of working in Singapore. To support her family, the 42-year-old Indonesian came to the city-state to work as a maid. Back home, people had talked about the good things working in Singapore entailed, but once she arrived, she found herself the victim of physical abuse. When she made mistakes, her employer hit her, sometimes with a stick, she said. Mushorafah put up with the mistreatment for a while, but eventually fled to a shelter for migrant workers. Despite the hardship, she said she wants to keep working in Singapore. But because her employer refused to cancel her work permit and kept her passport, she was stuck in the shelter for months. “I want to transfer to a new employer,” she said in a weak voice at the shelter in November, where an average of 70 to 80 migrant women take refuge each month. [Source: Ayako Hirayama, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 2, 2011 ^|^]

“Unswayed by abuse and other ordeals, many migrant workers at the shelter look for new employment in Singapore. Judith Catoras of the Philippines was no exception. She came to Singapore, she said, to pay for her children’s education. Catoras, who declined to talk about the job she left to go to the shelter, said she earned 550 Singaporean dollars (about 35,000 yen) a month, most of which she saved for her family. “I want to work here for five years. I just can’t go back now,” the 36-year-old said. ^|^

“Bridget Tan, founder and president of the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), the nongovernmental organization that runs the shelter, said, “Many migrant workers have no choice but to come to Singapore despite their severe situation [here].” According to HOME, its 24-hour hotline has received more than 60,000 calls for help since its establishment in 2004. The organization also provided shelter for 1,388 women and 990 men in 2009. Migrant workers seeking help have faced problems such as unpaid salaries, overwork and insufficient access to food or housing. ^|^

“Before coming to Singapore, migrant workers pay recruitment agents–as much as 10 months’ salary once they get to Singapore, according to HOME–so many who are in debt give up their rights and just stay silent. “Many migrant workers work under slavelike conditions–debt bondage, no days off, social isolation, passports withheld and no job mobility,” Tan said. “They should not suffer discrimination just because they are migrants, women and domestic workers.” ^|^

In 2002, an accreditation scheme for maid agencies was set up in Singapore. According to to radio Australia the scheme, designed by a division of the Consumer Association of Singapore, or CASE, is to ensure better service from maid agencies. But accordingly to the division's chairman, Stephen Lok, it can be equally beneficial for maids. Activist Foo said: I think the scheme is not meant to replace, for example, a situation where there are maid abuses where there's a criminal justice system which takes care of it. However, because our scheme provides a situation where the maid agaency has got the responsiblity for interviewing the employer and perhaps the maid during its so called term of enagagement, that's where the maid agency will get feedback. ***

Cases of Maid Abuse in Singapore

In May 2002, a 35-year-old woman was jailed for three months for pinching her maid's breasts and nipples. In December 2001, a former television journalist was sentenced to two months jail for scalding her maid. In July 2004, a Singaporean woman was sentenced to 12 weeks in prison for repeatedly beating her Indonesian maid with a bamboo pole. Radio Australia, June 20, 2002 ***]

In May 2001, a housewife — 27-year-old Farida Begum Mohammed Artham — who used a broom handle to hit her maid on the head, stomach, back and shoulder and also slapped her with a slipper on the cheeks and forehead was sentenced to three months in jail. The assault took place in August 1999 at Blk 496E Tampines Ave 9. Farida is appealing against the sentence. [Source: Straits Times, June 2, 2001]

In February 2009, a Singaporean who poured hot water on her maid's back and forced her to sleep among a group of dogs was sentenced to 10 months' jail. AFP reported: “Brenda Tan Bee Khim, 40, a housewife, was sentenced for the 2006 attack on the maid identified as Tasiyem, The Straits Times reported. Four days after the incident, which left the maid with second-degree burns on her neck and back, Tan tried to hide her crime by sending Tasiyem back to Indonesia, the report said. "It is fortunate that the indignant family and friends of the maid in Indonesia have had the good sense to do all that was necessary to bring the accused to justice and to expose her foul deed," the newspaper quoted Isaac Tan, the prosecutor, as saying. During the trial before Judge Loo Ngan Chor, Tasiyem testified that she was made to sleep alongside dogs on the balcony of Tan's apartment, the report said. Muslims, who make up most of Indonesia's population, consider dogs to be unclean. [Source: AFP, February 4, 2009]

In October 2006, two Singapore women were sentenced to jail terms - one for three weeks and one for nine months - for abusing their maids. Associated Press reported: “Ng Siew Luang, 42, was convicted of scalding her maid's face with an iron and hitting her with a clothes hanger, according to the Subordinate Court. The judge sentenced her to nine months in jail but Ng was released on bail of 15,000 Singapore dollars (US$9,470; euro7,466) after her lawyer filed an appeal, the Straits Times newspaper reported. In the second incident, Fatimah Ismail, 55, was convicted of rubbing chilies on the face of her maid, striking her and pushing her head into a wall, the newspaper said. Ismail was sentenced to three weeks in jail after her lawyer pleaded for leniency because of her poor health and depression. [Source: AP, October 5, 2006]

In August, 2004, a 30-year-old Singaporean woman was convicted of abuse for biting, scalding and slashing her Indonesian maid. Associated Press reported: “The court also heard how Poon Yen Nee dragged her maid, Mujianti, around by the neck with a towel and pricked her with a needle, the Straits Times newspaper said. The abuse began in March 2003 when Poon grabbed Mujianti and bit her shoulder because she was unhappy with the way the worker performed her chores, the paper said. Poon also cut Mujianti on her back as she slept, slashed her face for using a dirty plate and flung a kettle filled with hot water at her, the paper said. Mujianti, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, told a church worker of the abuse while her employers attended a religious service.” [Source: Associated Press, August 18, 2004]

Woman Gets Jail Term for Biting off the Nipple of Indonesian Maid

In March 2002, a 30-year-old woman who bit a nipple off an Indonesian teenager in a widely-reported case of maid abuse was sentenced to five years in jail. AFP reported: “Judge Wong Keen Oon rejected arguments that chronic depression led Jennicia Chow Yen Ping to commit cruel acts which she was unaware of. Chow had admitted 10 brutal assaults on her 19-year-old maid Kusmirah Mujadi, including the repeated biting of her breasts until one nipple fell off, the Straits Times reported. [Source: Agence France Presse, March 19, 2002 |::|]

“The litany of attacks, which left Mujadi scarred, included splashing the teenager with boiling water, hitting her head with the back of a chopper, burning her wrist in a hot oven, scratching her face with a knife, forcibly cutting her hair and poking her thighs with scissors. As Chow, a hospital customer relations officer and active community worker, sat in the dock clutching a Bible, Wong accused her of "one of the worst cases of maid abuse that has come before this court." Her behaviour was "obviously aimed at inflicting the most extreme form of humiliation on the maid," the judge said. |::|

“The five-year jail sentence, believed to be the toughest yet in Singapore for maid abuse, came amid growing concern about the maltreatment of foreign domestic helpers. Defence arguments that untreated depression meant that Chow's behaviour was beyond her conscious control were dismissed by the judge. He said Chow had abused the maid over an eight-month period last year, "a victim whom she had almost complete authority over," but her family and friends did not suffer from the "violent disposition." Chow was also aware of her actions as she had warned Mujadi she would be sent back to Indonesia if she complained, and taught her to lie if she was questioned, Wong said.” |::|

Singaporean Family Pull Out Maid’s Teeth and Pours Boiling Water on Her Genitals

In October 2009, Khushwant Singh wrote in The Straits Times, “She poured boiling water over her maid's genitals and joined in to extract the Indonesian woman's two front teeth with pliers. Divorcee Maselly Ab Aziz, 38, was the last in a family of maid abusers to be convicted of these offences committed in 2007. Her two children and a woman described in court as Maselly's lesbian lover were jailed year earlier for their part in abusing the maid. [Source: Khushwant Singh, The Straits Times, October 29, 2009 \~\]

During a three-week trial earlier, year, Maselly claimed that 30-year-old Badingah had asked to be punished to make up for her wrongdoings. But District Judge Jeffrey Sim told Maselly: “It may well be that the maid may have committed mistakes...but this does not justify the offences.” The judge was convinced that Maselly had hit Ms Badingah with a metal rod and threatened to kill her if she did not return $60 that she was accused of stealing. All the offences occurred in June and July, 2007. \~\

“In July 2007, Ms Badingah escaped by jumping from a window of the second-storey flat near Havelock Road to seek help. She was found with numerous injuries including bruises, cuts, an infected scalp and scalding on her genitals, thigh, arms, and back. The court heard that Maselly told the maid to wear clothes that covered her arms and legs, a headscarf as well as a mask over her mouth, so that the injuries and scars would be concealed. For issuing the death threat alone, Maselly could have been jailed up to seven years. \~\

“During the trial, Maselly argued that the maid’s injuries were all self-inflicted. She also claimed that the maid had asked for her teeth to be pulled out as she was afraid of injections and did not want to see a dentist. Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Cheng Thiam dismissed her story, calling it incredulous, as Maselly’s daughter, son and the other woman had all pleaded guilty to the abuse. “They would certainly not have done so if the maid’s injuries were self-inflicted,” he said. \~\

Earlier, “Maselly’s daughter, Nur Rizan Mohd Sazali, then 18, was jailed for two years and two months, for extracting the maid’s teeth and pouring hot wax over her head. Her brother Muhammad Iz’aan Mohd Sazali, 20, was jailed six weeks for caning the maid. Elsa Elyana Said, 24, described in court documents as Maselly’s lesbian lover, was jailed one year and five months for punching the maid and holding her down while her teeth were pulled out. Maselly, who did not have a lawyer, told the court she intended to appeal against the conviction.” \~\

Man Jailed, Caned for Beating Indonesian Maid to Death

In July 2002, AFP reported: “An "inhuman" Singapore man who lost track of the number of times he beat and burned his 19-year-old Indonesian maid, was sentenced to more than 18 years' jail and caning after the teenager died from extensive injuries. Ng Hua Chye, 47, admitted repeatedly attacking Muawanatul Chasanah whose body was found covered in scars, bruises and scald marks. "There were so many times that I beat her, (I) lost count of them," the father of two children told police when arrested. Even his lawyer, Subhas Anandan, described the treatment of the maid as "horrendous". [Source: AFP, July 19, 2002 <^>]

“In the first case in Singapore of a maid being repeatedly beaten until she died has sparked outrage in Singapore, where the judiciary has expressed alarm at the escalating incidents of maid abuse. An autopsy report detailed more than 200 injuries Muawanatul suffered at the hands of Ng over a period of nine months. She had scars over her body where she had been hit by a plastic pipe, cuts in her mouth from being punched, scald marks over her chest, neck and back from hot water, and sores from being jabbed with a hammer. He also burned her with lit cigarettes. <^>

“Muawanatul died from a ruptured stomach after being punched and kicked in the abdomen. "How do you describe a man who would subject a helpless human being to such pain and suffering? Your Honour, only one word, inhuman," deputy public prosecutor Lee Sing Lit said in the High Court. Judge Choo Han Teck sentenced Ng to a total of 18 years and six months in jail, plus 12 strokes of the cane for manslaughter and various assault charges. The sentence took into account "the misery she had to endure for so many months up to the last days of her life," Choo said, as Ng's wife wept at the back of the court. "The picture of her beaten and undernourished body has muted the eloquence of your counsel." <^>

Ng, a freelance tour guide, believed the young Indonesian had been stealing food meant for his infant daughter. But the court was told Muawanatul was barely given enough to eat, subsisting sometimes on a packet of noodles for lunch or dinner. She weighed 50 kilograms (110 pound) when she arrived in Singapore two years ago, and was just 36 kg, malnourished and dehydrated when she died. Ng was originally charged with murder, which would have led to an automatic death sentence if convicted, but later agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter. <^>

Singapore Housewife Pimps her Maid, Another Charged with 80 Counts of Maid Abuse

In November 2005, a Singaporean mother-of-three was fined $15,000 (US$8823) after she pleaded guilty to pimping for her Indonesian maid. AFP reported: “It is the first time that an employer in Singapore has been convicted of acting as a maid's pimp. The Min Yek, 35, admitted in court to asking Awunningsih, who arrived from Indonesia in April, to work as a prostitute and telling her she could provide clients. The court was told the 24-year-old maid had sex with five men between April 21 and early May in The's house and was paid S$80 (US$47) in total while her boss took $300. Anti-vice police raided The's home after a maid agency lodged a protest. The court heard that Awunningsih was a willing participant as she wanted to pay off a S$2000 debt to her maid agency. [Source: Agence France Presse, November 22, 2005]

In August 2005, a Singaporean housewife was accused of 80 counts of abusing her Indonesian maid in what could be a record number of such offences. AFP reported: “It took a court official about 30 minutes to read the charges against Sazarina Madzin, 28, which included punching, slapping, pinching and kicking her employee between May 2004 and March 2005, the Straits Times reported. The newspaper said the 80 charges were believed to be the highest number of alleged offences against a maid ever filed against one person in the affluent city-state. [Source: Agence France Presse, August 19, 2005]

“Sazarina also allegedly poked Wiwik Setyowati in the eye and hit her with a tomato sauce bottle, a plastic chopping board and a shoe. She is alleged to have threatened to kill the woman in June, the report said. Sazarina, who was freed on bail, faces up to one-and-a-half years in jail and a fine of up to S$1000 (US$600), or both, for the assault charges, the report said. She faces another up to seven years for the alleged death threat, the report said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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