Friday, September 19, 2008

A Tale of Torture, Rest Days And Kristin's Story

It was in the news the other day.
"Siblings jailed for abusing maid."
-- Straits Times

"Maid's horror months. Two siblings jailed six weeks and 26 months respectively."
-- Today
It was both sad and shocking. Sad for two reasons: 1) the maid suffered terribly and 2) the siblings were merely in their teenage years. Shocking because the allegations could be described as that, at the very least:
  • two of the maid's front teeth were extracted using a pair of pliers
  • boiling wax was poured over her head
  • boiling water was poured on her private parts
  • she was caned and punched
The siblings admitted guilt to some of these allegations, which resulted to the jail sentences they received.

According to Today, the Indonesian maid escaped by jumping out the kitchen window, the flat being two stories high.


A few months ago, a poll conducted —also by a local newspaper— revealed that 19 out of 50 employers (38%) don’t give their maids a day off. Out of the 31 employers that do give their maids a regular rest day, 35% allow a day for every month of work while 39% allow a day each week. Although the numbers are not particularly impressive, they are better than last year’s.


These articles remind me of a story I heard in one of my interactions in church, one Sunday morning. A maid by the name of Kristin narrated, between sobs, the story of how she was once under employers who did not allow her to step out of the house she worked in. The door was constantly padlocked, the keys were always kept out of her sight, and many times she had to endure being all alone. The TV that spoke not a single word of her native language kept her company and preserved her sanity.

After several months of being under house arrest for her only crime of working far away from her family, she found herself feeling a sense of sadness and loneliness that wouldn’t go away. She wept frequently but never openly. In silent prayer she found comfort and strength. Soon, communicating with God became a regular habit.

When even prayer became a forbidden act, she found solace and safety in the privacy of the bathroom. But even the concrete walls of the toilet were not enough to protect her from the cruelty of the people whom she faithfully served. When again they noticed her unusual behavior, they turned her new found sanctuary into an isolation cell —a prison within a prison— by locking her in for an entire night, exclaiming, “You want to stay there? Then stay there!”

Since then, she no longer kept her tears to herself and continually expressed her desire to leave her job. She no longer cared if she wasn’t paid in full; her freedom was priceless.

More than once she had contemplated on ending her life by jumping out the window. But she realized there was a huge chance she’d survive the fall and end up being paralyzed — a prospect more terrifying for her than being dead. She decided to take a leap of faith and instead made the firm resolve to find a way out of her terrible plight.

When an old lady came to the house one day, looking like she was going to stay for some time with the amount of luggage she brought, Kristin felt her prayers were about to be answered. The old lady turned out to be the mother of her female employer and by the end of the third day, it appeared she was indeed a long-term guest. How that fit into the scheme of things she didn’t know but she had already put her trust in the Lord.

It was more than a week before the opportunity presented itself. But that was more than enough for her to muster the courage she needed. It was the first time they left her alone with the old lady. She knew the keys to door had to be somewhere inside the house, a possibility that never before existed. And right she was. She found the keys in the same room where the old lady was taking her afternoon nap.

Despite being traumatized by this experience, Kristin chose to continue working as a domestic helper. She has been fortunate enough to find a good family that treats her well. Sharing her story still makes Kristin cry but it was apparent that she was shedding tears of joy as she concluded her tale. She feels like a human being again.

Certainly there are worse stories than Kristin’s, but this was the first time I heard one firsthand.


Everywhere in the world is injustice. If stopping one or two forms of injustice is not within our circle of influence, maybe we can avoid being part of the problem? Granting domestic helpers a regular rest day they so rightly deserve appears to be a logical and feasible first step towards protecting them from abuse.

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At September 22, 2008 at 10:23 PM , Anonymous Howard said...

Well said.


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