A week-old baby girl was found abandoned on 8 August 2013. Police have now traced the mother to a foreign domestic worker, media reports said today, 15 August 2013.

Chinese newspaper Wanbao reported:

The maid hid her pregnancy from her employer, and later tried to hide her infant daughter in her employer’s house, but was forced to abandon her child after the baby’s cries became too obvious.

Since she hadn’t worked for her current employer for long, it is estimated that she was about four months pregnant when she began working for the Gao household. The family had no clue she was pregnant. However when the news broke on television that a baby had been found, they noticed that the light blue cloth wrapped around the baby was similar to what their five-year old son used to wear, and became suspicious. They then reported their suspicions to the police.

Full story (translated from Chinese) here:

The New Paper asked former TWC2 president John Gee for his thoughts on a few angles. Below are his answers:

Q1. What advice is given to maids with regards to sexual activity and pregnancy?

Workers get very little advice when they are going through training or from government bodies: they may be warned about the consequences of becoming pregnant for their employment in Singapore, but they are not told about contraception or counselled about the possible complications of getting into a relationship. This means that they come with whatever knowledge they’ve acquired at home or from friends, which ranges considerably.

We know that when workers go out and meet friends, they have the opportunity to discuss sexual matters with them, and this can be a good way to become better informed, but that always depends on the knowledge and attitudes of friends. Good, clear basic information is needed, and it should not be simply ‘Don’t do it!’ It has to be recognised that love and companionship are basic human needs and it is unrealistic to expect that every domestic worker will insist on remaining celibate when abroad.

Q2. What will happen to maids who get pregnant in Singapore?

An employer is required to see that his/her domestic worker is given a six monthly medical check up. The primary purpose of this is to discover whether the worker has become pregnant. Once this is discovered, or the employer has found out some other way, it is standard practice for employers to send the worker home, because they are afraid that the worker may give birth in Singapore and the employer will forfeit the $5000 security bond. Many employers think that they stand to lose the bond simply because of the worker becoming pregnant, but that is not the case: the employer is not responsible for managing the worker’s personal life and private time. However, failure to return the worker home before she has a baby can lead to a penalty.

Some domestic workers decide to terminate their pregnancy, some of them with their employers’ knowledge and encouragement, since they wish to retain her. An abortion may be obtained; another alternative, which is hazardous, is to obtain an abortifacient, usually in the form of a pill that can induce a termination. There are individuals who sell them and sometimes workers who ask around will be able to find them.

Q3. How do you help maids who get pregnant here?

We haven’t had any recent cases. The most important first step is to find out what the worker herself wants to do. We would tell her what her legal options are and counsel her against doing anything that would put her health at risk. In the cases I can recall, the women all chose to go ahead with their pregnancies, which meant telling their employers and going home – except that it wasn’t necessarily home. We heard of cases of women going to stay with friends, having a baby, and putting the baby in an orphanage, but there were some where the family was more accepting and took their daughter and her baby in.

Q4. On an average, how many maids approach TWC2 for help every year after they got pregnant?

We see very few cases: I don’t think we’ve had any in the past three years. Domestic workers are generally well aware of the consequences of pregnancy both for their employment in Singapore and for the future prospects when they go home, and so they try to avoid becoming pregnant. The proportion of domestic workers who become pregnant in any single year is certainly a very small one out of the total, so reactions such as ‘This is what happens when maids get a day off’ are completely unjustified. Imprisoning a woman in the name of protecting her chastity is never right: all women should be free to make their own choices in sexual matters, according to their own consciences.

Q5. What do you think should be done so that such an incident will not happen again? Do you think maids should refrain from all sexual activities or should they be better educated on safe sex?

Domestic workers should be better educated on safe sex. The options should be made clear: they can practice abstinence, but if they choose not to, they ought to have the information needed to select an appropriate form of contraception. Asking a partner to use a condom should be considered even if an oral contraceptive is used; it gives protection against venereal diseases and HIV.

The bigger problem may be: who should provide this information? Home countries could, to all workers going abroad and they could be given written information or shown an educational film when they come to Singapore. Employers find this embarrassing; one who I remember speaking with said, “I can’t even talk about sex with my own daughter: how can I talk about it with my maid?” However, some employers are confident enough to do this. Short informational leaflets may also be made available, whether by the Ministry of Manpower or the Ministry of Health, and placing those in locations that have some through movement of domestic workers will help to get reliable information into general circulation.

Finally, I should add that TWC2 would like to see steps taken towards giving maternity leave to domestic workers. It would require policy changes so that there would be agencies that could provide workers for employers on a temporary basis while a woman was away on maternity leave, but it is time to accept the principle and consider how to put it into practice. Hongkong already provides for maternity leave for domestic workers who have been employed for a minimum of 40 weeks, so how they handle this there might provide some useful pointers.