In today’s Straits Times forum, one Alice Cheah writes that we should harshly punish female domestic workers who become pregnant during the course of their employment in Singapore:
Obviously, maids who work part-time or get pregnant are blatantly contravening the work permit conditions governing their employment in Singapore (‘100 pregnant maids sent home a year’, Sept 29; and the Ministry of Manpower’s reply, ‘Why it’s wrong to let maids work part-time’; Oct7).
So more punitive measures should be adopted against them as well as their abettors.
Abettors? Oh, right, there was a recent newspaper article about how some domestic workers resort to back-street abortions (often chemical) in order to avoid being deported. Some employers also pay for professional abortions in a medical setting, although the domestic workers do fear their names coming to the attention of the Ministry of Manpower (in Singapore, doctors who provide abortion services must submit the names of patients who have an abortion to the Ministry of Health).
Clearly this is a terrible thing to do. But why?
In seeking superficial love or prostituting themselves for quick money, they throw caution to the wind, hoping to escape the consequences of their acts.
Apart from repatriation, many may also experience the trauma of abortions.
‘The consequences of their acts’! Dear Lord, why didn’t I think of that? Sex has consequences, don’t you know. Negative consequences, at that. Sex leads to pregnancy, and a pregnant state is the consequence of sex. You shouldn’t escape this. It is your biological role, woman, it can’t be circumvented. Okay. Look. Wanting to have sex doesn’t mean wanting to become pregnant. Wanting to have sex doesn’t take away your right to choose whether or not you want to be pregnant. How hard is that to understand? (This argument is conveniently unpacked here, for 101ers.)
And the trauma of abortions which are traumatic because… you mean, because of the stigmatisation and harassment of women who have abortions, right? Right? — C’mon, can I have some sense here?
The Ministry of Manpower should impose stiff penalties on the men who cause such pregnancies.
Work pass holders who make maids pregnant should have their passes cancelled as well.
Surely, the fairer and more effective solution is to hold both parties liable.
And here I was thinking that the fairer and more effective solution would be to stop punishing women for having sex, as is their right, whether or not they are immigrants or foreign domestic workers.
Then again, Alice Cheah supports new domestic helpers working without pay for their first few months #, ‘is in favour of using CCTV cameras to watch over maids’ #, and opposes minimum wages for domestic helpers and opposes giving them a day off # (a rebuttal is available here).
(Surprisingly, the latter position seems to be recently adopted on her part. Back in 2005, she was singing a different tune and actually thought domestic workers should be allowed to have rest days — although perhaps that was because, stressed, depressed, and abused, Guen Garlejo Aguilar of the Philippines had murdered and dismembered a fellow domestic worker. So. We have to give maids a day off! Not because they’re human and have the right to dignified labour, but because they could kill people — even us!)
For more information on resources available to foreign domestic workers:
Maid in Singapore is a blog by a Filipino woman working as a domestic helper locally.
The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics offers help to foreign workers in Singapore, as does Transient Workers Count Too. In collaboration with UNIFEM Singapore, both organisations run the Day Off Campaign.