Singapore looks for better schooled foreign housemaids

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SINGAPORE, AP

Singapore will raise the minimum age of foreign domestic workers because it wants maids in the city-state to be “better schooled,” local media reported Monday.

About 140,000 maids — mostly from poorer Asian neighbors such as Indonesia and the Philippines — work in the wealthy Southeast Asian nation of 4 million people.

The Straits Times newspaper, which has close government ties, said the minimum age would likely be raised from 18 to 25.

“With slightly older maids coming in, better schooled… the standards will rise,” manpower minister Ng Eng Hen was quoted as saying.

The government is expecting more citizens to employ foreign domestic helpers after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a reduction in a maid levy for parents with young children to help boost the country’s falling birth rate.

The report did not specifically address maid abuse by local employers. But Ng noted that many problems faced by maids and their employers stemmed from the fact that domestic workers were too young and unaccustomed to city life.

“Obviously, this won’t solve all problems but it will go some way, a significant way, to preventing problems,” he was quoted as saying.

Singapore’s courts frequently hear cases of maid abuse.

Since 1999, at least 117 maids have died after falling from high-rise apartments, based on figures provided by police and the Manpower Ministry.

Many were killed while cleaning windows or hanging laundry, but a large number are also believed to have committed suicide — prompting civic groups to highlight the fact that many maids are ill-treated and underpaid by their employers.