Maid abuse trial: Wife has anorexia and eats mostly bread herself
Husband of couple on trial for starving maid says wife has eating disorder
She has a history of anorexia nervosa - an eating disorder.
Because of this, businessman Lim Choon Hong, 47, told the court yesterday that his wife of 25 years has always been conscious about her weight.
He said that when they first met, she was skinny and had been warded on a few occasions because of her condition.
Testifying for the first time on the third day of their trial, he added that housewife Chong Sui Foon, also 47, eats "very plain and bland food".
He told District Judge Low Wee Ping: "She takes bread and doesn't eat anything else, maybe a bit of rice."
And the kind of food Chong consumes is similar to what she had given Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan when she worked for them.
The maid, now 40, testified on Tuesday that when she was working for the couple, she was given only instant noodles and sometimes bread, twice a day for meals.
The Singaporean couple are on trial for allegedly starving Madam Gawidan between Jan 23, 2013, and April 18 last year.
During that time, Madam Gawidan, a mother of three, lost 20kg, going from 49kg to a mere 29kg.
She eventually ran away on April 19 last year - 15 months after she had started work.
She told the court: "I couldn't take it any more."
Yesterday, Lim told the court that Chong was the one who decided what the maid ate when she was working for them at their Cuscaden Walk condominium in the Orchard Road area.
The court also heard that Madam Gawidan was not the first maid to be given such items during mealtimes while working for the household.
Mr Toh Ah Choon, owner of employment agency A C Toh Enterprises, testified yesterday that the family's first maid - an Indonesian known only as Sri - had also complained that she was given bread and instant noodles to eat.
She was later returned to the agency and is now working for another family here.
Lim told the court that after Sri, he had a temporary maid for 10 days.
And just before Madam Gawidan, he had another maid and she was the only one who completed her two-year contract.
He did not reveal any other details about his other former maids.
Lim also testified yesterday that his family members eat only two meals daily.
However, there were times when he and his wife would only have one meal a day.
He said: "(This was) not to look good, but (because) time doesn't allow."
When examined by the couple's lawyer, Mr Tan Hee Liang, Lim also said that Chong has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
He said: "She is obsessive (about) cleanliness and (her) lifestyle revolves around food and cleanliness... almost like a religion."
Her condition created "a lot of stress" among their household.
The father of four said that in 2010, their second son ran away because of Chong's tendencies.
He said: "He is still out but we are on good terms."
Lim added that Chong had seen a psychiatrist, whom he referred to only as Dr Tay, and that she is now on medication to treat her condition.
Citing an example of Chong's behaviour, he said that his wife is so particular about cleanliness that they have to thoroughly clean the whole bathroom every time after taking a shower.
Because of this, he said Madam Gawidan took her showers at the public toilet on the third storey to save time.
Lim said that if she took a shower at home, it would have taken her an hour to clean the bathroom.
He said: "So troublesome, every time use, have to disinfect. Better do it downstairs - faster. I also use the (public) toilet on (Level 3)."
Lim broke down in the witness stand when he told the court that Chong is a "simple person" who did not even "pass Primary 6".
Wiping away tears from his eyes, he said: "What she had done was not intentional. There's no evil in her heart.
"She didn't do this to hurt anyone. There's no point to deprive another human being of food."
She is obsessive (about) cleanliness and (her) lifestyle revolves around food and cleanliness...almost like a religion.
- Businessman Lim Choon Hong, on his wife Chong Sui Foon
Lim: Maid was frail but didn't complain
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Sellakumaran Sellamuthoo showed businessman Lim Choon Hong a face shot of a gaunt Thelma Oyasan Gawidan during his cross-examination yesterday.
It was taken after the Filipino maid had fled from Lim's Cuscaden Walk condominium on April 19 last year.
Lim, who admitted that she had lost weight, said she did not look like how she appeared in the picture when she started working for him on Jan 23, 2013.
He added: "I saw her like that in February or March (last year). (But) I didn't give it much thought. I didn't read too much into it."
For about 20 minutes, DPP Sellakumaran grilled Lim on why he did not probe her about her weight loss.
Even though Lim admitted that Madam Gawidan looked "frail" in the picture, he repeatedly said he did not ask her about her condition because she had made no complaints.
Lim also said that his wife was the one who took care of the maid's meals.
He said: "I prefer not to interfere."
Dietitian: Weight loss was 'drastic'
When Madam Thelma Oyasan Gawidan was working for the Lim family, she consumed only about half of what her body required.
Testifying in court yesterday, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital's chief dietitian Gladys Wong Hooi Chuan said that given the maid's age, height, weight and amount of physical activity, to function normally, Madam Gawidan should consume about 1,700 calories a day.
As a result, her weight dropped from 49kg to 29kg between Jan 23, 2013, and April 18 last year.
This was a "drastic" 40 per cent drop, said Ms Wong.
Standing at 1.42m tall and weighing only 29kg when she fled from her employers' home, Madam Gawidan had a body mass index (BMI) of 14.4.
On Tuesday, Dr Alan Ho, a general practitioner, had told the court that Asians with BMIs of between 18.5 and 23 are considered "normal".
Those with BMIs of between 15 and 16 are "grossly underweight".
Dr Ho had said that Madam Gawidan's BMI of 14.4 was "way below the scale" and "exceedingly abnormal".
Ms Wong said yesterday that she had seen patients with BMIs of 13.
The court heard that such patients were so weak that they had to be carried in.
She also said that if Madam Gawidan had lost more weight, she would have diminished body functions and be "skin and bones".
She could have died, Ms Wong added.
About the case
She weighed 49kg when she started working for the Singaporean couple in January 2013.
By April last year, Filipino maid Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, had lost 20kg and weighed only 29kg.
Her former employer, businessman Lim Choon Hong, 47, faces one charge of contravening Condition 1 in Part 1 of the Fourth Schedule to the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012.
He had allegedly deprived Madam Gawidan of adequate food, causing her weight loss.
His wife, Chong Sui Foon, also 47, is accused of one count of abetting him in committing the offence.
In court, Madam Gawidan had testified that while she was working for the couple, she was given only instant noodles and sometimes bread, twice a day for meals.
She also said that Chong would sometimes add some meat and vegetables - a slice of cucumber or tomato and a piece of meat the size of a finger - to her food.
Madam Gawidan had also testified that she was allowed to bathe only once or twice a week at a public toilet in her then-employer's Orchard Road condominium.
The petite woman, who is now working for another family in Singapore, told the court that the couple asked her to work odd hours.
She said they told her to sleep in a storeroom during the day and she was put to work overnight.
If convicted of the offence, Lim and Chong can each be jailed up to a year and fined up to $10,000.