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#59: Migrant domestic workers contribute a staggering amount to our economy

This newsletter has hit 1,000 subscribers! This is way more people than I thought would be interested in this little project of mine when I started over a year ago. Thank you, everyone!

Now, this wasn’t planned as a 1,000-subscriber milestone thing, although I guess it’s fairly appropriate. I’ve turned on the paying subscriptions option on Substack—but don’t worry, this newsletter isn’t going to disappear behind a paywall! I started doing this with the intention of keeping the newsletter free, and that hasn’t changed.

I have, however, started mulling over whether I should (or can, given how much other work I’m also doing!) do something more on top of the weekly newsletter that could be more “premium”? More commentary? Interviews? What would I want to do when the election comes ‘round? Questions like that…

In the meantime, my plan is to just leave the paying subscription option there. I’m calling it the “Milo peng option” for those of you who would like to send some Milo peng money my way—Substack’s recommended amount of US$5 a month works out to about 3 or 4 Milo pengs (going by the rate of my neighbourhood food court). This is totally optional! (Or you could join New Naratif as a member at US$5 a month or US$52 a year, just saying…)

Low-wage migrant workers and not-so-low revenues

A recent study has found that migrant domestic workers have contributed US$8.2 billion (about S$11.1 billion) to Singapore’s economy in 2018. The labour of these migrant women—who are hired by one in five Singaporean households—was found to have allowed Singaporean women to re-enter the workforce, and also helped families save money on childcare costs. But one-third of migrant domestic workers in Singapore were also found to be in debt, and it’ll likely take them an average of 28 months to pay all of it off.

Sexual harassment and abuse

Thanks to the social media uproar sparked by Monica Baey and built on by Singapore university students, tougher penalties for sexual harassment have come into force at the National University of Singapore. There’ll be a minimum of a one-year suspension, with immediate expulsion for more serious cases. There’ll also be a note on the offender’s academic transcript. (This will be separate from whatever the police choose to do with the offender.) That said, the university will not be revisiting Monica’s case, because one of the recommendations of the review committee was for past cases to remain closed.

While there has been some progress, this is by no means the end of the conversation on sexual harassment and abuse in Singapore—indeed, it should only be the beginning. An Australia paedophile has plead guilty to abusing 47 children over a period of 16 years, five of them in Singapore. The Singapore police said that no one had reported him while he was here, which was why no investigations had been launched. Alfred Tan, the CEO of the Singapore Children’s Society, penned an op-ed about the importance of teaching body safety skills to young kids to enable children with the ability to understand when sexual abuse is occurring, and to encourage them to tell a trusted adult.

When did the government start caring about LGBT people?

Last week, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam took to his Facebook page to denounce the physical assault of a lesbian couple in the UK. It’s good that he’s stating that people should feel safe in society regardless of their sexual orientation, and that it’s the government’s job to ensure such safety, but it rings a little hollow when it’s his own party’s government that has consistently refused to repeal S377A despite LGBT activists repeatedly saying that the law, even if not enforced, legitimises a long list of other policies and practices that marginalise and discriminate against LGBT people in Singapore. (I wrote a longer response to him on Facebook.) It might be a positive sign that politicians at least feel the need to perform some sort of lip service when it comes to the well-being and safety of LGBT people, but considering how powerful Shanmugam and his party are in Singapore, that’s just not good enough.

Talking about National Service

Southeast Asia Globe ran a feature on National Service and mental health—it’s a topic that needs a lot more discussion but isn’t often raised because people are wary of criticising NS too openly, as well as speaking up about mental health issues. But while the numbers of suicides in NS aren’t staggeringly high, even one is one too many.

Also related to National Service, the trial of officers involved in the death of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, who drowned in a pump well, is ongoing. Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood had earlier been convicted, and is currently a witness in the trial of two commanders. Fatwa told the court how he still feels the guilt of what had happened, and suffers from nightmares and insomnia. He was sentenced to 12 months and four weeks’ in prison last October, and is currently serving the remaining time in home detention.


CAPE has put together a great reading list to Singapore politics. You won’t be short of reading material for quite some time. And get in touch with them if you have suggestions! (I would also little to suggest my little book/essay, which you can find here.)

The Animal Lovers League are seeking support to help them get over their financial troubles at their no-kill shelter. If they’re forced to close, hundreds of dogs and cats might end up homeless!

I’m going to leave you with this amazing timelapse video that took years to shoot, but really shows off our Little Red Dot for the beautiful city that it is: