Maid blinded by employer had suicidal thoughts, questions how long she will live 'like this'

Nadine Chua
The Straits Times
October 31, 2022

Family members and friends were stunned to see Ms Sugiyem Samad Radimah’s condition when she returned home to the city of Semarang in central Java in October 2020.

Ms Sugiyem, a domestic worker, became blind in both eyes after her employer subjected her to repeated beatings. She also bore scars and had lost much weight after suffering months of abuse.

Mr Yosep Tutu, minister counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy of Singapore, who spent time with her when she returned here to help with investigations, said on Friday: “There were times when she said she was thinking about committing suicide.

“So we tried our best to spend more time with her and take her out to eat the food she likes.”

News of the abuse quickly went viral in Indonesia and eventually reached the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), a non-governmental organisation set up by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to support domestic workers here.

The CDE made contact with Ms Sugiyem after family members of one of its volunteers in Indonesia found out where she lived.

The decision was then made to fly the 51-year-old back to Singapore for investigations.

Ms Rebecca Huang, assistant director of case management and operations at CDE, said: “Because of Covid-19 then, the travel restrictions were very strict, so we had to get the help of the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore to facilitate her flight back.”

Ms Sugiyem returned to Singapore in January 2021, three months after news of her abuse made the headlines in Indonesia.

It then came to light that she was punched and beaten by her employer, Ummi Kalsum Ali, over a period of six months.

Ummi, a 43-year-old housewife, was sentenced to 10 years’ jail and fined $4,500 on Oct 25.

Ms Sugiyem remained in Singapore for around nine months, undergoing medical check-ups while assisting in investigations. She was also given counselling once every two weeks.

Ms Huang said: “During one of the check-ups, the doctor assessed that she required surgery to lessen the pressure behind her eyes. So CDE tapped the Domestic Employees Welfare Fund to finance the surgery for her in April.”

The fund was set up by NTUC in 2016 to help distressed domestic workers. 

At the same time, preparations were under way for a civil suit against Ummi and her husband.

Lawyer Anthony Wee, who took on the case pro bono, said a settlement was eventually reached in August. The amount Ms Sugiyem received is confidential.

Mr Wee, the managing director at Titanium Law Chambers, said: “The payment from the insurance company, as well as the settlement reached with her ex-employer and her husband, are enough to tide Sugiyem through her life.”

Ms Sugiyem returned to Indonesia in September 2021, but still keeps in close contact with the staff at CDE and the embassy.

Said Mr Yosep: “She’s gained weight now and can finally smile. She was so skinny the first time we saw her.”

She is also starting to tell jokes and stories about her grandchild, but he added: “Even though she’s accepted the situation, she does question how long she will continue to live like this, especially since she can no longer see.

“What her future will be like is constantly at the back of her mind.”


• National Care Hotline:

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Mental well-being

• Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:

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1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

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• Silver Ribbon Singapore:


• Tinkle Friend:

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• TOUCHline (Counselling):


• TOUCH Care Line (for seniors, caregivers):


• Care Corner Counselling Centre:


Online resources


• My Mental Health

• Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service

• Tinkle Friend

• Community Health Assessment Team

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