The increase in reports of domestic workers physically assaulting the elderly they are taking care of could be due to maids feeling under pressure from extra caregiving duties, according to a welfare association leader.

Writing in a letter to The Straits Times on Monday, Daniel Tan, Vice President of the Caregiving Welfare Association, said the Singapore government should probe the underlying reasons why more cases of workers abusing the elderly are being recorded, instead of simply tightening the penal code to punish such offences. 

As most domestic workers are only given basic training in household chores, they are lacking specialized training in fields such as caregiving for the elderly, Tan said. The hardships of being responsible for frail persons in their care also puts pressure on the domestic workers.

“This can lead to a breaking point,” said Tan, suggesting physical violence can be a direct outcome of domestic workers’ stress. “The learning curve to master skills within a small time window is very steep for them.”

In March this year, an Indonesian domestic worker in Singapore was jailed for eight months after confessing to two charges of causing harm to an 89-year-old woman in her care. The elderly woman reportedly had Alzheimer’s and could not recall the assaults or testify to them.

Subsequently, in the same month the Singaporean High Court imposed new laws that handed out stricter sentences in cases involving abuse by domestic workers, with extra focus on mental and psychological damages inflicted.

Tan urged people to acknowledge the support given by domestic workers who look after sick and frail family members, and to consider whether domestic workers are suitable to be both housekeepers and caregivers.

Currently, there are estimated to be more than 53 million domestic workers in the world, with 21 million of those in the Asia Pacific. The very nature of their work renders them vulnerable as their workplace is behind the closed doors of private homes. Vague terms of employment, as well as minimal laws protecting migrant workers, open them up to possible exploitation and abuse.

Read: Maid jailed eight months for abusing elderly employer

Read: Video: Indonesian maid hits ailing Singaporean employer