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Singapore House Help Jailed for Stabbing Indian Woman 26 Times: Here’s the Case

The victim resorted to hitting Zin Mar Nwe as a means of discipline, especially when their communication faltered.

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South Asians
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Trigger Warning: Descriptions of assault, violence

Zin Mar Nwe, a 22-year-old maid from Myanmar, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of her employer's 70-year-old Indian mother-in-law, Mehrotra Shashi. While the case is close to five years old, the verdict was delivered by Justice Andre Maniam after an 11-day trial that ended on 18 May 2023.

The incident occurred on 25 June 2018, when Zin Mar Nwe stabbed the elderly woman 26 times in a fit of anger after she threatened to send her back to Myanmar, where she incurred significant debts to come and work in Singapore. The abuse she suffered at the hands of the victim further exacerbated her emotions, leading to the fatal act.

Zin Mar Nwe arrived in Singapore on 5 January 2018, when she was only 17 years old, but her passport stated she was 23 years old, making her eligible to work as a domestic worker in Singapore. She initially worked for two other families before joining her latest employer, a financial controller identified as ‘Mr. S’, and his family.

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Zin Mar Nwe worked diligently for a couple and their two teenage daughters for four months without any complaints about her working conditions. Her latest employer, Mr S, had hired her after their previous domestic help returned to the Philippines.

Zin Mar Nwe's daily routine involved waking up at 5:30 am and going to bed at 11 pm, and she frequently made phone calls to her relatives back in Myanmar. Part of her monthly salary of SGD 450 was dedicated to repaying her loan to the domestic helpagency.

Trouble arose when Mr S's mother-in-law arrived from India to stay with the family for a month. Zin Mar Nwe found it challenging to get along with the elderly woman, and the situation quickly turned sour.

The mother-in-law resorted to hitting the her as a means of discipline, especially when their communication faltered. The abuse started with the woman using her knuckles to knock Zin Mar Nwe on her head and back multiple times a day and later escalated to using objects like ladles to inflict pain.

In a tragic turn of events on that fateful morning, the elderly woman became agitated with the maid for accidentally causing an object to drop on her foot and missing instructions.

As the woman lay down on the sofa to watch television, she threatened to send Zin Mar Nwe back to the agent the following day. This would have resulted in the maid being sent back to Myanmar with accumulated debts from her initial journey.

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Overcome with anger and fear, Zin Mar Nwe snapped. She grabbed a knife and viciously stabbed the elderly woman 26 times until she stopped moving. In a state of panic, she ransacked one of the bedrooms, broke into a cupboard, and retrieved her belongings.

She then washed the knife and left it in the kitchen before changing into a dress and taking her bag. Zin Mar Nwe left the flat with some cash and an EZ-link card she found on the microwave oven.

Over the next five hours, she wandered around Singapore by bus, MRT, and on foot, buying bottles of mineral water and eating at a hawker centre.

Eventually, she took a taxi back to her maid agency in Choa Chu Kang to retrieve her passport. However, she was arrested after the staff alerted the police of her return.

The Hearing

Initially, Zin Mar Nwe denied any involvement in the elderly woman's murder and concocted a fictional story, pinning the blame on two non-existent men. However, she later confessed to the crime, stating that the threat of being sent back home and incurring debts pushed her to commit the gruesome act.

The trial that followed saw conflicting expert testimonies on Zin Mar Nwe's mental state, with the defense claiming diminished responsibility due to adjustment disorder while the prosecution argued that she was fully aware of her actions during the murder.

Eventually, Justice Andre Maniam rejected the defense's argument and found Zin Mar Nwe guilty of murder, sentencing her to life imprisonment.

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A Larger Issue of Underage House-Help in Singapore

The case has brought to light the issue of underage maids being employed in Singapore, despite strict regulations and underscores the need for better support systems and protection for domestic workers. The incident has sparked public debate and calls for improved welfare for foreign domestic workers in the country.

According to the prosecution's case, Zin Mar Nwe confessed to the murder and admitted to enduring abuse from the elderly woman, who hit and scolded her on multiple occasions.

However, the defense argued that she suffered from diminished responsibility due to adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, which impaired her mental state during the crime.

During the trial, both sides presented psychiatric reports, with the defense relying on Dr Tommy Tan's testimony, stating Zin Mar Nwe was not fully conscious of her actions at the time of the stabbing.

However, Dr Alias Lijo, a government psychiatrist, contested this, asserting that she was fully aware of her actions during the incident.

Justice Maniam eventually rejected the defense's diminished responsibility argument and found Zin Mar Nwe guilty of murder under Section 300(c) of the Penal Code. Although she was a minor when the crime occurred, Zin Mar Nwe was tried as an adult due to the severity of the charges.

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Zin Mar Nwe's conviction. on 4 July, also shed light on the overall challenges faced by 'foreign maids', and her case has been one of the 11 reported incidents of domestic help being found guilty of killing their employers or their family members since 2012.

Many of these cases involved young maids under 25, indicating the need for increased attention to the welfare and well-being of these vulnerable workers.

Given her age at the time of the crime, Zin Mar Nwe was spared the death penalty, as Singapore law prohibits capital punishment for offenders below 18 years old when they committed the crime. Consequently, she received a life sentence, the maximum punishment permissible by law in her case.

The case has also highlighted the issue of underage maids being employed in Singapore, despite strict regulations and background checks. Many underage maids, predominantly from Myanmar, have been found to lie about their ages to gain employment.

The Ministry of Manpower reported detecting around six underage foreign domestic workers per 10,000 workers in Singapore between 2018 and 2022.

Observers have raised concerns about the stresses faced by foreign maids in Singapore, including multiple responsibilities and difficulties adjusting to urban living. In the aftermath of the sentencing, calls for better support systems and protection for domestic workers have grown.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Murder   Singapore 

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