Between 1999 and 2005, at least 147 migrant domestic workers died from workplace accidents or suicide, most by jumping or falling from residential buildings. There is no single reason why domestic workers resort to suicide, but research by Human Rights Watch suggests that many women are made despondent by poor working conditions, anxiety about debts owed to employment agencies, social isolation, and prolonged confinement indoors, sometimes for weeks at a time.
As authorities have acknowledged, many of the deaths are also due to workplace accidents. Several of the workers fell to their deaths after their employers forced them to balance precariously, despite being many stories up, to clean windows from the outside or to hang clothes to dry on bamboo poles suspended from window sills. While the deaths of migrant workers described above have received increasing attention in the media and from policymakers, the context in which they occur too often is overlooked. This report, which draws on extensive research and more than one hundred interviews, surveys the abusive conditions facing many domestic workers in Singapore today.