SINGAPORE: The couple who tortured a two-year-old boy, who eventually died of his injuries, were sentenced to jail on Tuesday (Jul 5).
The boy’s mother Zaidah, 41, was sentenced to 11 years in jail. Her boyfriend Zaini Jamari, 46, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 12 strokes of the cane. The couple's expressions did not change as the sentences were read out.
The two, who have a one-year-old child, pleaded guilty last month to one count each for causing grievous hurt causing death and three counts each of child abuse.
The couple had another 26 and 18 charges for child abuse respectively taken into consideration during sentencing.
For five weeks before his death, two-year-old Mohamed Daniel Mohamad Nasser suffered at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend.
The couple, both cleaners, kicked, slapped and stomped on Daniel daily and forced the toddler to stand with his hands on his head for hours, clad only in his diapers. They also forced dried chilli down his throat.
Daniel’s abuse came to light only when he eventually died of his injuries on Nov 23, 2015, having endured hours of abuse the day before his death.
In sentencing, District Judge Bala Reddy said the "extreme violence" the couple used to "discipline" the child, leading to his death, revealed "senseless brutality".
"For more than a month, the two of you, in a ruthless and unrelenting manner, inflicted severe torture on your two-year-old child, who was unable to retaliate or defend himself.
"The idea of a mother causing such hurt to a baby she had carried for nine months is simply incomprehensible."
SENTENCE IS TOO LIGHT, “MY SON REMAINS DEAD”
Daniel’s biological father Mohamad Nasser Abdul Gani, 42, and uncle, Manaf Al Ansari, 48, were present in court on Tuesday.
Mr Nasser, who was in prison when Daniel was born, had said he never got the chance to meet his son. Mr Manaf said that after Mr Nasser was released from jail, Mr Nasser was unable to get in touch with Zaidah.
Mr Manaf said his brother remains distraught over Daniel’s death.
“He told me 'The (day) I touched my son is the day I’m going to bury him. He didn’t even know I am his father,'" Mr Manaf recalled.
Daniel's father, Mohamad Nasser Abdul Gani, with Masita Hussin outside of court. (Photo: Vanessa Paige Chelvan)
Breaking down outside the courtroom, Mr Nasser said he was not satisfied with the couple’s sentences: “My son remains dead.”
Madam Masita Hussin, 52, who cared for Daniel for most of his life, also expressed disappointment at the couple’s sentences. She, too, broke down outside the courtroom, and was in tears, clutching Daniel’s old shoes and pacifier tightly as she left the courthouse.
Madam Masita and her daughter Wawan, 22, cared for Daniel on weekdays and Zaidah would take him back over the weekend. But, Ms Wawan said, one weekend in 2015 Zaidah never brought Daniel back, and neither she nor her mother saw Daniel alive again.
DANIEL’S LAST DAY
At about 10am on Nov 22, the toddler refused to eat breakfast and his mother slapped him. She then passed the bowl to her boyfriend, Zaini, who tried to feed the boy.
When he still did not eat, both Zaidah and Zaini slapped him multiple times and the woman hit her son’s back, causing him to fall to the floor. She stomped on his chest before pulling him up by his arm.
The boy ate two or three spoonfuls of food but refused to eat any more, and was sent to stand in the corner of a room.
He stayed there until around 7pm that day, until tired from standing all day, the toddler leaned on the bedframe. When the couple noticed this, both of them started slapping Daniel, who lay down on the floor and closed his eyes.
Zaini took the boy to the kitchen and force-fed him two spoonfuls of dried chilli before forcing him to continue standing in the living room.
Later, around 8.45pm, Daniel became weak and was unable to continue standing. His mother pinched him on his body and cheeks, and slapped him several times. Zaidah thought the boy was “pretending” and complained to her boyfriend, the court heard.
Zaini slapped the boy, and kicked him in the stomach till Daniel fell to the floor, hitting his head. Zaini then force-fed the toddler chilli for the second time that day.
The next morning, the couple could not rouse the boy and their two housemates called an ambulance. Daniel was pronounced dead at 9.11am.
When questioned by paramedics and by the police over the boy’s bruise-riddled body, the couple lied that the toddler had a habit of pinching himself and that he had slipped and fallen in the toilet.
Daniel and his family lived with Madam Puspawati Abdul Razat, a friend of Zaidah's. She recalled with chilling clarity the morning Zaidah told her Daniel would not wake up.
"She opened the curtain and I saw Daniel's legs were all blue. Then I cried and cried,” the 51-year-old said. Madam Puspawati, who is wheelchair-bound, said that made it difficult for her to help Daniel, or leave the house to call the police.
Her pleas to Zaidah not to beat Daniel also fell on deaf ears. More than six months have passed since the toddler died, but Madam Puspawati misses him every day.
"I loved Daniel so much. Until now, I still think that he is here with me," she said.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Claire Poh had called the “physical, mental and emotional abuse” of a “defenceless, voiceless” two-year-old child “horrific and inhumane”.
DPP Poh had sought a jail term of nine years and 12 strokes of the cane for Zaini, and a stiffer jail term for Zaidah in lieu of caning.
At a previous hearing, it took the prosecutor several minutes to read out a list of more than 40 external injuries found on the boy’s body during an autopsy. The toddler also had a rib fracture and bleeding in the brain.
For causing grievous hurt resulting in death, the couple could have been sentenced to up to 10 years’ jail and a fine or caning. For child abuse, they could have been jailed up to four years and/or fined up to S$4,000 for each charge.
ABUSE CASES ON THE RISE: MSF
In 2015, the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Child Protective Service investigated 551 serious cases, which is a 40 per cent increase compared to the previous three years. Between 380 and 400 serious cases were investigated each year from 2012 to 2014.
It said the spike was due to better detection among agencies. However, some forms - like emotional and psychological abuse - can be harder to spot. If undetected, it could also have adverse long-term effects.
Goh Fong Yin, a senior social worker at Touch Community Services, explained: "Because the child has been exposed to abuse when they were young, they may not be able to trust people. So when they grow up, it may have an effect on their relationships - especially close relationships with their spouse, their children.
“And they will not be able to adjust so well later in life. Another area would be that, as they have been exposed to this method of discipline by their parents, they may also become abusive parents in future.”
So how can cases like Daniel's - which was not known to authorities until he died - be prevented from falling through the cracks?
Ms Tin Pei Ling, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, said: "We need to increase public awareness of what constitutes child abuse, so that members of the public are more primed in their conscious mind to help look out for it.”
“At the same time, we also need to be careful not to overdo it, and heighten fear that may be unnecessary," added Ms Tin, who is also the Member of Parliament for MacPherson SMC.
She said a strong network - which includes neighbours and teachers - is also essential in flagging children who are at risk, and intervening in the situation.