SINGAPORE: An Indonesian maid was jailed four months on Thursday (Mar 23) for ill-treating her employers' then-four-year-old son, who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and is bedridden.
Kusrini Caslan Arja, 37, admitted she left a suction cap lodged in the boy’s throat for about 12 hours, after she had tried and failed to pull it out. Due to his condition, the boy is “defenceless, helpless … like an infant”, prosecutors said, and relied on a suction machine to remove phlegm and mucus from his mouth and nose.
Kusrini had been taught by the boy’s parents that placing the suction cap on the boy’s lips would do the job, and warned her against inserting the cap into his mouth.
But on Nov 23, 2016, Kusrini noticed the boy had more phlegm than usual, and thought it would be more efficient to place the cap into the boy’s mouth to suck the phlegm out. The cap lodged in the boy’s throat, and Kusrini tried desperately for about 10 minutes to remove the cap from his mouth using her fingers, CCTV footage of the accident showed.
The cap remained lodged in the boy’s throat for about 12 hours, until his mother, a nurse, sensed something amiss when she returned home that night and found blood in the machine. She removed the cap with a pair of tweezers and called an ambulance and the police.
Lawyer Mahmood Gaznavi, who took on the case pro bono, said the maid had the boy’s best interests at heart when she put the cap into his mouth to remove phlegm, and when it became stuck, “did what anyone would do – (try) to retrieve the cap”.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Lu Jia argued Kusrini had acted in the interest of self-preservation by not telling anyone what had happened, though the boy’s father had called to check on him.
DID NOT COMMIT OFFENCE "OUT OF MALICE": LAWYER
Mr Mahmood said Kusrini was in a state of panic and “most afraid of the consequences”. She continued to monitor the boy throughout the day, Mr Mahmood said. The lawyer argued that since the boy breathed through a permanent tracheostomy tube, there was little danger of the cap blocking his airway.
Mr Mahmood also pointed out Kusrini had been left to care for the bedridden, disabled boy and to “operate (medical) devices without formal training”. “The accused did not commit the offence out of malice, but out of overzealous attempts to correct an initial act gone wrong,” he said, distinguishing Kusrini’s case from others in which children are deliberately and repeatedly abused by their caregivers.
The lawyer urged the court to sentence Kusrini to four months’ jail, “more than enough” punishment for what she did, he said.
District Judge Low Wee Ping said he "completely" agreed. “The prosecution has grossly overstated its case on the accused’s culpability”, he said, siding with the defence’s argument that Kusrini had not intentionally hurt the boy. “There was no malice involved and (Kusrini) is not a trained person," the judge said.
Eighteen months’ jail, sought by the prosecution, is “manifestly excessive”, Judge Low added.
At a previous hearing, the judge had remarked that “the system” is at fault for allowing domestic helpers to perform “such medical work”. “We employ maids too generally”, the judge had said. “We employ them as car washers, plumbers, house painters, medical caregivers … when we shouldn’t be. And when they do something wrong, we point our (fingers) at them.”
Since Kusrini has been in remand since Nov 25, she could be released on Thursday if granted remission for good behaviour.
But she will not be able to go free just yet, as prosecutors said they intend to lodge an appeal. Kusrini’s passport will be held by the police, and she will have to stay at the Indonesian embassy pending the hearing of her appeal, it was decided on Thursday.