SINGAPORE: A couple acquitted of murdering their five-year-old son by repeatedly scalding him with hot water was on Monday (Jul 13) sentenced to more than 20 years' jail each, for lesser charges of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous means.
Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman was given 27 years' jail and 24 strokes of the cane, while his wife Azlin Arujunah was given 27 years' jail and an additional 12 months in prison in lieu of caning.
The boy had been given to another family shortly after his birth in January 2011, and returned to his parents' household in May 2015.
He was subject to abuse from about a year later and was hit with tools like a broom or a hanger and pinched with pliers.
His parents began scalding him with hot water, leaving him limping in pain with blisters and peeling skin. He was eventually confined in a cage meant for the family cat - an act which the judge described as "extremely cruel".
On Oct 22, 2016, when he did not want to remove his shorts for a bath, his father hit him with a broom before throwing cups of hot water on him.
The boy crouched down in the toilet as he was attacked with hot water and eventually fell forward and stopped moving. He was taken to hospital after more than six hours as his parents were afraid of getting arrested.
He went into shock during surgery, with raw, untreated burn wounds over large portions of his body and a blistered palm, possibly caused by a heated spoon his father had used on him when he stole milk powder to eat.
PROSECUTION PUSHED FOR LIFE IMPRISONMENT
The prosecution had pushed for life imprisonment for both of them, but the judge said she did not find this appropriate, even as she called the offences "grave".
Justice Valerie Thean said she had taken into consideration past similar cases, and noted that the particular form of grievous hurt specified in the relevant charges for this case was “hurt which endangers life” and not “death”.
She added that the medical evidence could not determine with precision which injuries were caused from which incident. There were a total of four scalding incidents that ultimately led to the boy collapsing.
There is also no clear indication that one parent is more culpable than the other, or that more mitigating factors apply for one parent over the other, said Justice Thean.
Instead, both parents condoned each other's actions.
In her findings, Justice Thean noted that it was Ridzuan who introduced family violence into the home and against the victim by using pliers on him.
As he was the stronger partner, his use of force caused the child greater injuries, said the judge.
The child was in great pain and his parents delayed treatment such that when he arrived at the hospital, the condition of his skin meant that doctors had to make injections directly into his bones instead.
READ: Child murder trial: Father pressed heated spoon on son's palm in escalating disciplinary actions
CLEAR SIGNAL MUST BE SENT: JUDGE
Justice Thean dismissed arguments on the parents' circumstances, noting that the duty of a parent remains regardless of social and economic circumstances, and said she placed no weight on arguments of their alleged psychiatric conditions.
She noted that there had been another family ready to take care of the boy, but the accused did not even sign a consent form for him to go to school. In fact, there was "no evidence that he attended any sort of school while in their care".
She said the court has to send a clear signal, and that public interest demands that a severe sentence be imposed, pointing to the "inhumane treatment of a vulnerable young victim".
Child abuse is severely aggravating, said Justice Thean, adding that society has a special interest in protecting the young.
The prosecution intends to appeal against the acquittals of the murder charges.
The judge had cleared the parents of murder with common intention as she found there was nothing to infer that there was a common intention to murder before the series of four scalding acts were committed.
She found that it was not safe to convict the pair as the charges of murder with common intention had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.