SINGAPORE: A 30-year-old woman was sentenced to 14 months’ jail on Wednesday (Oct 28) for voluntarily hurting a toddler under her care.
The accused was working as a maid at the time of the incident, when she dipped the victim’s hand in boiling water repeatedly. The victim was 16 months old at that time.
When the incident happened on Jan 14, the accused was in the house with the victim and the victim's eight-year-old sister while their parents were out.
All parties in this case cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the victim, who is a minor.
The accused had been working for her employers since Dec 8 and her duties included taking care of the two children. After two weeks of working, she told her employers that she wanted to work for another employer as she felt incapable of taking care of the children.
The employers linked her up with her employment agent, who told her she would have to incur cost for the transfer, so the accused decided to continue working for the family.
At around 5.15pm on the day of the incident, the maid was cooking dinner when the victim started to cry in her bedroom. The maid brought the child to the kitchen and carried her while she continued to cook.
One minute of closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage was played in court, showing the accused suddenly grabbing the child's left hand and putting it into a pot in front of her.
The child screamed, but the accused took the hand and placed it in the water at least another time, before running it under tap water.
When the victim started crying, the victim’s sister came out of the bathroom. The accused told the sister that the toddler had put her own hand into the pot as she was being carried.
The sister called her father, who told her to apply aloe vera and toothpaste on the victim's hand.
He returned home at around 6.40pm, brought the victim to a nearby clinic, and later to KK Women's and Children's Hospital for treatment.
The victim was found to have second-degree burns on her forearm. Her wounds have fully healed but she will have a burn scar.
The accused initially told her employers the victim had accidentally touched the cooking pot, but the next day, the accused once more told the victim's father she wanted either a transfer or to go home. He became suspicious and decided to review the CCTV footage with his wife.
After finding out that the accused had put the victim's hand in the pot of boiling water, they confronted her with the evidence. She admitted that her actions were deliberate.
The couple filed a police report.
CRUEL AND BRUTAL ASSAULT: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Jane Lim, who asked for a jail sentence of at least 16 months, said the accused had committed a “brutal” and “cruel” assault against a young and vulnerable victim who was defenceless.
“The use of a heated substance is an especially cruel way to inflict hurt,” Ms Lim said, pointing out that a second-degree burn could lead to infection and scarring.
The victim was not causing any disturbance that would provoke such an attack at that time, she argued, adding that the accused had breached the trust placed on her by the victim’s parents.
Though the accused pleaded guilty, the deputy public prosecutor said limited weight should be put on this fact as the accused was caught red-handed. She had denied the offence and only came clean when presented with evidence.
However, Ms Lim said she acknowledged the incident was “fleeting”.
Defence counsel Lolita Andrew, representing the accused, said the domestic helper was also “vulnerable” and had been working seven days a week. During the time she was with the family, she did not have a day off and was only allowed to call her family back in Myanmar once, using the employer’s phone. She had no mobile phone of her own that would give her “an outlet” to vent.
At the time of the incident, the accused was struggling to pacify the child and finish cooking by a specified time.
Ms Andrew, who had requested for a sentence of not more than eight months, said the accused had acted on the “spur of the moment” and she immediately put the victim’s hand under tap water after she realised what she had done.
The victim also did not suffer any permanent injuries, she added.
In court, Ms Andrew read out an apology written by the maid to both the victim and the parents. In it, she said she was "very sorry for the incident" and "did not intend to harm the victim". She also said she had been "feeling terrible all this time".
“Hopefully one day they will be able to forgive me,” she said.
The accused, who had been remanded since Apr 8 and appeared via a video-link, cried when the letter was read out.
In response, Ms Lim said the accused was not in a vulnerable state as she was well-fed and did not face any physical or mental abuse from her employers. When she requested for a transfer, they had connected her to the employment agency.
Ms Lim said a “blanket approach” cannot be taken for all domestic helpers and each case must be contextualised. In this case, the accused did not suffer any deprivation from the family.
District judge Ong Chin Rhu sentenced the former maid to 14 months’ jail with effect from Apr 8.
For voluntarily causing hurt through a heated substance, the accused could have been jailed up to seven years or fined. She cannot be caned due to her gender.