SINGAPORE — A five-year-old child was allegedly brutally tortured at the hands of his unemployed parents in their one-room Toa Payoh rental flat over a three-month period in 2016 and later died in hospital, a court heard on Tuesday (12 November).
The 1.05m-tall child was purportedly pinched with pliers, burnt with boiling-hot water and confined in a cage meant for cats that measured just 91cm long, 58cm wide and 70cm high.
On one occasion, his palm was allegedly burnt with a heated spoon just because he ate milk powder.
And when he collapsed after being scalded in October 2016, his parents took him to hospital more than six hours later simply because they were afraid of being arrested.
The child died in hospital the next day - from burns to three quarters of his total body surface area - at the tender age of five years and nine months.
At the High Court on Tuesday, his parents, Azlin Arujunah and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, who are both 27 now, claimed trial to a charge of murder with common intention, for causing bodily injury sufficient to cause death.
Azlin is also claiming trial to five other charges - four counts of child abuse and one count of abetment to cause hurt by means of a heated substance.
Ridzuan is meanwhile claiming trial to eight other charges - five counts of child abuse and three counts of causing hurt by means of a heated substance.
The child cannot be named due to a court order. Azlin and Ridzuan, who have five other children aged between four and 10, are being tried jointly as their charges are part of a series of similar offences.
‘Horrific and tragic’
“This is a murder as horrific as it is tragic,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien in her opening address to the court, as she noted the various injuries to the child - including cuts over his head and face, broken nose and extensive bruising on his body.
“The accused persons are solely responsible for these injuries. Their cruel and abhorrent conduct belies a blatant disregard not only for his welfare, but for his life,” said the prosecutor.
Even as the boy collapsed from the abuse, Azlin and Ridzuan prioritised their self interests, said DPP Tan. In a statement to the police, Azlin said, “At the back of my mind, I knew that if we did not send the deceased, he would die, and if we sent the deceased to hospital, we would die.”
Added DPP Tan, “Leaving aside the physical abuse he suffered, one cannot imagine the pain and torment the deceased must have endured in the months leading up to his death. He was tortured to his death and had no one to turn to.”
Fostered till age four
Azlin and Ridzuan lived in a one-room rental flat with the victim and three of his siblings. The couple were unemployed and relied on financial assistance. Ridzuan would also sell items such as amulets, love potions and old currencies on online marketplace Carousell.
In March 2011, when the victim was one month old, Azlin handed him over to a close friend as she was unable to care for him. The victim grew up to call his foster mother “mama” and he would visit his biological parents and siblings occasionally. The victim returned to his parents’ care in May 2015, when he was four years old.
From July 2016, Azlin and Ridzuan allegedly physically abused and psychologically tormented the victim. That month, Ridzuan purportedly used a pair of pliers with a pointed tip to pinch the boy’s buttocks and thighs multiple times, causing bruises.
The next month, Azlin found biscuits scattered on the kitchen floor and suspected that the victim had toppled the biscuit tin but he denied it. She allegedly hit his torso, back and legs with a broom, leaving marks on his stomach and causing him a limp and a misaligned kneecap. She also purportedly pushed his left shoulder, causing him to fall sideways and hit his head against the edge of a pillar and bleed.
Sometime in end August or early September, Azlin told Ridzuan to “deal with” the victim. Ridzuan allegedly heated a metal spoon over the stove before placing it on the victim’s palm and causing burns.
Campaign of terror
In October 2016, the victim endured repeated abuse. On one occasion, Ridzuan allegedly flicked cigarette ash from a lighted cigarette onto the victim’s arms when he refused to answer a question. Ridzuan also purportedly hit the victim’s palm with a hanger when he denied “stealing” milk powder.
One another occasion, when Ridzuan found out the victim had eaten milk powder, he allegedly used a heated spoon to burn the victim’s palm, causing a blister.
When the victim did not respond to Azlin and Ridzuan’s questions on another occasion, Azlin purportedly threatened to splash hot water on the victim and then pushed him hard, causing his head to hit the wall and bleed. Ridzuan then allegedly punched the victim hard, causing his nose to bleed profusely.
And the parents purportedly confined the victim in a small cat cage.
‘Cruel and unrelenting’
Between 15 and 22 October, the day he collapsed and never recovered, the victim was allegedly scalded with hot water on at least four occasions by either or both his parents. The water came from a dispenser that was analysed to dispense water at between 86.5 deg C and 98.7 deg C, with an average temperature of 92.6 deg C.
“On each occasion, Azlin and/or Ridzuan would fill a cup with hot water from a hot water dispenser placed within the kitchen, just outside the toilet. On each occasion. they splashed several cups of hot water at the deceased cruelly and unrelentingly, and with obvious disregard for his well-being and survival,” said DPP Tan.
“By doing so, they caused the deceased intense pain and severe injury. No medical attention was rendered to the deceased for the extensive injuries he suffered,” the prosecutor added.
On one of those occasions, Azlin allegedly grabbed the victim by his ankle to prevent him from running away and then filled up a glass with hot water from the dispenser and poured it over his right leg three times. She then purportedly pulled his hand and poured hot water over it four to five times. The hot water splashed over his left arm and chest area. The victim was left limping and in pain, with skin peeling from his hands, arms, chest and stomach. There were also blisters on his chest, left shoulder and right leg.
On another occasion, Azlin allegedly splashed hot water on the victim, who then shouted “Kau gila ke apa?” in Malay, which means “Are you crazy or what?”. This angered Azlin and she purportedly threw several cups of hot water at the victim over his face, body, arms and legs.
Ridzuan heard the victim shouting and got angry. He allegedly also threw several cups of hot water at the victim’s stomach, face and body. As a result of the scalding, the victim had white patches and peeling skin over his face, chin, stomach and body. Pus oozed from his forehead, back and shoulder.
A few days later, Azlin got angry at the victim because he asked her for things. She chased him around the living room, allegedly throwing nine to 10 cups of hot water at him. Some of the hot water landed on his body.
Victim collapsed on floor
The next day, on 22 October, Azlin wanted to bathe the victim at around noon but he didn’t want to remove his shorts. She woke Ridzuan up and he purportedly hit the victim with a broom over his head, hands and legs. Still, the victim refused to take off his shorts.
Ridzuan allegedly threw several cups of hot water at the victim’s legs and body as the child shouted “don’t want, don’t want” in Malay. Azlin purportedly stood beside Ridzuan and continued to shout at the victim to remove his shorts.
As the victim crouched in the toilet, Ridzuan allegedly poured hot water over his back and calf area. The victim then fell forwards onto the bathroom floor and stopped moving.
Azlin and Ridzuan only took the victim to hospital after more than six hours. They registered him at KK Women's and Children's Hospital at about 7.55pm. He was admitted and transferred to the Children’s Intensive Care Unit and the hospital contacted the police at about 8.50pm as his injuries were non-accidental in nature.
Police investigators spoke to Ridzuan over the phone at about 5.40am the next day, on 23 October, and arrested him at his home at about 6.55am, before taking him on the same day to the State Courts, where he was charged with causing grievous hurt to the victim by means of a heated substance.
Among other injuries, victim was diagnosed with major burn injury, dehydration, acute kidney injury, multiple facial cuts and a broken nose. He was pulseless by 8.05am on the same morning and pronounced dead at around 9.10am. A forensic pathologist later certified that the victim died from severe scald injuries, with blunt force trauma to the face and head contributing to his death.
Azlin was arrested two days later on 25 October.
Government psychiatrists found that Azlin was suffering from adjustment disorder with depressed mood in the period leading up to the offences, but without substantial diminution of her mental responsibility. She was also found to have an abnormal personality with dependent and antisocial traits.
Meanwhile, Ridzuan was found to have antisocial personality traits, but without any mental disorder or intellectual disability.
The trial continues.
If found guilty of their murder charge, for intending to cause bodily injury sufficient in the ordinary cause of nature to cause death, Azlin and Ridzuan face the death penalty or life behind bars.
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