SINGAPORE — Jealous of a fellow domestic helper, an Indonesian woman mixed detergent powder into her a three-month-old infant’s milk powder.
The contaminated milk powder was discovered by the infant’s mother, who spotted different-coloured particles in the milk mixture before it was fed to the girl.
The 29-year-old domestic helper was jailed three years on Friday (20 September), after she pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to cause hurt through poison.
She had been working with the family since April 2015. The household also employed another maid - a 25-year-old Myanmar national.
None of the parties can be named in order to protect the identity of the victim.
Mother saw particles in milk powder
On 6 September last year, while the Indonesian helper was at the victim’s grandparents’ house ironing clothes, she ensured that no one was watching her before entering the kitchen.
She then took a milk powder scoop from a cabinet and hid it on top of the refrigerator before returning to her chores.
After she had completed her tasks, she retrieved the scoop and went to the master bedroom toilet, where she filled it with Vanish Power O2 and Fab detergent powder.
The maid then poured the detergent powder into a tin of Karihome Goat Milk Infant Formula milk powder and mixed them, before discarding the scoop. She knew that the milk powder was used to feed the three-month-old baby girl.
The next day, at about 11pm, the baby’s 35-year-old mother made milk with the contaminated milk powder. As she shook the milk bottle, she noticed pink and black particles at the bottom of the bottle. She put the bottle aside and used another bottle to make milk with the same powder mixture, but noticed blue particles this time.
She then opened the tin with the mixture and noticed a fragrance similar to detergent powder, which was absent in a new tin of milk powder.
Sensing something amiss, the mother decided to feed the victim with breast milk instead.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Zhou Yang told the court that the mother went back to the provision shop to check the milk and realised it had been contaminated. The infant’s parents managed to narrow down the culprit to the maid.
The baby’s parents made a police report the next day.
Maid wanted to “create problem” for fellow maid
The tin of milk powder was seized and sent to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), along with a bottle of dissolved mixture, and a container each of the detergent powders. The contaminated milk powder was found to contain the detergents. The same report stated that it could not rule out that the dissolved milk powder also contained contents from the detergents.
The HSA also detailed the symptoms that children aged below six years old may experience when exposed to detergents. These include vomiting, coughing, choking, eye pain or irritation, red eye and lethargy.
Exposure to detergents may also cause injuries ranging from vomiting or diarrhoea to the corrosion of the organs in the digestive system.
The Indonesian helper admitted to mixing the detergent powder with the victim’s milk powder in order to “create problem” for the Burmese helper. She was jealous of the latter and felt frustrated with the allocation of work.
“The accused felt that (the Burmese maid) merely needed to take care of the victim while she was assigned with all the household chores. (She) also felt that she was given more work as compared to other maids and did not want to work for her employer any more,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Zhou Yang.
The prosecution asked for three years’ jail for the maid, stating that she had sought to inflict pain on the victim because of a personal vendetta.
“The victim is actually of a very young age, and serious harm could be caused to the infant if she had ingested the contaminated milk. The fact that no harm was caused is no mitigating factor,” said the DPP, adding that harm was averted due to the mother’s alertness.
Speaking through an interpreter, the maid apologised for her offence and said that she was the sole breadwinner supporting an aged mother and her younger sibling’s education. She pleaded for leniency and for a “lighter sentence”.
In sentencing the maid, District Judge Prem Raj said that the victim was an “innocent, vulnerable and defenceless infant who was barely four months old”.
The judge noted that the offence was not “spontaneous or instinctive” but planned.
“The accused’s motive is especially troubling. She has no qualms using infant as a tool. And as (court documents) put, to create problem for the other maid, all because she was jealous of her and frustrated in the way work was allocated.”
“The well being and life of anyone, and especially that of an innocent infant, is not something for anybody to use as a means to pursuing one’s selfish agenda for grievance.”
For attempting to administer poison to the infant, the maid could have been jailed up to five years, with a fine.
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