SINGAPORE, July 13 — A married couple found guilty of grievously abusing their five-year-old son, who eventually died from severe scald injuries in 2016, were both sentenced in the High Court today to 27 years’ jail each.
Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, 28, was also given the maximum 24 strokes of the cane. His wife Azlin Arujunah, 28, was given an additional year of jail in lieu of caning. Under Singapore law, women cannot be caned.
The couple was acquitted of murder by common intention in April after Justice Valerie Thean ruled that they should be convicted of an alternative charge instead.
Last month, the judge found them guilty of a reduced charge of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by a dangerous weapon or means. They also pleaded guilty to several other charges of ill-treating the boy under the Children and Young Persons Act.
Prosecutors then sought the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the reduced charge, calling it “one of the worst cases” of its kind, and one which warranted the stiffest punishment.
However, Justice Thean said it was not appropriate as medical evidence could not determine which injuries arose from which incidents. The particular form of grievous hurt specified in the charge was “hurt which endangers life” and not “death”, she noted.
The original murder charge had been premised on four acts of abuse committed in their one-room rental flat — namely of burning or scalding, from Oct 15 to 22 in 2016. But Justice Thean previously pointed out that not all of the incidents involved both parents.
The prosecution has since filed an appeal against the murder acquittal.
The couple had admitted to abusing their son over three months, including confining him in a cage meant for their pet cat, scalding him with hot water and punching him on the face.
The boy died on Oct 23, 2016. He had suffered second to third-degree burns over two-thirds of his body from being scalded with hot water, with the prosecution saying its temperature was between 86.5°C and 98.7°C.
He cannot be named to protect the identity of his surviving siblings.
Ridzuan was also cleared of another charge of causing hurt by means of heated substance — burning the boy’s palm with a heated metal spoon around September 2016. His wife was acquitted of abetting him to do this.
Earlier, in acquitting the couple of the capital offence, Justice Thean had noted that legally, “common intention” needs to be formed before the first alleged offence is committed.
She said then she could not infer such an intention from the medical evidence, which showed only a “collective injury”.
The couple could have faced life imprisonment or the death penalty if convicted of murder.
Inexcusable that they did not get help: judge
Today, the judge described their offences as grave and said the court has to “send a clear message that physical violence against young children is deeply abhorrent”.
Living under challenging circumstances was no excuse for the couple to subject their son to “physical abuse, which was in turn part of a pattern of parental neglect” till he died, Justice Thean added.
“The duty of a parent subsists regardless of economic and social circumstances. In this particular case, in any case, and even more inexcusably, help was available,” she said.
The boy’s foster mother and Azlin’s close friend, who took care of him from when he was one month old until he was four, had offered to become his guardian and transfer him to a school closer to her own home, the judge noted.
“Despite their parental obligation to look after his best interests, neither parent would even sign the consent form for a change of schools. When the child was with them, he did not attend preschool,” Justice Thean said.
She further found that Azlin’s mental disorder — adjustment disorder with depressed mood — had not substantially impaired or diminished her mental responsibility for her actions.
On the other hand, Justice Thean found insufficient evidence that Ridzuan suffered from mental disorders.
His lawyers had argued in his defence that he was suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder, and hypnotic use disorder, a condition associated with repeated use of sedative-like drugs.
In terms of differentiating Ridzuan from Azlin, the judge said there was “no clear indication” of who was more responsible. “Both parents have joint and equal responsibility for the wellbeing of their children; both condoned each other’s actions,” she added.
Nevertheless, the judge noted that Ridzuan had “introduced the culture” of domestic abuse by first abusing Azlin. The court previously heard during the trial that Ridzuan had a troubled childhood and once stayed in the Singapore Boys’ Home.
He had also first abused the child in July 2016 by using a pair of pliers on two separate days to pinch the boy’s buttocks and thighs several times, causing bruises.
Justice Thean said that their neglect in getting medical attention for their son was “particularly cruel” during the last instance, as the boy “would have been in great pain even from the first scalding incident”.
At least seven hours passed before he was taken to the hospital, as they were afraid they would be arrested for child abuse. His skin was in such bad shape that doctors had to insert needles directly into the bone to give him fluids, blood and medication.
Prosecutors said that he showed “classic signs” of physical abuse — cuts on his head and face, nasal bone fractures and extensive bruises over his limbs and back. His skin had turned yellowish, whitish, wet and raw, with parts peeling off.
The boy’s injuries included substantial bleeding under his scalp measuring 18cm by 10cm, which was “almost the entire head”, a forensic pathologist testified during the trial.
The pathologist certified his cause of death as severe scald injuries, which were “sufficient in the ordinary cause of nature to cause death”, and blunt force craniofacial trauma.
The couple chose not to take the witness stand in their defence. They had admitted to abusing the boy in several police statements that they gave after their arrest.
Azlin told police officers that she had disciplined the child only when he gave her “attitude”, stole milk powder and told lies, and that she did not mean to kill him.
A defence psychiatrist who examined her said that she abused methamphetamine to cope with the stress of taking care of her children. At the time of her offences, she had been going through withdrawal symptoms as her supply was drying.
Azlin was defended by Thangavelu, Terence Tan and Cheryl Ng, while Eugene Thuraisingam and Syazana Yahya represented Ridzuan. — TODAY