A young Singaporean couple escaped the death penalty after being acquitted of the murder of their 5-year-old son, though both will spend nearly three decades in prison after being convicted on Monday over a torrent of “horrific” abuse the boy endured at their hands.
Though they dodged the murder conviction, Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman and his wife, Azlin Arujunah, both 28, pleaded guilty to ill-treating their child and were sentenced to 27 and 28 years in prison, respectively, for “voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous means,” Today reports.
The child cannot be named under a gag order protecting the identity of his surviving siblings.
The shocking case only came to light when the trial began in 2019, triggering an outpouring of outrage among Singaporeans, many of whom described the abuse as “disturbing” and “disgusting” and called for the maximum penalty to be delivered.
The court, headed by Singaporean Judge Valerie Thean, learned that the child had been sent to live with his mother’s close friend shortly after his birth due to the family’s financial hardships. He returned home in 2015 only to be subjected to a series of shocking abuses over the course of three months.
The child was scalded with hot water, beaten, punched in the face, and locked in a cage meant for animals by his parents. He passed out from his injuries one afternoon and was taken to a children’s hospital—but only after “hours of deliberation” by his parents.
Prosecutors said the boy showed “classic signs of physical abuse”—cuts on his head and face, nasal bone fractures, and bruises on his limbs and back. Doctors who examined the boy upon his arrival described third-degree burns covering nearly 75 percent of his body.
His skin was yellow and white, wet and raw, and was in “such bad shape” that huge patches started falling off.
The little boy went into shock during surgery, during which, in an effort to save his life, medical teams inserted needles directly into his bones to provide fluids, blood, and medication. But it was too late; he succumbed to his injuries and died on the morning of October 23, 2016.
“This is a murder as horrific as it is tragic”, Deputy Public Prosector Tan Wen Hsien argued in court last year during a closely-watched trial that saw relatives and medical experts take the stand.
“The accused persons are solely responsible for these injuries. Their cruel and abhorrent conduct belies a blatant disregard not only for the boy’s welfare, but for his life,” Tan said. “Despite their child’s extensive burns and obvious weakening, they prioritized their self-interests over his.”
The parents were examined by psychiatrists and chose not to take the witness stand, admitting to abusing their son in several police statements they gave after their arrest.
Prosecutors had initially sought murder charges and the death sentence, but Thean threw out that charge in April, arguing they should be convicted under a different charge instead. Though the prosecution had continued to acquitted them, convicting them of causing grievous hurt instead. She also ruled out the couple’s history of mental disorders.
Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, the boy’s father, was also sentenced to 24 strokes of the cane, while his mother, Azlin, was served an additional year in jail because caning of women is not allowed under Singapore law.
Acknowledging the public demand for a severe sentence over “the inhumane treatment of a vulnerable young victim,” Thean said her court had to “send a clear signal”.
“Both parents have joint and equal responsibility for the wellbeing of their children; both condoned each other’s actions,” Thean said. But, she added, because 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.’”