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Abusive couple strikes again: 11 years' jail for woman whose assaults left helper with deformed ear, broken finger

SINGAPORE — For half a year, an Indonesian domestic helper suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of her employers, married couple Zariah Mohd Ali and Mohammad Dahlan.

During the period of abuse, Zariah Mohd Ali and her daughter told Ms Khanifah to wear a long-sleeved sweater to conceal the injuries on her arms and to wear a headscarf to hide her head injuries.

During the period of abuse, Zariah Mohd Ali and her daughter told Ms Khanifah to wear a long-sleeved sweater to conceal the injuries on her arms and to wear a headscarf to hide her head injuries.

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SINGAPORE — For half a year, an Indonesian domestic helper suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of her employers, married couple Zariah Mohd Ali and Mohamad Dahlan.

Ms Khanifah, who goes by one name and was then 32 years old, was assaulted with various household items in 2012 — leaving her with a deformed ear, scars across her forehead and shoulders, and a permanently impaired little finger.

Zariah hit the maid’s head and mouth with a hammer on at least four occasions, slashed her forearm with a chopper, and struck her forehead with a stone pestle.

Dahlan hit Ms Khanifah on her head with the cover of a frying pan.

The couple was found guilty after claiming trial to their charges and, on Thursday (Aug 1), they were sentenced to jail.

Zariah, 58, was jailed 11 years and ordered to pay S$56,497 in compensation to Ms Khanifah. 

Dahlan, 60, will serve one year and three months behind bars and was ordered to pay S$1,000 in compensation.

Back in 2001, both of them were already prosecuted for abusing a different domestic worker in her 20s, Madam Tutik Rahayu Purwadi.

They had rubbed sambal goreng — a Malay dish — on her eyes, hit her on her head with a mug, beaten her and left her with injuries to her ears because she had not cooked dishes properly.

Zariah was convicted then of causing hurt and using criminal force on Mdm Tutik, and was sentenced to 10 weeks’ jail and fined S$500. Her husband was convicted on two counts of causing hurt and was jailed for 12 weeks.

Prosecutors described the latest case as “indubitably one of the worst cases of maid abuse in Singapore’s recent history”.

“A strong message must be sent out that such treatment of domestic workers within the home cannot be tolerated by the courts,” they said.

The couple's lawyer, Mr Mohamed Niroze Idroos, told the court that they will be appealing against their convictions and sentences.

Zariah was convicted in 2017 on 12 counts of causing hurt and grievous hurt, while Dahlan was convicted on a single charge of causing hurt. 

Another 18 similar charges against Zariah were stood down during the trial. Mr Niroze said that she is intending to contest these charges, with a pre-trial conference to be held on Aug 14.

WHAT ZARIAH DID

  • Struck Ms Khanifah on the back of her head with the blunt side of a hammer, for not properly cleaning the toilet. She gave the maid a sanitary pad to stop the bleeding and Ms Khanifah did not treat her wounds.

  • Told Ms Khanifah to grin widely, then struck her in the mouth with a hammer, hitting the top row of her teeth and bottom lip. The maid cleaned her mouth with just water and could not treat her injuries.

  • Hit Ms Khanifah’s ear with a bamboo pole more than twice, for not cleaning “fast enough”.

  • Used a stone pestle to hit Ms Khanifah on her forehead more than five times.

  • Stabbed Ms Khanifah on her shoulders with a pair of 15cm-long scissors on more than five occasions. The attacks would leave holes in her T-shirt. When Dahlan found out what happened from Ms Khanifah, Zariah gave her a new T-shirt to wear.

  • Slashed Ms Khanifah’s forearm with a chopper while she was cleaning fish in the kitchen. She gave the maid a plaster to stop the bleeding. Ms Khanifah had to cover the wound using plastic and tape.

  • Pulled her left little finger back until a “tuk” sound was heard. Ms Khanifah could no longer straighten her finger after that.

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Ms Khanifah, a mother of two young children, left Indonesia in 2011 to work in Singapore as a domestic helper.

She worked at the couple’s Pasir Ris home for three months before they moved to a flat in Woodlands.

Her duties included cleaning, cooking and looking after Zariah, who had suffered a stroke.

Zariah’s condition affected only the left side of her body, and she could go to work and use her right hand — which she used to inflict the abuse.

Ms Khanifah received only S$20 of her earnings a month after the fees she owed a maid agency were deducted from her salary. She did not get any days off, and had no friends in Singapore.

She was allowed to phone home only once in June 2012, when she had been working for the couple and their two children for about six months. Zariah was with her when she used Zariah’s mobile phone to do so.

After Ms Khanifah’s mandatory medical check-up in her sixth month of work, her relationship with Zariah began to deteriorate. 

The older woman scolded her frequently, and the abuse was so much that she could not recall the precise dates and times she was abused, she testified during the trial.

On most of the occasions, the helper could not get medical treatment because she had no medicine.

Zariah also began saying frequently that Ms Khanifah’s oldest child had died, and discarded Ms Khanifah’s diary containing telephone numbers. 

WHAT THEY DID TO HIDE ABUSE

During the period of abuse from June to December 2012, Zariah and her daughter told Ms Khanifah to wear a long-sleeved sweater to conceal the injuries on her arms, and Zariah told her to wear a headscarf to hide her head injuries.

When people visited the flat, Zariah told her to stay in the kitchen toilet.

Ms Khanifah testified that she dared not shout for help and did not defend herself from the abuse, because she feared being reported to the police and losing her livelihood.

In December 2012, when she was due for her next medical check-up, Ms Khanifah was abruptly sent back to Indonesia. She did not tell immigrations officers of the abuse as she was happy she could finally escape it.

Again, Zariah gave Ms Khanifah a headscarf, long-sleeved shirt and trousers to wear, while Zariah’s daughter put on make-up for her to hide her injuries. Zariah also took group photographs of the family before Ms Khanifah left.

When Ms Khanifah returned to her village, her mother noticed the bruises on her face and head injuries. Ms Khanifah’s husband then told her agent in Indonesia what had happened.

Related topics

abuse domestic helper court crime

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