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Couple on trial for murder of 5-year-old son who was allegedly beaten, scalded, put in cage

SINGAPORE — A young couple accused of repeatedly abusing their five-year-old son, for example by confining him in a metal cage meant for their pet cat, began standing trial in the High Court on Tuesday (Nov 12) for murdering him.

Azlin Arujunah and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman face multiple charges of ill-treating and assaulting their five-year-old son in their one-room rental flat.

Azlin Arujunah and Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman face multiple charges of ill-treating and assaulting their five-year-old son in their one-room rental flat.

SINGAPORE — A young couple accused of repeatedly abusing their five-year-old son, for example by confining him in a metal cage meant for their pet cat, began standing trial in the High Court on Tuesday (Nov 12) for murdering him.

Azlin Arujunah and her husband Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman — now both 27 years old — face multiple charges of ill-treating and assaulting the child in their one-room rental flat.

They have also claimed trial to committing murder with common intention between Oct 15 and 22 in 2016. 

The boy died from severe injuries on Oct 23, 2016 from being scalded with hot water. Neither he nor the couple’s other children can be named due to a court gag order to protect their identities.

Prosecutors are arguing that the couple splashed the boy with hot water on at least four occasions during that period on his legs, hands, chest, hands and stomach.

Doctors who treated him found that second to third-degree burns covered two-thirds of his body, and 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.

If convicted of murder, Azlin and Ridzuan face the death penalty.

BOTH WERE UNEMPLOYED

The boy was fostered out when he was about a month old, around March 2011. Azlin could not take care of him and had handed him over to her close friend, Ms Zufarina Abdul Hamid.

At the time, Azlin and Ridzuan were unemployed and relied on financial assistance. 

Ridzuan also sold various items on e-marketplace Carousell, such as amulets, love potions and old currencies.

Ms Zufarina took care of the child like her own, according to facts not disputed between the prosecution and defence. 

He called Ms Zufarina “mama” and she occasionally took him to visit his family.

When he was about four years old in 2015, the child began living with his parents again.

In their opening statement, prosecutors charged that from around July 2016, Azlin and Ridzuan began to “physically abuse and psychologically torment” the boy in various ways.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien told the court: “This is a murder as horrific as it is tragic… 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.

“Despite the deceased's extensive burns and obvious weakening, they prioritised their self-interests over his.”

WHAT ALLEGEDLY HAPPENED

The prosecution set out a chronology of the alleged abuse, which make up the charges that the couple face:

July 2016:

  • Ridzuan is accused of using a pair of pliers on two separate days to pinch the boy’s buttocks and thighs several times, causing bruises.

August 2016:

  • Azlin allegedly hit the boy with a broom on his body, back and legs, after he denied knocking over a biscuit tin and scattering biscuits on the kitchen floor. This left marks on his stomach and caused him to develop a limp and a misaligned kneecap.

  • Azlin allegedly pushed the boy on his shoulder, causing him to fall and hit his head on the edge of a pillar.

End-August to early September 2016:

  • Ridzuan is said to have heated a metal spoon over the stove and burned the boy’s palm with it, after Azlin told him to “deal with” the boy.

October 2016:

  • Ridzuan purportedly burned the boy’s palm again with a heated metal spoon.

  • Ridzuan allegedly flicked cigarette ash from a lit cigarette on the boy’s arms when he refused to answer him, and used a hanger to hit him on the palm when he denied stealing milk powder.

Oct 15 to 17, 2016:

  • Azlin allegedly grabbed the boy by his ankle to prevent him from running away, filled a glass with hot water from a dispenser, poured it over his right leg three times and over his hand about five times. The boy’s skin began peeling and blisters formed on his chest, shoulder and leg.

Oct 17 to 19, 2016:

  • Azlin is said to have grown angry when the boy shouted: “Are you crazy or what?” in Malay when she splashed hot water on him. Both Azlin and Ridzuan then allegedly threw several more cups of hot water at him.

  • Ridzuan is said to have burned the boy’s palm again with a heated spoon, after finding out he had stolen milk powder to eat.

Oct 19 to 20, 2016:

  • Azlin purportedly threatened to splash the boy with hot water when he refused to answer their questions, but did not as he was standing near the Internet cables. She then allegedly pushed him forcefully, causing his head to hit the wall and bleed.

  • Ridzuan then allegedly punched the boy in the face.

Oct 21 to 22, 2016:

  • The couple is accused of confining the boy in a cat cage, which measured 70cm in height, 58cm in width and 90cm in length. The boy was 105cm tall.

Oct 22, 2016:

  • Ridzuan allegedly hit the boy with a broom on his head, hands and legs to make him take off his shorts for a bath. When the boy was in the toilet, Ridzuan then allegedly threw cups of hot water at him while Azlin shouted for the boy to take off his shorts. The boy fell forwards onto the floor and stopped moving after Ridzuan allegedly poured more water over his back.

SPLASHED WATER ‘CRUELLY AND UNRELENTINGLY’: PROSECUTION

Prosecutors said that the temperature of the water would have been between 86.5°C and 98.7°C, causing immediate burns, as established by a scientific analysis by the Health Sciences Authority.

The couple did not give him medical attention for his “extensive injuries”, after they allegedly splashed the water “cruelly and unrelentingly”, the prosecution added.

After the boy collapsed, the couple only took him to the hospital more than six hours later as they were afraid they would be arrested for child abuse, the prosecution argued.

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The boy was taken to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital that evening. However, he succumbed to his injuries the next morning.

A 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.

Ridzuan was arrested at the flat on the day his son died, while Azlin was arrested two days later. 

Police officers seized an electric kettle, metal cat cage, pliers, broom, glass mug and a roll of twine from their flat, among other items.

The couple was examined by psychiatrists after their arrests. 

Dr Jacob Rajesh found that Azlin suffered from an adjustment disorder with depressed mood at the time, which substantially impaired her mental responsibility. 

Dr Ung Eng Khean also found a “causal link” between Ridzuan’s mental illnesses — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder (IED) and hypnotic use disorder — and his offending behaviour, though that did not mean he was of unsound mind.

However, the prosecution said they will rely on other psychiatrists who found that Azlin’s mental responsibility was not substantially diminished, and who disagreed with the diagnoses of ADHD and IED for Ridzuan.

Prosecutors said they will also rely on numerous statements the couple gave during investigations, in which they admitted to physically abusing the boy and scalding him in the week before he died.

The trial continues on Wednesday. 

Related topics

child murder court crime family relationships

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