'I'd have taken Daniel away'

Whenever she looks at the corner by her bed, Ms Puspawati Abdul Razat recalls how Daniel was hurt by his mother Zaidah, 41, and her boyfriend Zaini Jamari, 46.

"Every time Daniel did something wrong, she would tell him to go (to the corner)," said Ms Puspawati, a friend of Zaidah's. "If she was frustrated, she would beat Daniel there."

"If I could walk, I would have taken Daniel away," said the 51-year- old wheelchair user, who lives in the one-room flat in Telok Blangah where the abuse took place.

  • What to do if you witness abuse

  • Abuse often takes place in private, according to Ms Annie Chia, lead social worker for @27 Family Service Centre in Telok Blangah. "Hearing and not reporting matters are still common in the mindset of many," she said.

    The agency visits known cases monthly or fortnightly though this still might not be enough, as abuse can happen in the wee hours. Not reporting abuse "would mean condoning the acts and possibly more severe harm may happen to the child", said Ms Chia.

    Last year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Child Protective Service (CPS) received 2,022 reports and inquiries about child abuse. It investigated 551 of these cases that were instances of serious abuse. This was an increase of about 40 per cent over the period from 2012 to 2014. Most referrals are made by partners such as hospitals and some by family members.

    The CPS looks into cases within families where there are serious concerns over a child's safety. Less severe cases are referred to a child protection specialist centre, family service centre or other partners.

    If bystanders see an adult getting angry at a child or a terrified child crying, they could approach the family to check if the child is all right, it said, adding that "family violence is not a private matter".

    Seow Bei Yi

Zaidah moved in last year but the abuse started only around two months later, said Ms Puspawati, who did not know the reason. Zaidah had taken the two-year-old back as she could not afford to pay his caregivers.

When Ms Puspawati told Zaidah not to beat her son "or he will die", the mother replied: "I don't care."

One time, Zaini got angry when Daniel ate too slowly and could not eat gravy that was not spicy.

He took chillies and forced the boy to eat them with rice, said Ms Puspawati. Another time, when Daniel collapsed, Zaini stomped on the boy.

"I wanted to but I couldn't do anything; I use a wheelchair. (Zaini) might have pushed me over too," she said tearfully. "At first, (Zaidah) wasn't like this. If I knew it would become like this, I wouldn't have helped her back then."

She added that Zaidah was always at home and would find out if she called the authorities for help.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2016, with the headline ''I'd have taken Daniel away''. Print Edition | Subscribe