Religious teacher jailed for ill-treating inmates of children's home

Muhammad was jailed for three weeks yesterday for these and other offences of ill-treatment of four children aged between four and 10 at Pertapis Children's Home in Kovan Road.
Muhammad was jailed for three weeks yesterday for these and other offences of ill-treatment of four children aged between four and 10 at Pertapis Children's Home in Kovan Road. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

When a 10-year-old girl made too much noise during mealtime at a children's home, welfare and religious teacher Muhammad Abdul Gani made her stand on a chair, then kicked it from underneath her, causing her to fall to the ground.

When a seven-year-old boy failed to line up properly for prayers, the 27-year-old picked him up by the ears - then did the same to his four-year-old brother for no apparent reason.

Muhammad was jailed for three weeks yesterday for these and other offences of ill-treatment of four children aged between four and 10 at Pertapis Children's Home in Kovan Road.

Corporal punishment is not allowed there unless a formal inquiry is held.

District Judge Christopher Goh called Muhammad's actions a "gross breach of trust and authority".

The religious teacher, who began working at the home in September 2012, admitted to four of 10 charges. The six remaining charges taken into consideration included causing emotional injury to the four- year-old by putting him in a cupboard. He also used a wooden cane to hit the hands of four other children, while he slapped another on the cheek. Eight children were involved in total.

The home, which had about 60 residents at the time, cares for children from dysfunctional families, and who are abused or neglected, beyond parental control or considered to be at-risk.

The offences came to light in February last year after a former employee blew the whistle. Five staff members, including Muhammad, were named in the police report.

Muhammad and a 29-year-old Filipina have been charged.

Investigations showed that in 2013, Muhammad punished another 10-year-old girl for whistling by pushing her on the mouth with his hand, causing the back of her head to hit a cupboard.

Judge Goh said that while he was not convinced by all the "aggravating" factors highlighted by the prosecution, he agreed that Muhammad's actions were a gross breach of trust and authority.

What made this case more serious was that these were "vulnerable'' children. He felt that the custody threshold had been crossed even though these children did not appear to suffer any physical or psychological effects.

"I accept that it is not easy for staff in such homes. A huge burden and responsibility is placed on them. I do not envy them. Perhaps some of them may be unsuitable for such jobs. Nonetheless, the paramount interest must be the welfare of the children, even more so in this case where they are disadvantaged, coming from dysfunctional families.'' he said.

The maximum punishment is a $4,000 fine and four years' jail.

Muhammad no longer works with children.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Religious teacher jailed for ill-treating inmates of children's home'. Print Edition | Subscribe