Welfare home staff admits to four charges of ill-treating child

Muhammad Abdul Gani was convicted of four charges of ill-treatment of children, after he meted out corporal punishment to them without a formal enquiry.
Muhammad Abdul Gani was convicted of four charges of ill-treatment of children, after he meted out corporal punishment to them without a formal enquiry.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A welfare and religious teacher at Pertapis Children's Home ill-treated children under his care by meting out corporal punishment when it was not allowed unless a formal inquiry was made, a court heard on Thursday .

Muhammad Abdul Gani, 27, was convicted of four charges of ill-treatment. Six other similar charges will be taken into consideration when he is sentenced next month. The total number of children involved in his case is eight.

Muhammad, who is no longer teaching at the Home, had been employed as an Ustaz at Pertapis at Kovan Road since September 2012.

A non-profit organisation, Pertapis also runs other welfare homes and provides residential care to children aged between four and 12. These children are generally either from dysfunctional families, abused or neglected, beyond parental control or at-risk children.

The offences came to light after an ex-employee disclosed that certain employees of the home had been meting out inappropriate punishment to the children, mainly during lessons, prayer times and volleyball activities.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kavita Uthrapathy said investigations revealed that, some time in 2013, in the prayer room at the Home, Muhammad had grabbed the head of a seven-year-old boy below his ears and lifted him off the ground for not lining up properly.

He did the same to a four-year-old boy for no apparent reason on another occasion.

Investigations showed that Muhammad pushed a 10-year-old girl for continuing to whistle in the prayer room despite his telling her to stop.The girl knocked the back of her head against a cupboard behind her.

Sometime in 2012, he made another 10-year old girl stand on a chair for being noisy during her mealtime. He then kicked the chair causing her to fall onto the ground.

Ms Kavita said Muhammad was under strict instructions not to use physical violence on the children. As a religious teacher, he had no business laying his hands on them, she added.

She is seeking a sentence of at least four weeks' jail to reflect the serious view the courts and society take of such offences. She said there was a gross breach of trust and authority in this particular case involving vulnerable children.

Muhammad's lawyer Abdul Jalil Muhammad Tahir, however, said a fine should suffice. He pointed out that a doctor had found no adverse psychological effects on the victims.

"It is unfortunate that these incidents had happened... he just wanted to discipline them, nothing more than that,'' he said.

District Judge Christopher Goh will sentence Muhammad on Oct 13.

Muhammad faces a maximum sentence of a $4,000 fine and four years' jail on each charge.