13 years' jail, cane for man who groomed girl, 12

A minimart worker courted a 12-year-old girl with gifts and called her his "wife", grooming her to engage in progressively intrusive sexual acts with him over a period of three months, the High Court heard yesterday.

Indian national Udhayakumar Dhakshinamoorthy, 31, was sentenced to 13 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane after he pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual penetration of a minor and two charges of attempted statutory rape. Four other charges were considered.

The offences, which took place between September and December 2016, came to light after his pregnant adult girlfriend discovered a video of the naked girl in his phone.

In sentencing, Judicial Commissioner Pang Khang Chau noted that Udhayakumar had exploited the innocence and naivete of the girl and morally corrupted her.

The court heard that when he first asked the girl for sex after taking her to the staircase of a block of flats, she told him she was not sure what sex was, to which he responded that he would teach her.

Udhayakumar admitted that he tried to have sex with the girl on two occasions, but failed.

After his second foiled attempt, he gave the girl $50, unilaterally ended their "relationship" and no longer allowed her to take things from the minimart for free.

This proved his previous generosity was merely a facade to get the girl to have sex with him, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Gail Wong in sentencing arguments.

Udhayakumar began working at the minimart in a housing estate in September 2016.

He took notice of the girl when she visited the minimart with her two siblings. A few days later, when she came alone, he told her to follow him to the second floor, where he asked for her name, age and whether she had a boyfriend.

The girl, who was turning 13 at the end of that year, told him she was 13 and that she did not have a boyfriend. He then asked her to be his girlfriend, and she agreed.

A few days later, he gave her a SIM card for her phone, asking her to send him a text message.

On their first chat, he asked the girl for a nude selfie of herself. He also asked her to take a video of her private parts, and she complied. After this, he would let her take ice cream, toys and tidbits from the minimart without paying. He would also kiss and hug her when they were alone.

A week after getting the nude images, Udhayakumar initiated sexual acts with the girl.

After school, he led her to various places in the neighbourhood to engage in petting, giving her between $5 and $10 after each session. This escalated to more intrusive sexual acts, including attempts at sexual intercourse.

He also started referring to her as his "wife" and told her he wanted to marry her. She called him "uncle".

While he was having sexual liaisons with the minor, he began seeing a woman in October of that year. In May 2017, while Udhayakumar and his girlfriend were at a hotel, the woman, who suspected he was having an affair, took note of the password used to unlock his phone.

She checked his phone while he was asleep and was shocked when she found the video of the girl in her school uniform exposing herself. The girlfriend forwarded the video to herself and lodged a police report against Udhayakumar a few days later.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2019, with the headline '13 years' jail, cane for man who groomed girl, 12'. Print Edition | Subscribe