Woman convicted of 12 charges of maid abuse; husband guilty of one

Zariah Mohd Ali claimed trial to 12 charges, including hitting the back of the maid's head with a hammer, while her husband security guard Mohamad Dahlan faced a single charge of hitting the maid's head with the cover of a frying pan. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A woman who used an array of household items - such as a hammer, chopper, bamboo pole and stone pestle or pounder - to hit her Indonesian maid, causing permanent disfiguration, was convicted of maid abuse after a 17-day trial.

Also convicted along with Zariah Mohd Ali, 56, was her husband, security guard Mohamad Dahlan, 58, who faced a single charge of hitting domestic worker Khanifah's head with the cover of a frying pan at their Woodlands flat some time between June and December 2012.

Zariah, 56, had faced 28 charges of maid abuse and two under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

She claimed trial to 12 charges, including hitting the back of the maid's head with a hammer; hitting her mouth with a hammer; striking her left ear with a bamboo pole; hitting her forehead with a stone pestle; stabbing her left shoulder with a pair of scissors; and forcefully pushing her left little finger.

The court heard that Ms Khanifah, now 37, was from a village in Indramayu, Indonesia. She came to Singapore to work for the couple in end-November 2011. It was her first job in Singapore.

Initially, her relationship with the family was good. But not long after her six-month medical check-up in June 2012, her relationship with Zariah deteriorated.

Her employer began to scold her and subject her to frequent physical abuse.

She hit the victim's head with a hammer on about five occasions.

Once, Zariah scolded the maid for not cleaning the toilet "clean enough" and for working too slowly. She then hit her once on the back of her head "very hard" with the blunt side of the hammer, causing her head to bleed.

The maid shouted: "Ma'am pain", but was not given any medical attention. Zariah handed her a sanitary pad to stop the bleeding.

The court heard that her head wounds had not yet healed when Zariah struck her in the same manner on the head on another occasion. Her employer again threw her a sanitary pad to staunch the bleeding.

Ms Khanifah also testified that Zariah used the hammer to hit her on the mouth on more than two occasions.

On the first occasion, Zariah scolded her and told her to grin such that her teeth were bared. Her employer then struck her once in her mouth, hitting the top row of her teeth and the middle of her bottom lip. Her gums bled, her lips became swollen and her teeth were slightly loosened.

On the final occasion, two of the victim's teeth broke and another two became detached.

There were two instances of Zariah using a 1m-long bamboo pole to hit the maid on her left ear as well as a stone pestle to hit her on her forehead.

The maid also testified that Zariah stabbed her shoulder with a pair of scissors on more than five occasions.

And once, when she was cleaning fish in the kitchen, Zariah scolded her and suddenly held a chopper and slashed her on the left forearm.

The victim was made to wear long sleeves and a tudung to conceal her injuries when she went grocery shopping with Zariah's daughter.

The offences came to light after she was abruptly sent home by the couple on Dec 19, 2012.

As she had bruises on her face and head, Ms Khanifah was made to wear a long-sleeved shirt, trousers and a tudung on the day of her flight. Zariah's daughter put make-up on her and gave her a pair of prescription glasses.

Zariah, who had suffered a stroke and was weak on her left side, remained silent in court when her defence was called, but her husband took the stand.

Their defence was that the maid had lied about her abuse and that her injuries were self-inflicted.

The prosecution had argued that the forensic evidence was consistent with the victim's account of systematic and repeated abuse perpetrated over a period of time.

Mohamad's post-event conduct in seeking to settle the matter privately and to prevent escalation of the matter to the authorities, was also strongly demonstrative of the couple's guilt.

On Friday (Sept 29), District Judge Luke Tan found that the prosecution had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

He said the victim gave a clear, coherent and convincing account of the various times she was assaulted, the manner in which the assault was carried out, and the weapons used.

As for the discrepancies pointed out by the defence, he said that they were minor in nature and not material.

The judge agreed with the prosecution that the victim was in a vulnerable position as she spoke no English, had no friends here, and had no means of escape when she was at the couple's home.

He adjourned the case to Nov 23 for the prosecution, led by Deputy Public Prosecutors Sharmila Sripathy-Shanaz and Jason Nim, to decide on the charges that have not been dealt with and to propose sentences that the court should impose.

The couple are represented by Mr K. Jayakumar Naidu.

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