Mother whose daughter's burnt remains were found in pot given 14 years' jail

Nadine Chua
The Straits Times
February 7, 2024

When their daughter died, instead of arranging a funeral to give her a proper send-off, her parents burned her body and hid it in a pot, preventing others from knowing about her death for 5½ years.

On Feb 7, the prosecution said an autopsy of the girl showed that her body was severely charred, with her skin completely removed. Her hands and feet could not be identified as the body was at an advanced stage of decomposition.

She was 2½ years old when she died in 2014.

The mother, 35, whose identity remains protected by a gag order, also physically abused three of her children when they were two to seven years old and condoned her husband’s abuse of them.

At times, her children were left unsupervised and had no food and water. On one occasion in 2017, the woman’s eldest son, who was 10 then, had to cook instant noodles for himself and his siblings.

On another occasion in 2018, the children had eaten only sausages and asked a Child Protection Service officer for water.

The woman was sentenced to 14 years’ jail on Feb 7 after admitting to charges of ill-treating her children and perverting the course of justice.

She faced a total of 12 charges, with eight charges being taken into consideration during her sentencing.

They included the woman lying to a Child Protection Service officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) that she had six children when she had seven. She had deliberately omitted her daughter, Umaisyah, whose remains were found in the pot.

Umaisyah’s name was made public after a gag order on it was lifted in September 2023, when her father was sentenced to 21½ years’ jail and 18 strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to a charge of culpable homicide for causing her death in March 2014.

During the father’s sentencing, the court heard that he had slapped Umaisyah many times and did not provide her with medical aid.

He also admitted to three other charges: ill-treating his six-year-old stepson, rioting and consumption of methamphetamine.

The couple married in June 2012 and Umaisyah was one of their children. The woman had other children from a previous marriage.

Details, such as the names of the parents and the address of the flat, which could lead to the identification of their surviving children, cannot be published.

On Feb 7, prosecutors said when Umaisyah was about three to four months old in 2011, she was placed in foster care as her father was detained in a drug rehabilitation centre and his wife was assessed to be unable to take care of the girl.

In June 2013, Umaisyah was returned to the couple’s care and custody, but she often cried as they were unfamiliar to her.

The couple would hit her with a belt and hanger, slap her on the face and pinch her thigh.

Her mother would also flick her daughter’s fingers and lips with her fingers and, on one occasion, fed her chilli padi to punish her.

In March 2014, the couple were upset with Umaisyah as she was playing with her faeces after soiling her diaper. When the girl cried, her mother slapped her on the cheek. Her father, who had taken methamphetamine that morning, slapped Umaisyah across the face two to three times.

Umaisyah bled from the mouth, collapsed and gasped for air.

Prosecutors had said that her father’s assaults caused significant traumatic brain injury, which led to a concussive seizure.

When Umaisyah’s lips turned blue, her mother tried to resuscitate her but failed. The couple did not call for help as they feared getting arrested. The prosecution said medical intervention could have saved the girl.

To cover their tracks, they placed the girl’s body in a metal pot and burned the body at the back of her father’s lorry. They placed the pot in a cardboard box, sealed it and took the box back to the flat.

In the years that followed, when asked by family members about Umaisyah’s whereabouts, the couple either lied that she was being cared for by the man’s aunt in Melaka or that she had returned to her foster parents.

The couple’s offences came to light in 2019, when the woman’s younger brother opened the cardboard box and saw a black lump inside the pot that looked decomposed. He showed the contents to his sister’s friends, and they alerted the police the next day.

The woman was charged with murder that year. She was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal in 2021. This means she can still be prosecuted for the offence later, depending on the evidence that emerges.

High Court Justice Aedit Abdullah, who lifted the gag order on Umaisyah’s name at her father’s sentencing in September 2023, had said: “It is important to my mind that we all remember her by her name.”

The judge said Umaisyah had been robbed of any opportunity of growing up, developing her own identity and leading a fulfilling life.

He added: “I fear Umaisyah will only be remembered as the child who was killed by her father; whose body was burnt by her parents; and whose charred remains were kept in a pot by them. Umaisyah deserved so much more.”

Seeking 14 to 14½ years’ jail for the woman, the prosecution said on Feb 7 that this was not a case where the woman was forced by her husband to lie about her daughter’s whereabouts after she died. Instead, it was a concerted effort to conceal the death and the body.

“This is by far the most serious case in Singapore involving the perversion of justice,” said deputy public prosecutors Wong Woon Kwong, Norine Tan and Phoebe Tan.

The prosecutors said even after Umaisyah’s death, the offender did not mend her ways and irresponsibly neglected her remaining children.

“At times, she did not even bother to ensure that they had enough food and water. The door was ajar, and the kitchen windows were left opened without grilles. The flat was on the eighth floor and the consequences could have been fatal if any of her children, all of whom were below 12 years of age, had fallen out of the windows,” said the prosecution.

In mitigation, pro bono lawyer Sadhana Rai said while her client had committed acts to obscure the death of Umaisyah, she did not just do it for her own interest.

Seeking 10 years and 10 months to 10 years and 11 months for the woman, she said: “The more serious act she was trying to hide was her husband’s, as she did not commit the act that caused the death of her child.

“There was coercion and fear. She was being abused by her husband. She was fearful, fearful for herself, fearful for her remaining children, fearful that she would not be able to see them again.”

In a letter Ms Sadhana read out in court which was written by the woman’s eldest son, now 17, the teen said he loves her, misses her and hopes she “comes out soon”.

But Principal District Judge Toh Han Li said it was a private matter between the offender and her son, and the forgiving attitude of the victim should not affect the sentence imposed by the court.

The Straits Times reported in September 2023 that Umaisyah’s siblings have been placed in alternative care by MSF’s Child Protective Service.

Alternative care means the children can be placed in the care of family or friends, in foster care or in a children’s home. The Child Protective Service has also been giving the siblings support, an MSF spokesman told ST.

The Straits Times

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