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Hariz Baharudin, Lakeisha Leo and Seow Yun Rong
The New Paper
Sunday, Jun 26, 2016
Daniel was two years old and a brave boy.
Even as he was slapped, stomped on, pinched and abused repeatedly by his own mother and her boyfriend, he did not cry.
And neighbours had little clue Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser was being abused.
On Nov 23, 2015, Daniel's little body, peppered with marks and injuries he had sustained from a prolonged period of torture, gave up.
And even though he died, his caregiver, the woman he called Mak (mother in Malay) showed no remorse in court.
Cleaners Zaidah, 41, and her boyfriend, Zaini Jamari, 46, were found guilty after a trial and will be sentenced on July 5.
One woman tried to help little Daniel and is now filled with regret.
Ms Puspawati Abdul Razat, 51, is wheelchair-bound after a stroke she suffered four years ago.
She regarded Daniel as her grandson, and he would call her "nenek" (grandmother in Malay).
Daniel and his family lived with her, cramped into a one-room rental flat on the sixth storey. Ms Puspawati's teenage niece also lived there.
She tells The New Paper on Sunday that she tried to help protect Daniel from the savagery he suffered, but she was afraid.
Her immobility also prevented her from calling for help sooner.
"I tried to help him countless times, but I couldn't get up or go to a private place to call the police."
"I even fell while trying to protect Daniel once," she says.
Ms Puspawati says she would plead for them to stop hitting him but her cries fell on deaf ears.
"I would tell them enough is enough, if they hit him any more he would die," she says.
Although her niece was hardly at home, Ms Puspawati says she, too, begged for the torture to stop and even volunteered to take him out to play.
They were told to mind their own business.
Daniel's mother and her boyfriend were always around, and Ms Puspawati had little opportunity to call for help during the 20 days of hell Daniel endured.
"Even when Daniel was unconscious, his mother was reluctant to call for help. I had to fight to call the ambulance," she says.
Ms Puspawati says she first met Daniel's mother 20 years ago through a friend.
They did not stay in touch but two years ago, she reconnected with Zaidah, who was working as a cleaner in an industrial building in Ubi Road.
According to Ms Puspawati, Zaidah was staying in a cramped storeroom that could barely fit her. There was nowhere to cook, and Zaidah lived there alone.
At that time, she was pregnant with Daniel. Ms Puspawati took pity on her and offered to let Zaidah stay with her in the flat she was sharing with another adult tenant.
Ms Puspawati says her flat is now too quiet.
"I look outside my window, and sometimes I see children running or I hear them playing downstairs.
"Daniel could have been one of them," she says.
Block 19, Telok Blangah Crescent, hides a terrible secret.
Daniel is the second child to be repeatedly abused by his caregivers.
Three years earlier, almost to the date Daniel died, a four-year-old girl was punched and kicked over a one-month period because she had defecated on a mattress.
After Fiona's (not her real name) accident on the bed, the mother's boyfriend, Mohammad Rudy Madon, then 37, grabbed some of the faeces and smeared it all over the little girl's face - causing her to even eat some of her own waste.
Although her mother intervened and took the girl to the bathroom, Mohammad Rudy did not stop.
Fuelled by his rage, he punched and stepped on the girl's right thigh several times, fracturing her bone.
Like Daniel, little Fiona hobbled around bravely at home for a month despite her injuries.
Mohammad Rudy pleaded guilty on Oct 1, 2013, to one count of ill-treating the girl, two counts of voluntarily causing grievous hurt to her and three drug-related charges.
He was jailed four years and given four strokes of the cane.
Mohammad Rudy will be out soon and given another chance.
Not little Daniel. Not Fiona.
About the case
Mohamad Daniel Mohamad Nasser, aged two, was abused for 25 days over a 35-day period .
During that time, Daniel was kicked and slapped nearly every day by his pregnant mother and her boyfriend.
Cleaners Zaidah, 41, and her boyfriend, Zaini Jamari, 46, made Daniel stand with his hands on his head while wearing only a nappy. They also forced him to eat spoonfuls of dried chilli.
He died on Nov 23, 2015.
Zaidah and Zaini were each convicted of three charges of child abuse and one count each of causing grievous hurt on June 23.
Zaidah admitted to 26 other charges of abusing Daniel and Zaini faces 18 other counts though they did not say why they committed the acts.
The pair will be sentenced on July 5.
Daniel was Zaidah's fourth of six children. His father was in prison when he was born. Zaidah has since lost contact with him. Her three older children, with the oldest at 20, no longer live with her.
Why did no one help?
Block 19, Telok Blangah Crescent is a 14-storey residential block with 364 one-room rental flats.
The corridors here are narrow and stuffy. If not for the lights along the corridors, which are switched on even during the day, it would be dark and damp.
Because people live so close to one another, quiet is not an option as the sounds of different TV shows mingle freely.
Here, two children were abused - one on the 10th storey and the other on the sixth.
But nobody heard them.
Over two days, The New Paper on Sunday knocked on the doors of 56 units. The residents of only 19 opened their doors.
Madam Jenny Leong, 64, lived right next door to Daniel.
"I heard a child crying in the middle of the night once, but I never asked what happened because it was so late. I also didn't talk to them because I didn't want them to think I was being a 'kaypoh' (busybody)."
She says the cries were rare, and nobody suspected Daniel was in trouble.
Mr Mohan Kumar, 58, says he never suspected anything.
"I would have done something if I heard cries for help. But in this case, I never heard children crying or screaming at all," he says.
Mr Tan Chuan Beng, 75, who works in a hospital, says: "Once I come home, I close my door and mind my own business.
"Why should I care? If we care, people say we 'kaypoh' and might even scold us."
He has been suffering from osteoporosis on his left leg for five years but still has to work.
"Also, if I call the ambulance, I'll need to pay hundreds of dollars for the fee," he says.
This is not true, but there was no convincing him as he shut the door abruptly.
Miss Siti, 28, says she is not afraid of calling the police when she suspects trouble.
"I always call the police when there are fights.
"If there are children crying or people fighting, we can hear. The flat is not soundproof, if I drop something at home, my neighbours can hear it too," she says.
But she had no clue Daniel was being tortured. She lives on the same floor but at the end of the corridor.
Madam Leong says following Daniel's death, she plans to be a busybody if she senses trouble.
"After this incident, if I hear children crying for help, I'll definitely call the police to prevent another tragedy from happening," she says.
But Block 19, Telok Blangah Crescent is packed with rental units and the residents are transients.
Soon, new tenants will move in.
And all too soon, Daniel's story may be forgotten.
Everybody's responsibility to do something about it'
More children are being abused.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) Child Protective Service (CPS) received 2,022 reports and inquiries about child abuse last year.
Of these, it investigated 551 that were instances of serious abuse.
This was an increase of about 40 per cent in serious child abuse cases, compared to the period from 2012 to 2014.
In a Facebook post, MSF Minister Tan Chuan-Jin says it was heartbreaking to read about Daniel's case.
"It pains me to know that things could have turned out very differently, if only someone had sounded the alarm earlier.
"This 'someone' can be a housemate, neighbour, relative, friend, passer-by… in fact, anyone in the community who knows or suspects that there could be family violence or child abuse happening - it is everyone's responsibility to do something about it," he says.
The likelihood of a neighbour hearing the cries of a child in an HDB estate would be high.
Yet some neighbours won't call for help.
Psychiatrist at Glenagles Hospital Dr Lim Boon Leng says people are reluctant to make assumptions about what happens in another home.
He says: "Neighbours might think it is just some shouting, that the parents are disciplining their children.
"They have no idea the child might be abused."
This stems from a non-confrontational mentality, says Singapore Children Society's senior director for youth services, Dr Carol Balhetchet.
"The approach is to mind your own business. They don't want to jump the gun and accuse the parents because they think they don't know enough," adds Dr Balhetchet
There is also the fear that families can be torn apart if these reports are made, says Dr Lim.
Dr Balhetchet adds: "It is a double-edged sword because the caregivers might end up being taken away.
"They worry about the child, who will look after him or her then?"
But these fears should not deter neighbours from reporting child abuse to the authorities, says Miss Annie Chia, lead social worker for the Family Service Centre (FSC) in the Telok Blangah Crescent area.
"FSCs are not there 24 hours a day. Neighbours see and hear more things.
"If the evidence is not strong, they can monitor and either let us or the police know, especially if it is a repeated incident," she says.
She adds that FSCs act on the tip-offs from neighbours and investigate cases that are highlighted to them.
"Our first step will be to try to find out more. We might pay these homes a visit and assess the situation from there. If there are reasonable grounds, we will call the police," she says.
An MSF spokesman says neighbours and other bystanders can in fact play a part in preventing, detecting and reporting abuse.
He says: "If neighbours or bystanders witness an adult getting angry at a child or a terrified child crying, they can approach the family to check if the child is all right or they can offer assistance.
"Such small acts can help to diffuse a tense situation and stem violence before it escalates in intensity and severity. Family violence is not a private matter and bystanders should do something if they suspect violence."
Those concerned can also contact the ComCare line, CPS centres, family service centre. In the event that a life is in danger, the police should be alerted immediately.
The outcome of not reporting child abuse can be worse than keeping mum and being wrong, say experts.
Dr Lim says: "Repeated child abuse can lead to complex post-traumatic stress disorder in the victims. These people often grow up with a host of personality disorders."
Some of these include anxiety, anti-social personality and even depression.
There is also the possibility of the abused turning into an abuser when they grow up, perpetuating the violence that was inflicted upon them.
"They could end up becoming very angry people, lashing out constantly and hurting themselves and others," says Dr Balhetchet.
"This anger would be channelled into abuse, and it becomes a cycle."
Other cases of child abuse
UNCLE RAPED HER
A 14-year-old's life of sexual abuse came to light only after she tried to kill herself.
Her uncle first abused her when she was only 12. Two years later, he raped her.
The girl was so traumatised that she tried to kill herself by drinking bleach solution and soap powder.
On Oct 26, 2015, the 54-year-old food stall operator pleaded guilty to four counts of sexually assaulting, molesting and raping his niece.
FAMILY TORTURED HIM
Between 2009 and 2011, Zack (not his real name) endured a litany of abuse, including having hot oil splashed on his body, being hit by a belt and having his fingers snipped with a pair of scissors.
His abusers were his 46-year-old maternal grandaunt, her three daughters and her former husband.
Zack's plight came to light only after he was seen wandering alone at a bus stop in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 9, near Thye Hua Kwan Community Hospital.
His abusers were all jailed.
FATHER KILLED HER
Natalie Nikie Alisyia Sallehan was only 23 months old when she was beaten to death by her father for playing with his cigarettes in 2010.
Sallehan Allaudin had slapped and punched her so hard that she died of a tear in a major vein, probably from a hard punch, kick or stomp. He was jailed for 10 years and given 10 strokes of the cane.
MUM'S BOYFRIEND KILLED HIM
In 2009, Sri Alyaniz Nazri died after 18 days of abuse by her mother's boyfriend, Mohd Azhar Ghapar. She was then two years and four months old.
He had punched her abdomen and pinched her arms, ear, chest and stomach. He also head-butted her and stepped on her abdomen, fracturing her ribs. Azhar was jailed for 12 years and given 12 strokes of the cane.