Tin Pei Ling regularly visited wet market where girl lived in stall for 11 months, noticed nothing unusual

Nadine Chua
The Straits Times
April 27, 2024

The police are investigating a case of a teenager found living in a wet market stall for almost a year.

Stall owners at the Circuit Road Market and Food Centre said the girl, who barely spoke and merely gestured, relieved herself in pails in the stall as she would not leave even to use the toilet.

They said she lived in the stall, which measures around 2m by 3m, with her father who rented it.

The Straits Times understands that the girl and her father are Singapore permanent residents.

The stall owners, who declined to be named, said National Environment Agency (NEA) officers conducting checks at the market in early April noticed the girl.

The police said they received a call for assistance on April 4 at Block 80 Circuit Road, which is the address of the market.

A 63-year-old man is assisting with investigations into ill-treatment of a child or young person by neglect under the Children and Young Persons Act, said the police.

Those convicted can be jailed for up to eight years, fined up to $8,000, or both.

A Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) spokesman said NEA reported the case to the ministry’s Child Protective Service (CPS) on April 3.

The MSF spokesman said: “CPS arranged for the child to be admitted to a hospital for medical assessment, and is looking into alternative care arrangements for the child after her discharge to ensure her safety and well-being.”

The spokesman said MSF will not provide additional information as police investigations are ongoing and to protect the privacy of the child and family.

Speaking to ST on April 19, MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling, under whose constituency the wet market belongs, said MSF told her the girl had been living in the stall for 11 months.

Ms Tin said NEA informed her about this case in early April and she was shocked when she first heard about it.

She said: “I regularly visit this market and there was nothing unusual that I had noticed. In fact, I had just visited the market stalls during the Chinese New Year period.

“I am really concerned because the girl is so young. So, I have been checking in with MSF to get updates and to check on how she is doing.”

When ST visited the market on April 19, the three units that stall owners said were rented by the girl’s father were shuttered.

Foldable mattresses, two soft toys and a fan were in one unit.

Stall owners said the units have been shut since NEA conducted its checks around three weeks ago.

A 55-year-old stall owner who declined to be named said the father sold vegetables at one of the stalls he rented, and lives in the second stall with his daughter.

She said he rented a third stall to store items.

The stall owner said since she opened her stall at the market in 2014, she noticed the girl and her father spending a lot of time at their stall, even after the market was closed for the day.

She added: “I’ve known the girl since she was very young but I never knew her name. I’m not sure if she has any learning difficulties but I’ve never heard her speak. She only gestures and waves.

“We know she relieves herself in buckets in the stall. The smell can sometimes be really strong. I’ve rarely seen her leave the stall, not even to use the toilet.”

An 80-year-old stall owner who wanted to be known only as Mr K said he and his wife had got used to the smell.

The couple rents a stall several units away.

Mr K said he had never seen the girl in school uniform, and was unsure if she was enrolled in a school.

He said: “Even though she doesn’t speak, she always seems cheerful. At times, she would touch her stomach and gesture to me that she was hungry, so I would buy her food.

“But her father did not let me give her food. He would just pass her white bread and say she has eaten.”

When asked why they did not alert the authorities about this, the stall owners said they did not want to create trouble.

Mr K said he had advised the father to get help from the authorities, especially if he had difficulty raising his daughter.

Mr K added: “But he told me he did not need any help, so I had no choice but to mind my own business. If someone doesn’t want to be helped, I felt I couldn’t force them to (get help).”

Noting that the girl is fine, Ms Tin said: “Nobody expected something like this to happen. So, I would like to make a call to everyone – if you suspect something is not quite right, or is not the norm, please let us know.

“Yes, there may be false alarms, but please inform the authorities so they can do their checks and ensure that everything is fine.”

The Straits Times

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