Parents get life sentence for scalding their 5-year-old son to death

SINGAPORE – The parents of a five-year-old boy who repeatedly splashed hot water on him until he died from his injuries were each sentenced to life imprisonment, after the mother avoided the death penalty on Tuesday.

Azlin Arujunah and her husband Ridzuan Mega Abdul Rahman, both 30, had splashed hot water on the boy on four occasions in 2016, at their one-room flat in Toa Payoh.

They were originally given 27 years’ jail each in 2020 for causing grievous hurt by dangerous means. But the Court of Appeal increased Ridzuan’s sentence to life imprisonment and convicted Azlin of murder in July, following an appeal by prosecutors.

On Tuesday, the five-judge panel said Azlin did not understand that the boy’s injuries could have fatal consequences, which has a bearing on whether the death penalty is warranted.

“We are not satisfied that Azlin manifested such a blatant disregard for human life. We therefore do not consider that the threshold has been crossed for the imposition of the death penalty,” said the court, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon.

The court said it accepted that objectively, reasonable members of the community would find Azlin’s actions cruel and inhumane. However, the imposition of the death penalty must be justified in the first place by reference to the offender’s state of mind and motivation.

While cruelty or a display of inhumane treatment is a relevant factor, the court “should not be distracted by the gruesomeness of the scene of the crime” in determining whether the death penalty should be imposed, said the court.

As for Ridzuan, the court removed the sentence of 12 strokes of the cane he had been given in relation to one of the eight other charges he had been convicted of.

While Ridzuan and Azlin have been convicted of different charges, the apex court said the pair share a very similar degree of culpability in this case.

“Their roles and the surrounding circumstances are similar, and most of the charges were committed by both of them in furtherance of their common intention. Both of them also shared parental responsibility for the deceased. Consequently, as a matter of fairness, the starting position should be that Ridzuan should not be sentenced to a more onerous sentence than Azlin,” said the court.

The couple had splashed hot water on the boy on four occasions between Oct 15 and Oct 22, 2016, and only took him to the hospital about seven hours after he collapsed following the final incident.

Azlin splashed water on the boy in the first three incidents, while Ridzuan splashed water on the boy in the second and fourth incidents.

In what prosecutors described as “one of the worst cases of child abuse”, the boy died from horrific scald injuries, which covered about 75 percent of his body, on Oct 23, 2016.

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