On 6 Jan 2021, a 47-year-old former school bus driver named Zulkahnai Haron was given 10 months’ jail, fined $3,000 and banned from driving for a year after he locked a three-year-old girl in his minivan without ventilation for over an hour.
Zulkahnai was a driver at a transport services company and was tasked with taking students to and from school.
Despite being aware that the victim was still in his minivan, he asked the bus attendant to leave first. This was in breach of company policy, which stipulated that bus attendants could only leave after all the students had left the bus.
Then, instead of taking the victim to school, Zulkahnai drove home and parked his van in a multi-storey car park at 9 am, leaving the girl in the locked van while he went to buy food at a stall and shop for groceries at a supermarket.
The girl was discovered by a couple passing by who found her inside the minivan at 10 am, sobbing and calling for her mother while still wearing her seat belt.
Zulkahnai initially claimed that he had left the victim unattended as he had a stomachache, soiled his pants, and subsequently returned home to change.
However, he later changed his tune when he was confronted by CCTV footage of himself in the supermarket. He then admitted that he had left the victim in the van because he was upset with his supervisor for asking him to pick up more students that day without receiving any additional allowance.
What was he charged for?
According to CNA, Zulkahnai pleaded guilty to one count of ill-treating a child by causing her unnecessary suffering. For ill-treating a child by causing her unnecessary suffering, Zulkahnai could have been fined a maximum of $8,000 or imprisoned for 8 years, or both.
However, if his act of leaving the child unattended had instead been interpreted as illegally confining her in his minivan, he could have been charged with wrongful confinement under Section 340 the Penal Code.
The maximum penalty for wrongful confinement is a jail term of 3 years, or a fine, or both.
“Ill-treatment of a child or young person”
According to Section 5, Subsection 2 paragraph (c) of the Children and Young Persons Act, “a person ill-treats a child or young person if that person, being a person who has the custody, charge or care of the child or young person… wilfully or unreasonably neglects, abandons or exposes the child or young person … in circumstances that are likely to endanger the safety of the child or young person or to cause the child or young person… any emotional harm or any injury to his health or development.”
Zulkahnai is the first defendant to be prosecuted under the newly amended law for unnecessary suffering caused to a child, which was amended in 2020. In August 2019, an amendment bill was passed which amended section 5 of the Children and Young Persons Act by deleting the words “emotional injury” in subsections (2)(b)(ii) and (c)(ii) and (3) and substituting the words “emotional harm”.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to a practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.