PASIR MAS - Her body was covered with cuts and bruises. Fish keropok and plain water were all she got to eat at home. And the five-year-old gobbled up as much as she could eat only when she was sent to the nursery.
A teacher became suspicious when she was asked not to feed the girl with anything that contained sugar "because the girl had a skin condition".
That's when teacher Rohaida Mohammad (pic), 44, asked the girl what she had had to eat at home. "She said she only ate keropok (fish crackers) and drank water at home," said Rohaida, who works at Tabika Ummi.
"Before this, the stepmother, who I think was trying to cover up the abuse, told us not to feed her anything that contained sugar because she had a skin condition.
"But I found it strange that she ate a lot whenever she was at the tabika.
"Only then did I realise the girl had no skin condition but it was the stepmother covering up the physical abuse," she said at her house at Kampung Kubang Rambutan, Rantau Panjang, here, yesterday.
Rohaida said she had asked the girl who had beaten or hit her and her reply was always "Mummy".
She said she took care of the girl from January to March and had asked the stepmother about the cuts and bruises on the girl but the angry stepmother denied any abuse.
Rohaida said she pitied the girl and it was the reason she confronted the stepmother.
"Instead of doing something about it, the stepmother took her out of the tabika in March."
She added that she brought up the matter to the chairman of the tabika and planned to counsel the girl's father and stepmother rather than report them to the authorities.
"We did not want to get involved in the couple's problems and left it at that. Although I was attached to the girl, I could not do anything to help her," she said.
The suspect's neighbour, Sabariah Ahmad 51, said the girl's father seemed to be a kind man and had spoken to her many times.
"My first impression was that he was a good father and I got to know him after he moved here 12 months ago. But his wife seldom talked to me and I hardly knew her.
"It shocked me to learn about the girl's plight because I never heard any commotion from the couple's home," she said.
Sabariah said the couple returned home by 11pm every day from his in-laws' house about 1km away.
The girl came into the limelight after her biological mother, Sana Abdul Malek, discovered welts, bruises and cuts on her daughter's body after the stepmother had said that she could no longer take care of the girl.
The girl was warded at the Raja Perempuan Zainab II Hospital and treated for malnourishment, after which doctors discovered that she had 13 broken bones at her backbone, hips, ribs, arms and thighs.
Police arrested the 39-year-old father and the 25-year-old stepmother on Monday. They are expected to be charged today.