BUTTERWORTH - The stepmother of a seven-year-old girl who was rescued weak, starving and bruised from a locked flat unit here on Thursday claims that the girl was possessed by evil spirits.
A neighbour, who wished to be known only as Kak Timah, said the woman made the claim to several people in the neighbourhood of the Sungai Dua Utama flats.
The family lived in the unit previously, but had since moved out to an opposite unit, leaving the girl alone in the home without electricity and water supply.
The flat was also locked from the outside to prevent the girl from getting out.
The girl was rescued after her teachers became concerned when she failed to attend classes after the first day of school - although her father turned up to collect the RM100 (S$37.24) school aid.
They reported the matter to the police on Thursday.
"If they do not want the child, they should put her up for adoption," Kak Timah told reporters yesterday.
"There are many childless couples looking to adopt."
One resident, who only wanted to be known as Liza, said she gave the girl some biscuits after learning she had not been fed.
Another neighbour Mohd Suhaimi Abdullah, 27, said his family was unaware of what went on at the home until police rescued the girl.
Suhaimi, a security guard, said the child's father always kept to himself and never talked to neighbours.
Suhaimi's wife said she once heard the stepmother screaming inside the unit, but dared not check what was happening.
The child, who is still warded at the Seberang Jaya Hospital, will be handed over to the welfare department once she is discharged.
Seberang Prai OCPD Asst Comm Abdul Rahman Ibrahim said police believed that the victim went without food for more than a week based on her health condition.
North Seberang Prai OCPD Asst Comm Abdul Rahman Ibrahim said police who had detained the girl's father, were now questioning the stepmother.
"Investigation is still ongoing. We will also record statements from other people, including the victim's neighbours," he said.
In Johor Baru, Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun said the Penang Welfare Department had been instructed to investigate the matter and seek temporary custody of the girl.
"We will prepare a report before handing it over to the court," she said after visiting Johor Jaya Rehabilitation Community Centre yesterday.
Police believed the girl was the suspect's daughter from his first wife, an Indonesian. The couple had separated and the suspect is now living with his second wife. They have four children.