JOHOR BARU: The adoptive couple in Singapore caught up in the controversy over Angie Tiong said they were attracted to the toddler's lively and bubbly character.
Cannie Ong, a Singaporean in her 40s, said they were smitten by her since they first saw her in September last year.
She said it was a difficult decision to give up trying to get custody of the child, following a police investigation into Angie's alleged abduction.
But the couple wanted the little girl to be in good health and to be cared for by her relatives, said Ong.
Ong, who came forward to clarify their side of the story, said she and her husband had no ill intentions when they took Angie in after hearing about her alleged drug addict father and difficult family environment.
She explained that she and her Malaysian husband, who has permanent resident status in Singapore, have a son, but yearned for a daughter.
They had been asking around about adopting a girl since 2013, she said. Their efforts were fruitless but through a friend, they met a middleman who showed them Angie and they took her home with them to Singapore in November.
"Before adopting her, we knew about her complex family background and that she had been under a relative's care for a year.
"This gave us a greater urge to take her in and we looked for a lawyer in Malaysia to help," said Ong.
"We have nothing to hide, we really wanted to give her a wholesome and good environment to grow up in."
Ong said they were shocked to see newspaper reports last month saying that Angie's father had lodged a police report claiming the girl had been abducted and sold for RM12,000 (S$3,900).
She said the money had been given out of goodwill and sympathy because "the middleman told us that Angie's father needed it to pay medical bills and babysitter's fees".
"But we have never met Angie's father," she said.
"Angie loves to eat and her favourites are biscuits, bread and fried chicken, as well as soup that my mother-in-law cooks."
She said Angie was a bright and smart girl and "I am sure that with a family's love and attention, and education, she will grow up into a fine young lady".
"We decided not to fight for custody because we did not want Angie to be caught in a tug-of-war and suffer. We can only hope that her relatives will take good care of her as we would have," said Ong.
Ong, who runs a business in Singapore, thanked Johor Temple Foundation founder Yap Yeen Min for his tireless efforts and advice after the controversy came to light.
Her mother-in-law, who wanted to be identified only as Lee, said she grew very fond of Angie, who calls her Ah Ma (Cantonese for granny), after she stayed with her in Ipoh for about two weeks.
"She is so young, but whenever she saw me folding the laundry or cooking meals, she would offer to help.
"She is so adorable and she has really touched my heart," said Lee, adding that she wept when Angie was handed over to the Johor Welfare Department.
Angie's hair has been shorn because she was complaining of an itchy scalp and there were fears that she had lice, she added.
Angie's father said his daughter was abducted by a friend who took the girl for a walk on Nov 11. He lodged a police report on Dec 10.
Under Section 48 of the Child Act, no one is allowed to meet with her, including her parents and family members, during the one-month police investigation period.