He caused girl to fall from chair

PHOTO: The Straits Times

As a teacher, he was put in a position of trust for children under his care. But he ended up ill-treating eight of them.

In one incident, for no apparent reason, he lifted a four-year-old boy off the floor in the prayer room by grabbing his head below the ears.

He also made a 10-year-old girl stand on a chair for being noisy during mealtime. He then kicked the back of the chair causing her to fall to the floor.

Yesterday, Muhammad Abdul Gani, a religious teacher or "ustaz" from Pertapis Children's Home at Kovan Road, pleaded guilty to four charges of ill-treating children aged four to 11.

Muhammad, 27, initially faced 10 charges of ill-treating five boys and three girls between 2012 and January last year. Six other charges will be taken into consideration for sentencing.

The incidents were discovered after a former employee of the home went to the Child Protection Services (CPS) of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and revealed that certain employees had meted out inappropriate punishments to children during religious lessons, prayer times and volleyball activities.

Five employees, including Muhammad, were named. A CPS manager then made a police report on Feb 10 last year.

Muhammad had ill-treated three children in the home's prayer room, the court was told.

He had also lifted the seven-year-old brother of his four-year-old victim by the head for not lining up properly.

In another incident, when a 10-year-old girl ignored his instruction to stop whistling in the prayer room, he pushed her mouth, causing the back of her head to hit a cupboard.

His lawyer, Mr Abdul Jalil Muhammad Tahir of AJ Tahir & Co, said Muhammad was not "the kind to abuse children".

"He wanted to discipline them, nothing more than that," he said, adding that Muhammad had no reason to "pick and choose" which children to target.

The prosecution disagreed. Deputy Public Prosecutor Kavita Uthrapathy said that "it's a matter of semantics" how one viewed what Muhammad had done.

She reminded the court that the graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, had initially faced 10 charges, not one.

Ms Kavita, who recommended a sentence of four weeks' jail, said Muhammad had not followed procedures set by the home.

His acts were "unlawful and not authorised by the home", she said.

Discipline book

Corporal punishment is not allowed in the home unless a formal inquiry is made by its head. Any misconduct should have been recorded in a discipline book, she said.

At the time of the offences, about 60 children - generally from dysfunctional families, abused or neglected, or beyond parental control - were living in the home.

District Judge Christopher Goh said the prosecution's sentencing recommendation was "rather extreme".

Citing medical and psychiatric reports that the victims had not suffered adverse physical and psychological effects, Muhammad's lawyer said: "I'm of the view a fine would be more than sufficient."

Muhammad and the other four employees no longer work at the home or have been redeployed to facilities not involving children.

An employee, Joanne Joy Coloma Dadiz, 29, has been charged with one count of ill-treating an 11-year-old girl.

The Filipina allegedly sat on the girl's back for about three minutes as the latter lay face down on the floor in December 2013. Her case is pending.

Muhammad is due to be sentenced on Oct 13.

For ill-treating a child or young person, Muhammad can be fined up to $4,000 or jailed up to four years, or both, for each charge.

This article was first published on September 11, 2015.
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