Disgruntled over not getting an extra allowance for sending a three-year-old girl to school, a driver left the child strapped to her seat in his locked van without ventilation at a carpark for more than an hour in January last year.
Zulkahnai Haron, 47, went to buy food and groceries before heading home.
The girl was later found sobbing and calling out for her mother by a couple who alerted the school.
Shaken by the incident, the victim suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She cannot be identified as she is below 18 years old.
For ill-treating the girl, Zulkahnai was sentenced to 10 months’ jail yesterday. He was also fined $3,000 and disqualified from driving for 12 months for a separate traffic offence on April 10 last year.
Zulkahnai was working as a minivan driver for a transport services company when he committed his offence on Jan 20.
On that day, he had completed his duty of driving students to their schools when his supervisor asked him to take two more students, including the girl.
After picking up the students, Zulkahnai asked the supervisor if he would get an extra allowance for the extra trips.
“The accused left the discussion feeling unhappy as he did not receive a satisfactory answer from his supervisor,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Colin Ng. Zulkahnai then dropped off the boy student at his school, and told the bus attendant of the minivan that she could go home for the day, while the victim was still in the vehicle.
“In doing so, the accused was acting contrary to his company’s policy, which dictates that bus attendants are permitted to leave the van only after all students have alighted,” said DPP Ng.
After the bus attendant left the vehicle, Zulkahnai decided to head home instead of sending the victim to her school. At about 9am, he parked the minivan in a multi-storey carpark at Block 358A Admiralty Drive, turned off the engine, and locked the vehicle.
The court heard that he did so despite knowing that the girl was still in the minivan with her safety belt strapped on.
Zulkahnai then went to buy food at a stall and groceries at a supermarket before heading home.
The girl was discovered in tears by a woman and her husband about an hour later.
The woman called the child’s school principal, while her husband contacted Zulkahnai.
The driver arrived at the scene about 10 minutes later. He then drove the girl, accompanied by the woman, to her school. The woman later recounted the incident to the victim’s teacher.
Zulkahnai initially told the police that he had a tummy upset at the material time, soiled his trousers and gone home to change his clothes.
He maintained this account until he was shown the closed-circuit television footage of him at the supermarket, DPP Ng said.
The DPP added that the child’s mother reported that the girl was scared of being alone and was unable to sleep without her for about six months after the incident.
The child had told her mother that she did not want to “take the school bus” as she was afraid she might be left alone again in the vehicle, the court heard.
In sentencing Zulkahnai, District Judge Marvin Bay said there was an “egregious abuse of trust” by the man.
“Alone and restrained in the unventilated van, the three-year-old child would be at risk of oxygen deprivation (if left long enough), heat stress or even physical injury if she had struggled to free herself from her seat belt restraints,” he added.
Zulkahnai’s lawyer Sofia Bennita Mohamed Bakhash said in mitigation that her client was facing financial difficulties at the time of his offences and had difficulty concentrating.
The lawyer also said a jail sentence would impact his family life as his wife was unable to support their two children on her own with her salary.
The judge granted Zulkahnai’s request to defer his jail sentence to Jan 20 so that he can settle his family and employment matters.
For ill-treating the child, Zulkahnai could have been jailed for up to eight years and/or fined up to $8,000.