Convict attends her baby's funeral in restraints
She was heavily pregnant when she went to jail and gave birth to her son while serving her sentence.
The newborn, whom she held only briefly, was then cared for by her relatives.
But weeks before her release, she was told that her baby, then four months old, had died.
A coroner's inquiry into his death found that his 21-month-old cousin had pushed the stroller he was in on March 2 last year.
The stroller, which had not been secured properly, folded and collapsed to the floor, causing him to suffer fatal head injuries. He died the next morning.
The victim, his mother and his carers cannot be named to protect the identity of his cousin.
His mother, whom we shall call Madam Farah, 33, was jailed for a year in 2013 for loan-sharking offences.
Her son was being cared for by her half-sister and the sister's fiancé. The half-sister is the mother of the cousin.
Speaking to The New Paper in her two-room rental flat on Tuesday, Madam Farah recalled her complicated relationships and the day she got the heartrending news about her young son.
She said she was sent to jail in September 2013 for working for a loan shark.
"I know I've been to jail. But I'm also a mother and I love all my kids very much," said Madam Farah, who has five other children - two boys and three girls.
Three of them, a 17-year-old girl and her brother and sister, are with their father, Madam Farah's first husband.
Her second marriage, which also ended in divorce, produced another boy and a girl.
They are now living with her and her stepfather, a security officer who makes about $2,000 a month and supports the family.
The son who died was from her third marriage, which she said was on the rocks, with a divorce imminent.
Madam Farah is now six months' pregnant with her seventh child, whose father is another man.
Recalling her time in prison after she gave birth, she said she was counting down the days when she could finally be reunited with her baby.
But tragedy struck about two months before her release from Changi Women's Prison.
She will never forget the day when she received the tragic news, she said.
It started with her inmate number being called up.
"I felt very happy because I thought somebody had come to visit me," Madam Farah said.
"I was taken to a room and saw a prison officer clutching a file. She told me to brace myself and gently broke the terrible news to me that my son had died. I didn't believe her at first and said: 'This can't be true! You are lying! I just saw him not too long ago!'"
She said the officer showed her a document about her son's death.
"I immediately broke down and became hysterical with grief."
She was allowed leave from prison to attend her son's funeral at a cemetery. Her arms and legs were in restraints as she bade him a tearful final farewell.
Wiping away her tears, Madam Farah, who is jobless, said: "I saw my baby for the last time at the cemetery and managed to plant a kiss on him shortly before he was buried.
"My precious child looked like he was just sleeping but when I brushed against his cheeks, I knew he was gone. My baby was cold."
She said that before she went to jail, her half-sister, 29, had promised to take good care of the baby and his two half-siblings from her second marriage.
She said: "The two older children adore her. That's why I trusted her with my kids. I didn't expect this tragedy to happen."
Madam Farah's neighbour, who lives two storeys above her, said she sometimes helped to keep an eye on the baby.
The 48-year-old housewife, who declined to be named, said she has known Madam Farah for many years.
The mother of four adult children added: "He was a very cute baby and before (Madam Farah) went to jail, she asked me to keep an eye on the kid. She's a good mother who showers her children with lots of love. It's so sad that he is gone."
Madam Farah recalled the last time she saw her baby alive, on a TV screen during one of her half-sister's televisits.
Beaming, she said: "They were both wearing red. My baby was very plump as he had a very healthy appetite. We called him 'Mok' (Short for 'gemuk', Malay for fat)".
She said she was so consumed by grief that her remaining days in prison passed by in a blur.
Madam Farah was released in May last year after serving about eight months of her sentence.
She said that she has not had a chance to speak to her half-sister and her 22-year-old fiancé about the tragedy as they were sent to prison for separate offences before she was released.
She added: "I don't blame my sister for my son's death."
Stroking her pregnant belly, Madam Farah said she is hoping for a boy.
Tearing up, she said: "People said that a boy could replace Mok. But no one can replace him.
"He is gone and nothing can ever bring him back."
I was taken to a room and saw a prison officer clutching a file. She told me to brace myself and gently broke the terrible news to me that my son had died.
— Madam Farah
ABOUT THE CASE
THE NEW PAPER, FEB 17
On March 2 last year, the baby's aunt and her 22-year-old fiancé wanted to go to a supermarket with the baby and his 21-month-old cousin.
They were living in the flat of the baby's mother.
The baby was in a stroller in the corridor outside the flat and the fiancé had gone back inside to get the cousin's stroller. The toddler pushed the baby's stroller, causing it to fold up and topple to the ground.
The baby was found to be unresponsive the following day and was taken to hospital, where he later died.
State Coroner Janet Wang found that the stroller had not been fully secured after it was opened. In her findings on Feb 18, she said that it could be fully opened only with considerable force being exerted by both hands. A click would be heard to indicate that the locking mechanism had been engaged.
But she noted that the aunt was unsure if it was fully opened and could not remember hearing a click.
Said Coroner Wang: "The safety of the stroller was compromised by its antiquated and rusty condition, which made it difficult to engage the locking mechanism.
"This rendered the stroller more susceptible to collapse when an additional force is applied to it."
Pregnant inmates get necessary healthcare
From 2009 to 2013, 47 women were expecting a child before starting their sentences and gave birth in prison.
In a written reply to a parliamentary question on protocol for pregnant women prisoners, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean said on March 4 last year that this works out to an average of 10 inmates a year.
He added that the treatment protocol for pregnant inmates, before and after delivery, is in line with practices of public healthcare institutions.
DPM Teo said: "Pregnant inmates are seen regularly by the prison medical officer and specialists from KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH). When the inmates are about to give birth, they are sent to KKH for the delivery.
"Women prisoners are not restrained during childbirth.
"At other times when they are at KKH, restraints are applied, as for other prisoners outside the confines of a secure prison setting.
"However, prisons will provide appropriate waivers from these practices if required for the health and safety of the mother or baby."
DPM Teo also said that a prison is not conducive for raising a child and that prison staff would discuss alternative care arrangements for the baby with the mother.
Arrangements are then made with the inmate's family.
If not possible, prisons would work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development to make childcare arrangements for the baby in the community.
In cases where the care arrangements need some time to materialise, the baby would be allowed to remain in prison and stay with the mother.
DPM Teo said that inmate mothers and babies are issued basic necessities such as clothing, feeding bottles and diapers. They are also allowed daily out-of-cell activities.
He added: "Under the prisons regulations, a child may be allowed to remain in prison with the mother until the age of three.
"In practice, however, the duration that a baby remains in prisons is much shorter. The average duration over the last five years was three months."