School bus driver jailed for locking girl, 3, in van for an hour
Girl, 3, traumatised for months all because man, 47, was upset at not being paid extra to ferry more children
Upset at not being paid extra to ferry two more children to school after he had completed his route, a school bus driver locked a three-year-old girl in a van for more than an hour without ventilation.
The ordeal left the child with emotional scars and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For ill-treating the child and causing her unnecessary suffering, Zulkahnai Haron, 47, was yesterday jailed for 10 months.
He was also fined $3,000 and banned from driving for a year for an unrelated traffic offence.
On the morning of Jan 20 last year, after he had dropped off his last passenger, he was told to meet his supervisor at Canberra Drive to take two more children to school.
Zulkahnai asked for an extra allowance and was upset when he did not get a satisfactory answer.
After dropping off one child, he told the bus attendant, who normally stays until all the students have alighted, that she could leave.
Instead of dropping the remaining girl off at her pre- school, he drove home and parked the van at a multi-storey carpark. He locked the girl in the vehicle and left to buy food and groceries at a supermarket before going home.
About an hour later at about 10am, two passers-by, Ms Chor Geok Pei and her husband, saw the girl sobbing in the van.
She still had her seat belt on and was calling for her mother, Deputy Public Prosecutors Colin Ng and Yang Ziliang told the court.
Ms Chor, 42, called Zulkahnai on the number that was on the van's dashboard. She also contacted the girl's school.
When Zulkahnai showed up 10 minutes later, she chided him for leaving the girl unattended, but he told her not to worry as he was away for only a few minutes.
Concerned for the girl's safety, Ms Chor tagged along as he drove the girl to her school.
The girl's mother reported Zulkahnai to the police the next day.
A psychiatric examination eight months after the incident found that the girl had PTSD.
SCARED OF BEING ALONE
Her mother said she was scared of being alone and could not sleep without her mother's presence for at least six months. She shunned school buses out of fear of being left alone again.
Seeking a year's jail, the prosecution noted that this was the first case involving unnecessary suffering caused to a child since the Children and Young Persons Act was amended in January last year, which doubled the maximum jail term for ill-treatment of children from four to eight years.
DPP Yang said Zulkahnai lying to Ms Chor and the police was an aggravating factor.
During investigations, he initially claimed he had left the girl alone for 30 minutes and that he had no choice because he needed to go home to change after soiling his pants.
He kept up the lie until he was confronted with footage of him at the supermarket.
In mitigation, defence lawyer Sofia Bennita Mohamed Bakhash said Zulkahnai was under financial stress at the time and had "lost focus". He has since changed his line of work by becoming a security guard.
Ms Sofia also raised concerns that the psychiatric report could have inflated the harm caused to the girl.
But DPP Yang argued that there was no basis to impugn the credibility of the psychiatrist or cast aspersions on the victim's mother.
District Judge Marvin Bay said he gave a shorter jail term than what was sought by the prosecution primarily because Zulkahnai had not parked out in the open, which could have caused the girl even more harm.
He said the offence was an egregious breach of trust and had a degree of premeditation.
Noting that Zulkahnai has two teenage children, Judge Bay said: "(You) should have known better...
"What you have done was not just an act of prolonged ill treatment but (you) also placed a vulnerable child in a potentially dangerous situation.
"We don't know how long you would have left the child in the vehicle if not for the quick and conscientious intervention of the two passers-by."