SINGAPORE — An 18-year-old foreign domestic worker was on Thursday (Nov 9) sentenced to four months’ jail after admitting to adding a harmful substance in the form of a Dettol product into a Ribena cordial syrup.
Her employer had used the tainted syrup to make a drink that was consumed by three victims, namely her son and two grandchildren aged 11 and 10.
Mila Rindi Antika, an Indonesian, pleaded guilty on Thursday to one count of acting rashly or negligently with a dangerous or harmful substance as to likely cause hurt to another person.
The names of her employer and family members cannot be published due to a court order.
In delivering the sentence, District Judge Brenda Chua said that given Mila’s position as a migrant domestic worker, there is a degree of trust involved between her employers and her.
Therefore, there are “public policy considerations” to be taken into account and a need to “curb such egregious behaviour”.
The minimum age to work as a foreign domestic worker in Singapore is 23. TODAY has contacted the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for comments.
The court heard that on Aug 4 this year, when no one was around, Mila took a bottle of Dettol from underneath the kitchen sink and mixed an unknown amount into a Ribena cordial bottle, before hiding the Dettol.
Dettol is a brand that carries a range of antiseptic disinfectants and household cleaning products but court documents did not specify exactly which kind Mila had poured into the Ribena bottle.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Phoebe Tan said that the worker deliberately did the mixing at the kitchen cabinet area “where she thought the closed-circuit television cameras would not face”.
Mila did so knowing that anyone who consumed Dettol would fall ill, and she had hoped that her employers would drink the tainted Ribena.
“She also knew that the complainant’s grandchildren often drank Ribena when they visited the complainant,” DPP Tan added.
Later on the same day, Mila’s employer prepared drinks for her son and two grandchildren who had gone to visit her.
Although the son thought that the Ribena had “a chemical taste to it” when he drank it, he dismissed this because “he worked in the chemical industry”, DPP Tan said.
His older son drank one cup of the beverage but did not complain.
As for his younger son, named as the victim in the charge, the 10-year-old drank some of the Ribena and told his grandmother that it tasted weird.
Thinking that the domestic worker did not clean the cup properly, she replaced it with another cup.
Before she poured the drink into the new cup, her sister smelled the contaminated Ribena bottle and detected a disinfectant-like smell from it.
Confronted by her employer, Mila denied adding anything to the Ribena. The employer did not press her further and just kept the bottle of contaminated Ribena cordial syrup in her room.
The next day, the employer called her family members over to her home to smell the bottle, and they agreed that there was a chemical smell coming from it.
Unable to find the bottle of Dettol that the worker had hidden, the employer did not confront Mila at that point because she thought that there was not enough evidence to do so.
On Aug 6, Mila’s employer detected a strong cigarette smell coming from the toilet.
The employer searched around for a pack of cigarettes and found the Dettol bottle hidden deep inside the cabinet under the kitchen sink. She then made a police report.
A laboratory test found that the Ribena cordial bottle had likely contained some Dettol.
Mila later admitted to the police about what she did.
CAUSE UNEASE AMONG EMPLOYERS
Seeking a jail sentence of five to six months, DPP Tan said that the case would “engender unease” given that it involved a domestic worker and a substantial number of Singapore households hire migrant domestic workers.
“A deterrent sentence was necessary to show that such injurious acts are reprehensible,” the prosecution argued.
The fact that there were three victims, including two young ones under the age of 12, was also aggravating, though it was “fortuitous” that all three did not fall ill, DPP Tan said.
She also said that there was a degree of planning involved, and that Mila did not come clean about what she did at the first instance.
Defence counsel Josephine Iezu Costan from law firm David Nayar and Associate sought a lighter sentence of not more than two months or a fine of S$2,000, or both, for her client.
In mitigation, she argued that “emotional abuse” had “taken a toll” on Mila’s mental health.
It was not stated in the agreed statement of facts, but Ms Costan said that Mila committed the offence because she wanted to make her employer sick so that she did not have to work.
The defence counsel said that Mila had told her, as well as an Institute of Mental Health doctor assessing her, that she was not given enough food by her employer.
However, DPP Tan said that Mila’s statement to the psychiatrist should be looked at with “some circumspection”.
This was because it contradicted her own statement to the police that she was fed well, and an MOM independent investigation had found her to be “not underweight”.
Ms Costan said that even though Mila was given a day off once a week, she was “forced to sit in the kitchen, without any stimulation” on these days off.
During her three months working with the employer, she had stepped out of the home only once or twice, the lawyer added.
When cleaning herself, Mila was not allowed to use the regular shower and had to use a hose typically used to wash the toilet — a practice that the lawyer described as “humiliating”.
All these experiences “would have contributed to the mindset” of the worker and clouded her judgement when she committed her offence, Ms Costan said.
In delivering her decision, District Judge Chua said that it was “not right” for domestic workers to inflict such harm on her employer and family members.
“And there is therefore a need to curb such egregious behaviour,” the judge added.
For acting rashly or negligently with a dangerous or harmful substance such that it would likely cause hurt to another person, Mila could have been jailed up to a year or fined up to S$5,000, or both.