The father and stepmother of a five-year-old girl tortured to death were sentenced to life in prison yesterday, with the High Court judge calling the abuse a case of "extreme cruelty."
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness," Judge Albert Wong Sung-hau told the 30-year-old stepmother in Cantonese, though he handed down the sentence in English.
Wong said he remembered she had recited the same quote from the Bible's John 1, verse 9, when she previously testified. The stepmother had no reaction.
The woman had earlier been convicted six to one by a seven-member jury of murdering the girl three years ago. Jurors voted unanimously to convict the girl's 29-year-old father.
The couple had also pleaded guilty to two counts of child cruelty, for ill treatment and neglecting the daughter and her eight-year-old brother, for which they were sentenced to 9 1/2 years' imprisonment to run concurrently.
The children's step-grandmother, 56, was jailed for five years after being convicted on two counts of child cruelty for negligence as the five months of abuse happened in her flat.
Wong said the step-grandmother knew about the abuse by the couple but did not help the brother and sister, equivalent to silently agreeing with the couple's actions. He said the step-grandmother would have been the children's only hope but she failed to stop the tragedy, which was absolutely selfish.
He also told her that she did not bring the children for medical treatment. If the girl had had a chance to be treated, maybe she would not be dead.
Enduring the long-term abuse, the girl died from septicemia on January 6, 2018. Both the girl and her brother were found with more than 130 wounds each on their bodies.
The two were the birth children of the father and his ex-wife. After the divorce, the father met his current wife in 2016. The couple, along with a third child from the stepmother's previous marriage, lived in the step-grandmother's apartment in August 2017.
The court earlier heard that the two siblings were "living in hell" after the move.
Wong said yesterday that the case was "extreme cruelty" as it involved physical and psychological abuse of children. He noted that the stepmother's biological daughter did not suffer from any abuse. Only the children of her second husband were targeted for abuse.
Wong said the couple intentionally hid the children's severe injuries with false statements to escape from legal consequences. They also never brought the children to seek medical treatment.
The children both suffered bodily abuse for five months, were forced to kneel and stand as punishment and suffered from hunger. "Their self-esteem had been damaged," Wong said.
Text messages between the couple showed that the father had incited and encouraged the stepmother to abuse the children. Wong criticized the father's explanation that the comments made were to calm his wife down as "against common sense."
Wong deduced that when the five-year-old girl's injuries had yet to heal, the couple had repeatedly targeted those wounds with their hands, canes, hangers and slippers.
As the girl suffered from a deep wound at the head, Wong said he believed the cause of the injury was due to the couple forcing the girl to play a "flying high" game in which they would throw her up to the ceiling, bumping her head.
About 50 people watched the hearing in court yesterday and before the sentences were handed down, some said they felt heavy while others wanted to punch the convicted three.
"Brute," one shouted in court after the sentences were announced.
The chief inspector of the police regional crime unit of New Territories North, Ko Mei-yee, said the force welcomed the court's sentencing.
"We would like to remind citizens that corporal punishment is not the right way to punish and educate our children. In this day and age, it is unacceptable within society and legally," she said.
Ko also said that parents should seek professional help if they had trouble teaching their kids. She also called for the public to report to the police if they notice any unusual injuries or changes of behavior in children which could be due to abuse.
In 2019, the Law Reform Commission released a consultation paper making preliminary proposals to create a new offense of ''failure to protect'' children to target child neglect and abuse. It was also suggested that it should be made mandatory for professionals who work with children to report to authorities if they discover a suspected child abuse case.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said consultation work on a mandatory reporting system was estimated to be completed in the coming one to two months.