Maid accused of girl's murder on trial

Hearing opens in Saudi Arabia into case of 4-year-old allegedly stabbed as she slept

12:43 March 13, 2013

Manama: The trial of an Indonesian domestic helper suspected of killing a child has opened in Yanbu, an affluent Red Sea city in western Saudi Arabia.

The parents of the victim, Tala Al Shahri, 4, and a representative from the Indonesian diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia were present at the trial, local media reported on Wednesday.

According to Okaz daily, the suspect’s two lawyers had been assigned by the Indonesian embassy to defend the helper charged with the murder of the young girl in the absence of her parents.

The helper has reportedly admitted that she used a kitchen knife and stabbed Tala during her sleep, taking advantage of the absence of her parents who were at work and siblings who were at school.

The case shocked Saudi Arabia and trigged a wave of sympathy with the family, especially as the father caused an accident in which two people were killed as he rushed home to help his distraught wife after she discovered the crime.

Several women teachers used the tragedy to press the education ministry to open nurseries in schools and help provide day care for their babies and young children.

They said that most teachers, including the victim’s mother, were forced to leave their babies and toddlers at home in the care of helpers and that the situation was not always comfortable.

No motive for the murder has been mentioned by those familiar with the case, but

Khalid Al Shahri, Tala’s father, denied in an interview with a Saudi daily claims that the domestic helper had been ill-treated.

“She worked for us for three years, and she had a good character and morals and she was very nice to our daughters,” he said. “We exempted her from working in the kitchen and asked her to help with cleaning the house and looking after the girls during our absence. We regularly helped her,” the father told Sabq.

The family was never late in giving the helper salary and often offered her gifts such as clothes to encourage her, Al Shahri, who worked for oil giant Aramco in Yanbu, said.

“My wife and daughters have never ill-treated her and she had no plans to leave us one week before the murder was committed. She did not have the intention to travel home and we would not have objected to it, anyway,” he said.

The prosecution is expected to ask for the death penalty for the domestic helper.