A Pretoria couple have been handed an effective 14-year prison sentence for beating their six-month-old daughter and left the infant with broken ribs, collar bones and legs.
Their conviction and hefty sentence would not have been possible without the intervention of AfriForum’s Private Prosecution Unit, who assisted doctors to open a criminal case – after the first case they reported was inexplicably closed.
The mother and father denied the allegations but were found guilty of assault with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm, and child neglect. The criminal complaint was filed on 24 July 2020. The sentence was imposed on 20 February 2023 in the Pretoria High Court.
The baby girl, referred to as Baby N, was first admitted to a Pretoria hospital in April 2020 with injuries that were consistent with child abuse – she was only five weeks old at the time.
Her doctors and a private social worker then laid a complaint with the police and the Department of Social Development. The allegations included that the baby’s ribs were fractured in 15 places. While initially investigated and the child placed into care, the police informed the doctors that the case was closed due to a lack of evidence. Baby N was returned to the care of her parents.
Barely three months later on 1 July 2020, Baby N was admitted again with pneumonia, shock and dehydration. She also weighed far less than what is normal for an infant of her age and was ravenously hungry. Further tests indicated that her collarbone had fractured two to three weeks before she was admitted. An MRI scan showed injuries that were most probably caused by the baby being violently shaken. Both of her femurs were broken, and the signs of several fractured ribs were still visible. The doctors who examined her all agreed that it was likely the result of the baby being repeatedly abused.
It was then that the doctors approached the Private Prosecution Unit, whose investigators took comprehensive statements from all the concerned parties and compiled the docket which was presented to the police when the second case against the parents was opened. Following further pressure from the unit, the police arrested the couple, and the prosecution ensued.
The evidence collected by the Private Prosecution Unit was presented in court and revealed that Baby N had sustained a total of 31 bone fractures between March 2020 and July 2020.
In his judgment, Judge Hennie de Vos reflected on the injuries inflicted on the baby. “The offences committed are so serious that a harsh sentence should be imposed. In my view direct imprisonment is unavoidable. Baby N was defenceless and unable to protect herself. She depended on the love, affection, and protection of her parents. Instead of that her ribs were fractured, the femur was fractured, and she sustained a bruise on her chin and prevertebral soft tissue swelling of her neck. She was grossly underfed,” he said.
The Private Prosecution Unit’s spokesperson Barry Bateman praised the doctors and social workers who refused to allow the child to suffer. “Without the intervention of the doctors and other professionals, this baby might have died at the hands of her parents. Child abuse and neglect are among the many scourges facing the most vulnerable in society. We need medical professionals and caregivers who encounter such instances to take a stand, as is required of them by law.
“We compliment the prosecutor for her professional and competent prosecution. The same cannot be said for the SAPS. Without the intervention and pressure from the Private Prosecution Unit, the matter would likely have been closed like the previous case. The public is continually told how the government takes violence against women and children seriously, yet we do not see this filtering through to the police on the ground,” said Bateman.
Read the original article in Afrikaans on AfriForum