Tears shed as parents found guilty of severely assaulting baby on at least 5 occasions
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Pretoria - A young mother wiped an occasional tear from her eye while the judge yesterday found that she and the child’s father on at least five occasions severely assaulted their baby daughter.
The Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, yesterday convicted the mother and the father, aged 22 and 24, of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm, as well as child neglect.
While the prematurely born baby landed in hospital last year for the first time at the age of 2 months with 18 rib fractures (some ribs were broken in various places), and at the age of 5 months with at least 33 fractures, the parents said they had no idea how this happened.
But Judge Hennie de Vos said it was clear they had both assaulted the child and they were protecting each other.
“It is a case of hear no evil, see no evil,” he said.
The parents may not be named in order to safeguard the identity of the little girl, who is now a year-and-half old.
She was not living with a relative and doing well, the court was told.
The parents were acquitted on a charge of attempted murder after Judge de Vos said that he was not convinced they wanted to cause her death.
But the judge said the circumstantial evidence, especially that from the various doctors who testified, was overwhelming that they had severely assaulted the infant on at least five occasions.
He also convicted the pair of child neglect. The child, known as Baby T, was severely malnourished when she landed in the Eugene Marais Hospital for the second time in July last year.
She was born prematurely on February 1, 2019, and was hospitalised for the first time in April last year with breathing problems. An X-ray of the baby revealed that she had at least 18 rib fractures.
The rib fractures were of various ages – some were new and others were already healing.
Both parents were arrested by the police, but only the father appeared in court. He was given bail, with one of the conditions that he may not see the child.
But within a few days he and the child’s mother again lived together and hardly three months later, the baby was back in hospital as she could not breath.
While the doctors described her condition as bad during her first stint in hospital, they all agreed this time around that she was on the brink of death.
Apart from being nearly starved, she had more than 30 fractures across her body, soft tissue injury to her neck and a bruise to her face.
These included fractures to her legs and collar bone. The parents insisted that they were not responsible for the injuries.
But they could not explain that if it was not them, who would have caused the injuries.
The father was adamant that he never “spent a minute alone” with the child. He also denied that he and his then girlfriend, the mother of the child, lived together. According to him, they only occasionally spent a few nights together. When they were there, he said, he was mostly at work.
But it became clear that this was a lie, as he eventually admitted that at least during the hard lockdown last year they had spent all that time together.
Judge de Vos said it was very strange that the parents, if they were as innocent as they had claimed, never questioned who then assaulted their child.
Following their first arrest in April, they simply continued with life as if nothing had happened. Not even after the child was hospitalised in a critical condition for the second time, did they question who was hurting their child.
“This is because they knew that both of them were assaulting the child,” the judge said.
He added that they insisted on going to a different hospital and seeing a different doctor on the second occasion, as they knew that they would have been in deep trouble if they returned.
While there was no direct evidence as to how the baby was assaulted, a family member testified how the mother squeezed the baby when she cried and forcefully swung her around.
The judge also accepted the medical evidence that excessive force was used in breaking the baby’s ribs and other bones.
Judge de Vos said it was clear the parents just wanted to have fun and that the baby was a burden to them.
The matter was postponed to December 6 for a presentencing report.
The parents are out on R3 000 bail each.