The Sydney parents of a severely malnourished baby girl have avoided jail and instead been sentenced to 300 hours community service.
The pair, who can’t be identified for legal reasons, pleaded guilty in 2018 to failing to provide for a child, causing danger of serious injury. They were sentenced on Thursday to an 18-month intensive corrections order in Downing Centre district court.
The toddler, now aged three, was so malnourished by the time she was 19 months old she didn’t have any teeth and looked like a three-month-old. She also suffered from a preventable bone disease which had caused minor fractures, and was not vaccinated.
The toddler had been fed a vegan diet of oats, potatoes, rice, tofu, bread, peanut butter, rice milk and occasionally fruit. She never received nutritional supplements.
Now living with other family members in Queensland, her health has improved but she requires ongoing speech therapy and physiotherapy, still takes drugs and supplements to boost growth and remains physically and mentally below average.
The parents’ older two sons also live in Queensland. They were not considered significantly malnourished but were behind on vaccinations. The parents, both in their 30s, maintain intermittent contact with the children but have lost custody.
Labor senator says 'unnecessary' vegan activist bill unlikely to be used
Judge Sarah Huggett said the neglect was reckless rather than intentional but remained at the higher end of offending. “It’s the responsibility of every parent to ensure the diet they provide children is balanced,” she said.
“That responsibility remains a very important one regardless of dietary preference. There must have been occasions to appreciate [their] daughter was not thriving.”
Authorities were alerted when the girl was hospitalised after a seizure at the family’s eastern suburbs home in March 2018. At the time, she weighed 4.89 kilograms and hadn’t visited a doctor since leaving hospital as a newborn.
The toddler presented with blue lips, cold hands and feet, low blood sugar and calcium levels and little muscle tone. She was unable to crawl or sit up unaided, had nil bone development, swollen legs due to fluid build-up and was yet to speak.
When placed on a normal diet in April 2018 and given extra support, she quickly began to grow and her teeth emerged.
Judge Huggett said the parents had been inconsistent and untruthful, telling authorities the girl had occasionally eaten animal products, would soon be vaccinated, had seen doctors and been growing. Now separated, they have taken parenting courses since their arrest.
The mother has sought support for natal and postnatal depression which she said made her feel worthless, apathetic and listless.
Huggett said there was a low risk of reoffending but sentenced both to an intensive corrections order to send a message of deterrence and denunciation. She dismissed the father’s claim he had a limited role in the girl’s care and should receive a lesser sentence.
Both parents wept in the dock.