Mother guilty of neglect for starving baby to death

Infant boy fed diluted formula suffered more than starving children in Africa, judge says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 3:15am

The suffering of a baby who died because of his mother's neglect was "worse than the starving children in Africa", a court heard yesterday.

The judge made the damning observation after convicting So Suk-yee, 32, who had pleaded not guilty to ill treating the child she gave birth to on February 8 last year.

The baby weighed 2.85 kilograms at birth but, the District Court heard, had gained only 160 grams by the time he died three months later. The baby was taken to Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung on May 5 last year. He died 90 minutes later.

At death he weighed half what a normal baby of that age should weigh. The infant did not have a birth certificate and was not named in court.

He had lost nearly all his body fat by the time he died.

"I find the photographs of the deceased shocking," Deputy District Judge Pang Chung-ping said as he delivered the verdict.

"The thinness of the deceased is worse than the starving children in Africa and the Third World," he said.

The judge said the baby could not have developed such an appearance "in a day", but only gradually over time.

This meant So should have realised much earlier that he was getting too little nutrition.

"I find that the defendant knowingly gave the deceased an insufficient amount of food over an extended period of time, leading to the deceased being malnourished for a long time," the judge said.

The defendant, who lives on welfare benefits, has two children, aged 10 and 12, with her former boyfriend, and a four-year-old daughter with her husband, from whom she has since separated.

Her fourth child, a boy aged two, and the victim were the children of her current boyfriend.

Two of the children are now living at a Po Leung Kuk children's home while two others are in the custody of relatives.

So was remanded in custody before sentencing on October 29.

A psychologist told the court So's intelligence was a little below average, but she was able to cope with daily life and was not mentally handicapped.

The judge noted So had cared for some of her other children, attained Form Three education and previously worked in a restaurant. She was able to follow instructions on the baby formula container and knew there were different ways to prepare different varieties of formula.

The only reasonable conclusion, he said, was So knew she was not giving the baby enough powder in the formula mix.

The Social Welfare Department is monitoring the trial to provide appropriate support for the surviving children.