Hong Kong couple jailed for mistreating their child, who became acutely dehydrated

Court hears that parents neglected to feed their boy, who became seriously underweight

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 9:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 7:30pm

Two drug-addicted parents were each jailed for 14 months by a court on Wednesday for underfeeding their baby so severely that he developed life-threatening levels of acute dehydration and weighed just over 10 pounds at the age of five months.

The sentence means their third child will be born in custody, while the boy – their second who is now 17 months old – will continue to stay with the Po Leung Kuk, a charitable organisation.

Their first child, who is 12, is being cared for by a family member.

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Acting principal magistrate Joseph To Ho-shing said the case was the most serious of its kind because a life was threatened by inexplicable and irresponsible parenting.

“How difficult is it to feed the baby when it is the God-given duty of a parent?” he said. “To bring suffering to a child and threaten his life is a behaviour that cannot be tolerated by a civilised society ... The court has to send a clear message.”

How difficult is it to feed the baby when it is the God-given duty of a parent?
Joseph To Ho-shing, acting principal magistrate

Sha Tin Court heard the mistreatment was uncovered last April when the boy’s social worker found his parents had again missed an appointment for a routine vaccination and paediatric consultation.

The social worker went to the parents’ flat to bring them to the clinic and found they had just woken up. The baby appeared to lack strength, so she suggested they feed him before leaving.

Subsequent medical examination at the clinic found the baby was dehydrated with a fast heart rate and a fever of 38.8 degrees Celsius.

Doctors at Prince of Wales Hospital further discovered that he had high levels of sodium and urea in his blood and concluded that he was suffering from insufficient milk intake for the previous three to four days.

The social worker observed that his parents were indifferent to his situation as they kept playing with their phones without feeding him.

Earlier this month, the parents, aged 35 and 36, pleaded guilty to one count of ill-treatment or neglect by those in charge of a child, an offence punishable by three years’ imprisonment in a magistrates’ court.

Their defence lawyers sought reports on the suitability of drug addiction treatment centres as they argued that they needed support – instead of punishment – on how to care for their son.

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One lawyer, surnamed Fung, further suggested that they only thought their son was being a good boy when he appeared dull, and said they did not consider him to be “too thin” when he was admitted to hospital.

But the magistrate replied that the lawyer had put the cart before the horse as babies should be fed before they showed signs of being unwell.

He also noted that health care workers had already reminded the parents how to feed their son properly in February, when the boy was found to weigh just 9.2 pounds at two months, in contrast with the average weight of 10.56 pounds.

By the time the offence was discovered, the boy weighed 10.78 pounds.

The magistrate adopted a starting point of 21 months for sentencing, but eventually jailed the pair for 14 months each, giving them a one-third reduction for their guilty plea.