Concern as two-month-old baby deprived of food for eight hours in Hong Kong prison

Facebook post reveals details of the case; Correctional Services Department says it sent investigators to the prison and all babies there were ‘in good health’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 7:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 7:57pm

A two-month-old baby boy was left starving for eight hours in Tai Lam prison, raising questions about whether the prison system is neglecting children born in jails.

The Venezuelan mother and her son’s plight was posted in a call for help on a social media platform, and quickly garnered over 100 comments and the involvement of the Venezuelan consulate.

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The online post revealed that the mother could not breastfeed because of “physiological issues” and relied on milk formula provided by the Correctional Services Department. But after a bottle feed at 4pm, the next was at midnight – which meant the two-month-old had nothing to eat for eight hours.

When the mother pleaded with prison staff that her baby was starving, she was told to feed the baby water between meals when he was hungry. The baby would then get so full of water that he would not be able to eat his midnight meal.

“We are very worried he will soon be malnourished as he is only two months old,” the post read. It was placed for a closed Facebook group.

However, the original post was later deleted and replaced by a post saying that it was “all confusion caused by a terrible misunderstanding” due to “timing fine-tuning” and that the mother and baby were well looked after by the prison. The post, however, did not clarify the eight-hour gap in which the baby received no food. The writer did not wish to be named.

The mother was identified as a Venezuelan who was not a foreign domestic worker.

The Correctional Services Department neither confirmed nor denied whether staff at Tai Lam Centre for Women had withheld sustenance to the baby for eight hours. It only said it had received a complaint and had sent investigators to the facility.

All infants were “found in good health” upon inspection, a spokeswoman for the department said.

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“In view of the seriousness of the allegation touching upon the treatment and health care of PICs [persons in custody] and their infants, this department paid utmost attention by appointing investigators of the Complaints Investigation Unit to interview the PIC concerned to follow up the complaint,” said the spokeswoman.

Tai Lam prison currently houses five infants aged from four to 24 weeks, who are in prison with their mothers.

“This department will provide the milk formula while the feeding time, intervals and quantity are subject to adjustment by the institutional health care staff with regard to the age and physique of the infants,” the spokeswoman added.

Hanna Emanuelsson, a licensed midwife with Pathfinders, an organisation helping vulnerable children born to migrant mothers and with experience in helping pregnant women in prison, said children born in custody should be treated the same as those outside of prison.

A two-month-old baby typically should be fed every two to three hours if on milk formula and “whenever they are hungry” if breastfed, she said.

“The younger they are, the more you should give them food whenever they like,” said Emanuelsson, because infants have small bellies and need to be fed constantly.

Feeding an infant a big meal and making them hold out for eight hours until the next one was not possible, she said, and being deprived of food could have serious consequences for the child – including slow physical development and even a possible impact on brain development.

Two sources confirmed that the Venezuelan consulate had become involved in the case. But no one from the consulate was available to comment.