A Sydney couple who fed their children a vegan diet were arrested a year ago after their youngest child suffered a seizure. The couple, in court on Thursday, now face up to five years in jail.
When the child had her seizure and emergency services were called, doctors discovered the 20-month-old was severely malnourished, had no teeth, and suffered from rickets. She also had not been vaccinated or taken to the doctor since she was born, nor had she received a birth certificate or a Medicare number.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests that children around the baby girl’s age should weigh around 17 to 30 pounds. The little girl in question weighed barely 11 pounds, less than what a 3-month-old should weigh.
Neither the father nor mother are named in news reports, for legal reasons.
The Australian news outlet news.com.au reviewed court documents, which showed the parents fed their child “one cup of oats with rice milk and half a banana in the morning, and a piece of toast with jam or peanut butter for lunch.” For dinner, the mother told the court she would serve the baby tofu, rice, or potatoes, but since her daughter was a “fussy eater,” she might just eat oats for dinner as well.
“This diet resulted in severe deficiencies in nutrients across the board for the infant, including a lack of calcium, phosphate, vitamin B12, vitamin A, iron and zinc,” news.com.au reported. “Her levels of vitamin D — which can cause bone disease if found to be too low — were ‘undetectable.’”
The calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D deficiencies led to rickets, which weakens the bones.
The mother’s attorney claimed in court documents that she was severely depressed after the child’s birth. The attorney claimed the woman suspected the girl’s father was cheating on her and questioned her skills as a mother. The attorney claimed the mother wouldn’t even leave the house to get groceries.
A psychologist disputed these claims, telling the court on Thursday that medical records showed no evidence of the depression and her own interview with the mother revealed otherwise. The psychologist, Dr. Yvonne Skinner, said the mother had actually bonded with her child and enjoyed spending time with her.
An attorney for the girl’s father said the accused man was not vegan nor anti-vaccination but was being subjected to a “witch hunt” based on that belief. The attorney for the man claimed his client was essentially helpless to save the child, as the mother “dictated” her care. The attorney said the father was the family’s sole provider and did everything – from cooking to driving to shopping.
Judge Sarah Huggett of Downing Centre Court in Sydney dismissed the attorney’s claims, instead reprimanding the father because he is an “educated man” who “could have picked her up and taken her to a doctor.” She said he should have noticed something was wrong because the child, at 20 months, couldn’t walk or talk and “wasn’t hitting milestones.”
After the baby’s seizure, the child spent a month in the hospital and was taken in by a foster caregiver, who said the little girl couldn’t even roll over. After six months away from her parents, the baby was able to crawl and stand and put on 13 pounds.