Johannesburg - A seven-week-old infant has three broken ribs, a fractured knee and brain injuries.
He is recovering in an undisclosed place of safety as the State believes his parents did this to their child.
The couple, a 26-year-old father and a mother who is a year younger, were arrested on Saturday and appeared in the Benoni Magistrate’s Court on Monday, where they faced charges of child abuse and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
The Benoni couple were released on R3 000 bail each, sparking outrage from child protection organisations.
The pair, who cannot be named as this would identify the child, were arrested after medical staff at Linmed Netcare Hospital, who had been treating the child for bronchiolitis on May 7, alerted authorities to the infant’s injuries.
According to NGO Women & Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) – who are working closely with the police officers handling the case – when doctors X-rayed the little boy’s chest, they picked up three healing rib fractures. They also found fresh bleeding and bruising on the brain through an MRI, bleeding in the retina of an eye, and a knee fracture.
“We are outraged at the brutality of this crime against a tiny helpless baby,” WMACA director Miranda Jordan-Friedmann said.
“Too many toddlers and small babies are dying at the hands of their own parents. And if they are not killed, they are left brain damaged,” she continued.
Gauteng provincial police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini confirmed that the couple had appeared on the charges.
The matter was postponed to July 11 and the baby has been taken to a place of safety.
Dr Efrat Barnes, a general practitioner and expert doctor for the Teddy Bear Clinic, an NGO that deals with abused children, said the most significant injury was the head injury, and it was indicative of physical abuse.
“That kind of injury would impact the development of the baby and his being able to function normally, and it could lead to an impaired mental ability,” Barnes said.
She continued: “The child would present with delays in walking, and the injury to the ribs could’ve caused a rupture in the lungs. The injury to the knee could lead to permanent disability but that’s the least of the problems at this stage. The injury to his brain is catastrophic.”
Barnes said the injuries were common in a “shaken baby syndrome” case, where the child’s caregiver shakes and injures the child, leading to extensive head trauma.
The impact often causes bleeding in the retina, a damaged spinal cord or neck, as well as bone fractures.
“When parents take the child to the hospital, they often say the child fell from the changing table, which is almost impossible. For a child to sustain such injuries there needs to be a lot of impact. It’s not minor,” Barnes continued.
Childline director Lynne Cawood said the organisation was deeply concerned that such vulnerable children were hurt in such terrible ways.
“It’s such an unthinkable thing. Thank you to the people who detected it and took the necessary steps. Child abuse is never an isolated incident,” Cawood added.
Jordan-Friedmann said they were seeing, far too often, the abuse of small children at the hands of young parents. “We need to urge families, extended families and communities to support these parents, who are obviously struggling to cope with a very young baby,” she said.
The Star was unable to reach the couple or their legal representative at the time of publication.