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Durban - A Durban law student who hid her newborn baby in a cupboard
for 16 hours – hoping the birth was a “bad dream” – has been sentenced to house arrest for culpable homicide after the baby died.
Payal Beepraj, 20, a second- year student at the University of South Africa, pleaded guilty in the Durban Regional Court on Monday and was given a five-year suspended sentence, and three years house arrest.
Regional magistrate Fariedha Mohamed also ordered her to do community service of 16 hours a month as well as undergo social work counselling and orientation programmes.
In her plea, Beepraj admitted that on August 25 last year, at about 5.30am, she gave birth at the flat she shared with her mother in Margaret Mncadi Avenue (Victoria Embankment).
“While sitting on the toilet I suddenly felt something come out of me,” she said in her statement. “I think I blacked out because I next recall looking into the toilet and... I saw the legs of a baby. I was in shock.”
Worried about what her “very pious” and “strict” mother would say, she said she wrapped the baby in a T-shirt and placed the bundle in her cupboard.
“I did not closely examine the child because I was in shock and in truth was too scared to because I wanted it to be a bad dream,” she said.
Beepraj said she assumed the baby was dead because it did not move or make a sound.
She cleaned the bathroom.
When her mother left the flat, Beepraj SMSed her ex-boyfriend, Yashveer Ramraj, told him about the baby and sent him a picture.
In court papers, Ramraj said he was not aware of the pregnancy and had he known, he would have made the “correct decisions”.
Beepraj said Ramraj had begged her to call the police and paramedics, but she ignored his pleas because she was scared. The couple had dated for three years before their relationship ended in April last year.
In January last year, when her cycle had become less frequent, Beepraj said it was no cause for alarm – she had attributed it to the stress of university.
She said although she noticed she had gained weight, her stomach did not “protrude like other pregnant women”.
After the birth, Beepraj had supper with her family and went to bed, but at about 10pm Ramraj arrived at her home with the police.
She said she took the police to her room and removed the baby from the cupboard.
Beepraj was arrested and subsequently released on bail.
Post-mortem reports indicated that the baby survived for at least eight hours after birth.
Beepraj, in her correctional supervision report, asked for counselling to deal with the offence, which she said remained an
“emotional challenge” that she was unable to overcome.
In the same report, Ramraj stated he would support Beepraj in her healing process.
Meanwhile, Beepraj’s career prospects in law or the public service might have been affected by her offence.
National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman, Natasha Ramkisson, said according to government procedure when applying for a job, every applicant needed to fill in a Z83 form that required information on criminal convictions.
To be admitted as a lawyer, she said, applicants had to show that they were “fit and proper” people for the profession, and also declare their criminal convictions.
Childline’s Joan van Niekerk said of the case that there had been huge increases in abandoned babies over the past five years.
In 2011 it was reported that 2 583 babies were abandoned across the country.
“We are living in a fractured society with young parents who are poorly prepared because they themselves were not properly parented,” Van Niekerk said in an interview.
She said more focus should be given to the mental health of mothers. “It’s a myth that all women instantly bond with their babies. Most women find the process quite traumatic,” she said.
“Some of these women can ignore every sign of pregnancy, because the idea of being pregnant is so traumatic.”