Durban - A 21-year-old woman, her eyes swollen with tears, gazed ahead as she was given a wholly suspended sentence at the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday for the murder of her 2-year-old daughter.
Nontobeko Mosoeu pleaded guilty to the murder of her child, Esihle Xoliswa Mosoeu, six months ago.
The emotional Mosoeu, who looks much younger than her years, told the court that she was unable to care for and raise her child.
Overcome by hopelessness on October 31 last year, she strangled the child with a belt and dumped her tiny body in a latrine.
In her plea, Mosoeu said both her parents had abandoned her and she was left to care for her younger sister and her own child.
She was unemployed and lived on her family homestead in Pomeroy. Her relatives were also unemployed and could not help her.
She said that neighbours occasionally gave them food and at other times she worked as a domestic helper, earning R30 a day, which she used to buy food for the baby.
Her daughter’s father had moved to Durban and had only ever paid maintenance for the child on three occasions.
On the day of the murder, Mosoeu said the baby was sleeping while she cleaned the house.
“I was feeling depressed and helpless because the baby had been crying during the day because she was hungry. I did not have any money to buy her food,” Mosoeu said. “In my desperation, I could see no way forward and I took a belt and strangled her until she stopped breathing.”
The young mother was arrested on the day of the murder and confessed to her crime.
A social worker’s report compiled for sentence proceedings established that Esihle was a disabled child who could not sit or stand on her own.
Mosoeu used the social grant money she received for the baby for transport costs to take the child to Pietermaritzburg every month for treatment at Grey’s Hospital.
Judge Anton van Zyl said this was a case “steeped in tragedy”.
“The circumstances of both the deceased child and her mother are tainted with tragedy and poverty. The act of killing her child was one of desperation and hopelessness,” the judge said.
He said it was difficult to imagine the hopelessness that must have prevailed before Mosoeu killed her only child. “In the ordinary sense of the word, this young woman is not a criminal. Killing the child was wrong, but it was also an act of despair,” the judge said.
When sentencing Mosoeu, Van Zyl also took into account that she had already spent six months in custody since her arrest, and that she posed no danger to society.
Mosoeu was sentenced to five years, wholly suspended for five years on condition she was not convicted of murder during the period of suspension.
The first study ever undertaken into child murder in South Africa was based on research in 2009. It found that more than 1 000 children were killed in the country in that year.
The research, by the Gender and Health Research Unit of the Medical Research Council, was later published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
It found that almost half of the murdered children were cared for by a single mother (43 percent) while 29.8 percent were cared for by both parents.
This estimated rate of child homicide 5.5 per 100 000 children under 18 was double the WHO’s estimated global rate of 2.4 per 100 000 but resembles its estimate for Africa (5.6 per 100 000).
Almost half (44.4 percent) of all child homicides in this study involved fatal child abuse.
The World Food Programme says one person in four living in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished. Poor nutrition causes almost half of deaths in children under five. In Africa 23 million primary school-age children go to school hungry.