No jail for mom who tried to sell baby on Gumtree
Durban - A KwaZulu-Natal woman who tried to sell her baby for R5 000 on Gumtree and was facing a sentence of life imprisonment, has got off with a slap on the wrist and will not spend any time in jail.
On Wednesday, Pietermaritzburg regional magistrate Rose Mogwera said Bongiwe Madlala had looked at selling her child as a “simplistic way” to solve her problem without thinking of the consequences.
The child has been placed in the care of social workers.
Anti-child-abuse activists had differing views on the sentencing on Wednesday, with some agreeing with the compassion shown by the court, and others saying that Madlala should have been jailed for her actions.
Madlala, 20, had been charged with human trafficking, which carries a prescribed sentence of life imprisonment or a R100-million fine, but magistrate Mogwera said there were exceptional circumstances to deviate from prescribed sentences.
She said she had to look at Madlala’s personal circumstances and the nature of the crime.
Mogwera sentenced Madlala to three years of correctional supervision, which includes house arrest, mandatory attendance at rehabilitation programmes and community service.
She was also sentenced to five years in prison, which was wholly suspended, provided she is not convicted of a similar offence or any child abuse offence.
Madlala was arrested last October after she placed an advert to sell her 18-month-old baby on classifieds website Gumtree.
She had put a R5 000 price on the baby and agreed to a sale. However, the buyer was a police officer who was part of a sting operation that had been set up after the police had been alerted.
She pleaded guilty to the charges in November, and said she had been desperate as she wanted to pay back child support she owed to her former boyfriend, who had been paying maintenance for the child but had then found out that he was not the father.
Mogwera said human trafficking was akin to slavery, but Madlala’s crime was not a typical trafficking case.
“This act (crime) did not have the traits where someone is sold to a syndicate. Although the child was exposed to these real risks, fortunately, it never went that far,” she said.
The magistrate said she had relied on sentencing reports from a social worker from correctional services, who had recommended Madlala be imprisoned, and a psychologist who had assessed her state of mind.
The psychologist’s report found that Madlala came from a poor family, was a recluse, had no friends and spent most of her time with her mother.
The psychologist also said that Madlala had low intellectual abilities and did not exhibit any signs of criminal or sociopathic behaviour.
Mogwera said Madlala may have failed to comprehend the seriousness of what she was doing.
She said Madlala was a first-time offender and had shown remorse. She wanted to have some kind of relationship with her baby.
Women and Men Against Child Abuse advocacy manager Germaine Vogel told The Mercury that the punishment did not fit the crime.
“If it was found that she was incapable of making sound decisions, how did she suddenly have the intellectual capacity to put an advert on the internet? It takes a certain amount of skill and premeditation to do something like that. I think her decision-making process is more sophisticated,” she said.
The sentence sent the wrong message to women in a similar position.
Vogel said there were other options for mothers who could no longer look after their children.
“Abandoning is worlds apart from selling. The planning makes it even more disturbing.”
But Joan van Niekerk, president of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, welcomed the sentence.
“Quite frankly, she must have been absolutely desperate to do something like that.”
Director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, Professor Ann Skelton, said while she could not comment on the sentencing, the case had been “highly unusual” and sent a message that the crime was “totally unacceptable, no matter the circumstances”.