Picture: succo/Pixabay

Sydney - A Sydney couple who fed their toddler a strict vegan diet resulting in severe malnourishment have avoided a jail term and will instead serve 18 months in the community, local media reported. 

"This child was severely malnourished, underweight and undersized, and delayed as far as age-appropriate milestones were concerned," District Court Judge Sarah Huggett said Thursday during the sentencing, according to Australian broadcaster ABC. 

Huggett sentenced both parents to 18-month intensive corrections orders to be served in the community and to 300 hours of community service.

Both the 35-year-old father and 33-year-old mother cried and hung their heads in the dock as the judge handed down her sentence, ABC reported.

The couple, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been charged after their 19-month-old daughter had a seizure and was admitted to Sydney Children's Hospital in March last year. 

They both pleaded guilty in December to failing to provide for a child, causing danger or serious injury. The maximum sentence for the offence is five years in jail.

For the first 19 months of her life, the girl was fed a "conservative vegan diet," consisting of oats with olive oil, rice milk, vegetables, rice, potatoes and tofu, and as little as two sultanas as a snack, the court was told. 

The girl became malnourished, weighing just 4.89 kilograms at 19 months. Her bones did not develop after birth, she had no teeth and resembled a three-month-old baby.

The daughter, now three years old, is recovering and living with relatives in Queensland. Both parents have supervised access to the child.

dpa