Girl may not grow to proper height after being starved by mother

Doctors say a 7-year-old girl may never grow to her proper height after years of being ill-treated and starved to the point of malnutrition by her mother.

The mother, whose name is suppressed, pleaded guilty to two charges of ill-treating a child when she appeared in the Hastings District Court this week.

The charges are representative, covering the mother's continuing behaviour towards the child over two periods between 2016 and 2020, and during 2021.

The charges stated that the woman withheld food and nutrition from her daughter, exposing her to the likelihood of starvation, malnutrition and "failure to thrive".

Last year, the girl was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with chronic malnutrition, a police summary of facts said.

The summary stated that the woman regularly fed her daughter only once a day, and treated her differently to her siblings.

The girl was not allowed to eat with other family members, and often had to wait until they had finished before being offered the leftovers.

"The defendant admitted to knowing that the victim was regularly hungry and often asking for more food," the summary said.

The mother also stopped relatives and childcare centre workers feeding the hungry girl, telling them her daughter had allergies or bowel problems.

The girl was born in 2014. At the age of 6 she was very thin, and at 94cm the height of a normal 3-year-old.

"Her short stature was diagnosed as a result of psychosocial dwarfism," the summary of facts said. "This is a syndrome caused by maternal emotional deprivation, stress and neglect."

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It said that doctors had said that doctors reported she may never now reach her "normative" height.

In 2019, the girl's father arranged to meet her grandmother at a supermarket. He handed the girl over and said "she is coming to live with you".

At that time, the 4-year-old girl weighed just 11kg.

The girl lived for several months with her grandmother, who reported that she had a huge appetite and did not know when to stop eating after being deprived of food for so long.

In her grandmother's care, the girl's weight increased to 18.5kg. She returned to her mother's care just before her fifth birthday and within weeks, her weight had dropped back to 15kg.

An aunt offered to take care of the child but the mother refused. A cousin offered to help, but the mother told her that the girl was "just an attention-seeker".

The summary also said that at times the girl was kept in a cold room with wet hair and no blankets, was forced to sleep in a blow-up pool, and was not enrolled in school so that questions would not be asked about the lack of food provision for her.

The mother will be sentenced on June 17. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

-By Ric Stevens
Open Justice multimedia journalist

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