Horror in Havana

Naked, starving baby found

29 April 2019 | Crime

Acase of severe child neglect is being investigated after a three-month-old baby girl died of suspected malnutrition and dehydration, only hours after she and her three siblings were rescued from a locked shack in Havana on Friday night.

Her three siblings - two boys aged five and one, and a girl aged between three and four - remain under observation at the Katutura State Hospital.

“They were very weak, lethargic and dehydrated. None of them were really responding. When we lifted the blankets, we discovered a baby. She was not dressed. She was covered only with a sheet,” Dr Aina Katangolo described the scene shortly after their arrival in Havana informal settlement.

Although a post-mortem examination is necessary to confirm the cause of death, Dr Katangolo said in her professional view the baby's death was most likely caused by dehydration and starvation.

The children's mother has not yet been charged, a City Police official said yesterday. Social workers will bring a charge of child neglect on behalf of the State this week. The mother was found and arrested near her shack, but a social worker advised that she be taken to the hospital to be with the children. It is expected that she will be rearrested once charges are brought.

City Police spokesperson Fabian Amukwelele confirmed that a breathalyser test measured the mother's blood-alcohol level at 0.80 when she was found.

He said neighbours told the police that the mother often left them alone at home when she went out to drink.

Traumatic scenes

The children were found after an anonymous call was received by the Copps radio programme on Kosmos 94.1 just before 20:00 on Friday.

When the police broke down the door, the children were found lying on a small mattress in the single-room shack, appearing to be asleep. An eerie silence greeted the rescuers, with the children described as unresponsive to the sudden presence of strangers in the room.

“The oldest child was vomiting. They were all very ill-kempt, but what really worried us was that the children were not really responsive. They seemed so used to this,” Katangolo told Namibian Sun.

Francois Lottering, a journalist who was part of the Copps team, said the children “didn't react at all”.

A quick medical assessment by Dr Katangolo indicated that all the children showed worrying signs of malnutrition, dehydration and severe neglect, but the baby was the most critical.

“We realised the baby was not really actively responding as a baby should. Even with stimulation she would only open her eyes, and would not cry. The baby was really cold,” Katangolo said.

“From a medical point of view, all the children were starved, dehydrated and clearly not well cared for.”

It was almost certain that the children had not been fed recently, the doctor said.

The team decided there was not enough time to wait for an ambulance, and the children and Katangolo were rushed to hospital.

Despite these efforts, the baby was declared dead in the early hours of Saturday.

More child neglect

Amukwelele of the City Police said the police were called to a similar scene on Saturday morning, where four children were rescued from another locked shack in Havana.

The children were hungry and exhausted from crying, according to a police official. Their parents have not been located.

The children, aged 1, 4, 7 and 10, were handed over to their grandfather at Groot Aub after the police had provided them with food.

Amukwelele urged the community to report cases of child neglect and abuse to the authorities, saying that a special team deals with such cases.

A police officer, who was present at Friday night's incident, said: “Child neglect on the increase and these children are very vulnerable and cannot stand up for themselves.

“I am calling on community members to speak out if they know of cases of neglect or abuse. They should contact us. We don't want what happened to this baby to happen to another child again. Don't keep quiet.”

Katangolo said more people must be unafraid to speak out about what is happening in their communities.

She praised the Copps media partnership with the City Police, which she said provided an opportunity for people to speak up and reach out for help.