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Horrific child abuse: Malnourished boy who slept in bath had fractured back, hips, ribs

Author
Emily Moorhouse,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 Nov 2023, 7:00am
The little boy had multiple spine fractures, bruising to almost the entire length of his body, burn marks, was severely malnourished, had thinning hair and was underweight.
The little boy had multiple spine fractures, bruising to almost the entire length of his body, burn marks, was severely malnourished, had thinning hair and was underweight.

Horrific child abuse: Malnourished boy who slept in bath had fractured back, hips, ribs

Author
Emily Moorhouse,
Publish Date
Tue, 14 Nov 2023, 7:00am

WARNING: This article discusses child abuse and may be distressing. 

A social worker talking to two adults arriving for a whānau hui noticed one of the young children with them had bruises all over his face, an open gash on his forehead and burn marks on his arm and leg. 

The severely emaciated 4-year-old, who was so unwell he was unable to walk or speak, was rushed to hospital where doctors discovered a list of injuries that were so long they take up more than an entire page in a Crown summary of facts. 

Compression fractures to seven of his vertebrae, several ribs and his sternum, as well as burn marks from a cigarette lighter and bleeding over the surface of the boy’s brain, were among those injuries. 

It’s alleged two women and a man were responsible for the injuries that occurred while the boy lived with them in a tiny overcrowded flat where he slept in the bath each night. 

Now, one of them has pleaded guilty for his role in the abuse which left the boy so psychologically traumatised doctors said he had no emotional response. 

The two women plan on defending the charges while the 43-year-old man has been remanded in custody until his sentencing next year after admitting five charges of assault at the High Court in Christchurch on Friday. 

All three adults have name suppression. 

It’s the kind of abuse Child Matters CEO Jane Searle said “isn’t surprising at all”, stating the significant abuse New Zealand children are subjected to is far too common and often goes unnoticed. 

“I think New Zealanders would be shocked to know just how common occurrences like this are,” she told NZME. 

Searle said the public hears about high-profile cases such as Baby Ru and Malachi Subecz but said there isn’t enough awareness of the cases of children suffering significant abuse and neglect that don’t die as a result of it.  

“Often it’s not just the act of violently hurting a child but it’s the emotional abuse and neglect that goes alongside it. It has lifelong impacts on the children.  

“It’s a lot more common than people think.” 

The 43-year-old man, who has name suppression, admitted holding a cigarette lighter to the child's foot and smacking him with force on the buttocks multiple times, causing bruising. Photo / George HeardThe 43-year-old man, who has name suppression, admitted holding a cigarette lighter to the child's foot and smacking him with force on the buttocks multiple times, causing bruising. Photo / George Heard 

Oranga Tamariki said it was unable to comment on the case as it is still before the courts, however, a summary of facts granted to the media revealed the boy and his 2-year-old brother were known to the service. 

Court documents state Oranga Tamariki had sporadic involvement in monitoring the care and protection of the children throughout their lives. 

Between September 18 and October 7, 2021, it’s alleged the children only had contact with the adults in the house. The eldest was reportedly made to sleep on a vinyl floor in the entranceway of the house with a folded-up duvet, a couple of blankets and a pillow. 

After a couple of weeks the adults became concerned that members of the public might see him there so he was moved to the bathtub with urine-soiled blankets that were allegedly never washed. 

The Crown alleges neither of the children had a routine in their life or went to daycare and stayed up watching TV into the early hours of the morning. The boy was also allegedly given little food. 

He was allegedly picked up and dropped by one of the adults and was not allowed to move from the bathtub for long periods of time. 

It is also alleged he was smacked with force with a jandal in his genital area by one of the women, leaving him with bruising and fractures to both of his front hip bones. 

The boy was also allegedly pinned to the ground multiple times by the same woman who then used her knee and pushed all her weight against him, causing significant bruising and fractures. 

In court, the man admitted assaulting the child on multiple occasions, including forcefully dragging the boy by his limbs and smacking him with force on his buttocks, causing bruising. He also held a lighter to the boy’s foot, leaving a burn mark. 

The abuse came to light on October 7, 2021, when Oranga Tamariki arranged a whānau hui to assess the boys’ welfare. 

The man and one of the women arrived late to the hui and a social worker spoke with them at their vehicle. It was there the worker noticed the injuries. He appeared to be significantly unwell. 

An ambulance was called and he was transported to Christchurch Hospital for urgent medical treatment and the full extent of the abuse became apparent. 

An ambulance was called and the boy was transported to Christchurch Hospital for urgent medical treatment. 

When he arrived he was so severely emaciated he was unable to walk or move and was severely malnourished with thinning hair, wasted buttocks, poor muscle mass and limited fat stores and underweight. He was also traumatised to the point that he was psychologically shut off and unable to express any emotion or utter a single word. 

Searle said while the public knowledge of child abuse in New Zealand is “a lot better” than what it was in the past, these cases are becoming more prevalent. 

She said more resources were needed to have more eyes on the children to respond to and intervene early in potential abuse, as well as implementing more community awareness. 

“Sometimes what you see can be a small indicator of what is going on behind closed doors. 

These things don’t happen in isolation. There are many social issues linked to this.” 

Searle was concerned Oranga Tamariki didn’t have enough training to respond to the “high level” of cases it’s dealing with. 

“If you have a system that is stretched the response is never going to be what it needs to be.” 

Emily Moorhouse is a Christchurch-based Open Justice journalist at NZME. She joined NZME in 2022. Before that, she was at the Christchurch Star. 

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