Friday, April 21, 2006

Leniency in shaken baby case

From the Times
A BANGLADESHI woman who shook a baby boy so violently that he suffered brain damage walked free from court yesterday because a judge conceded that she did not know how to behave in the West.

Rahella Khanom, 24, caused the five-month-old boy in her care to suffer fractures to his breast bone and ribs as she tried to rid him of evil spirits, Southwark Crown Court was told...

Kate Bex, for the defence, told the court that Khanom’s religious and cultural beliefs had led to her shaking the child.

She said: “She now knows that this was not an appropriate way to deal with her belief in manifestation of spirit.”
Speaking on a BBC Asian Network phone-in yesterday, Hosna Bangladesh of the Bangladeshi Women’s Society (BWS) said she had never heard of this before. I’m willing to be corrected but I very much doubt that the violent shaking of babies is a religious or cultural belief anywhere in the world. Rahella Khanom walked free on Wednesday because the defence played on the gullibility of an idiot liberal judge.

Culture can be blamed in part, though - the culture of a patriarchal Bangladeshi community which allows so many of its women to be treated as little more than slaves. The woman from the BWS pointed out that many men won’t even let their wives answer the door or the phone. If our ‘culturally sensitive’ institutions dedicated themselves to wiping out genuine injustice like this, instead of prosecuting kids for playground name-calling, then women like Rahella Khanom wouldn’t be isolated and could seek help when needed. That said, someone who shakes a baby until its bones fracture and one side of its brain shrinks should never be allowed to avoid punishment. As was pointed out by one caller on the phone-in, had she be living in an Asian or Middle Eastern country her punishment would probably have been extremely severe indeed.

Another caller, a Mr Kumar from Birmingham, said he feared the leniency shown in this case would give more ammunition to the extreme right. His solution? “If she doesn’t understand the system, I’d put her on the next plane back to where she came from.”

[For those interested the above phone-in is available on listen again for a week (one hour in). Sabeena pops up again, too - for more on her see my comment over at the Last Ditch.]


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