The parents of a five-month-old boy who died from rickets after they neglected his care because of their religious beliefs were jailed yesterday.
Nkosiyapha Kunene, 36, and his wife Virginia, 32, who admitted the manslaughter of their son Ndingeko, received three years and two years, three months’ imprisonment respectively.
Mr Justice Singh at the Old Bailey said: “The secular courts of this country apply the secular law of the land. They do so equally to all who come before them. The law respects the right of everyone to freedom of thought and belief.
“However, the right to manifest one’s religion is not absolute. It is limited in particular by the rights of others. The state has a particularly important duty to protect the right to life, especially when a young child is concerned.”
The couple, of Erith, Kent, admitted the charge at earlier hearings.
Ndingeko was born on January 1, 2012 at Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford, and died in June 14 that year.
He was found to have been suffering from rickets resulting from severe vitamin D deficiency.
From birth, he had medical problems, and the judge said it was emphasised on behalf of the couple that the vitamin D deficiency was not diagnosed at that stage, nor was Virginia Kunene given advice about taking supplements. The mother did not attend a scheduled check-up on March 8 and Ndingeko was not seen by a healthcare professional from then on to the day he died.
From April it was appreciated by the couple, who are strict Seventh Day Adventists, that their son was unwell, although his health fluctuated over the next two months.
“It is clear that, because of their own religious beliefs, the defendants did not in fact seek medical assistance,” the judge said.
“However their views (in particular Mr Kunene’s) appear to be very extreme and do not reflect the official doctrine of that church.”
The couple had not refused all medical interventions at all times. The judge said that Nkosiyapha Kunene accepted that he realised when he returned home from work on June 14 that Ndingeko might die and he did not call for medical assistance.
His wife said that on that day she did wish to seek medical attention but her husband said it would be a sin.
The judge said the husband’s culpability was higher than that of his wife, which the sentence reflected.