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UK: Seventh Day Adventists whose religious beliefs led to their five-month-old son dying from rickets

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Rickets is a condition that affects bone development in children. It causes the bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities.
  • Nkosiyapha Kunene, 36, and his wife Virginia, 32, from Erith, Kent, admitted the manslaughter of their son, Ndingeko
  • Ndingeko was born on January 1 2012 and died in June 14 that year
  • He was found to have been suffering from rickets resulting from severe Vitamin D deficiency

The parents of a baby boy who died from acute rickets after they prayed for his recovery rather than seek medical help were jailed yesterday.

Nkosiyapha and Virginia Kunene, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, believed that whether five-month-old Ndingeko would live or die was ‘God’s will’, the Old Bailey heard.

The couple, strict vegetarians due to their beliefs, had known their son was unwell for two months but chose prayer over medical treatment.

After his death, tests showed Ndingeko had been suffering from rickets – a disease common in Victorian times caused by severe lack of vitamin D and associated with a poor diet and lack of sunlight.

Mr Whittam told Mr Justice Singh at the couple's sentencing hearing that, although their beliefs arose out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, that church does not approve of medical care being withheld
The court heard that from his birth at Darent Valley Hospital in Kent on January 1, 2012, Ndingeko had medical problems.
But vitamin D deficiency was not diagnosed at that stage and his mother was not given advice about supplements – even though she is a vegan and was breastfeeding her son.

As a vegan, her diet would have lacked the calcium and vitamin D – found in foods such as oily fish and eggs – needed to help keep his bones strong.

Mr Justice Singh, at the Old Bailey, said: 'The state has a particularly important duty to protect the right to life, especially when a young child is concerned'

Mr Justice Singh, at the Old Bailey, said: ‘The state has a particularly important duty to protect the right to life, especially when a young child is concerned’

The mother did not attend a scheduled check-up on March 8 and Ndingeko was not seen by a health care professional from then on.

The father, a nurse, realised when he returned home from work on June 14 that Ndingeko might die and still did not call for medical assistance, the court heard. His wife said she wanted to seek medical attention but he said it would be a sin.

The Zimbabwean-born couple, from Erith, Kent, admitted manslaughter. Nkosiyapha Kunene, 36, was jailed for three years and his 32-year-old wife for two years and three months.

Judge Mr Justice Singh told them: ‘The right to manifest one’s religion is not absolute. The state has a particularly important duty to protect the right to life, especially when a young child is concerned.’

He added: ‘Both defendants are strict Seventh-day Adventists, but their views appear to be very extreme and don’t reflect the official doctrine of that church.’

He said he had heard evidence that the hospital played a part in failing properly to advise the couple and prescribe Vitamin D supplements, and noted that a serious case review into health services failures in the case had not yet been completed.

Sallie Bennett-Jenkins QC, defending Virginia Kunene, said: ‘By her plea, she has confronted the reality that she failed her child, not through wilfulness and desire to harm, but quite the reverse, by the virtue that it would be a breach of the covenant made between her husband, her, and her church, and the abandonment of sincerely held religious views.’

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