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Discipline was ‘sadistic’

The mother of a child made to repeatedly stand on her head on a wooden floor as a punishment has been sentenced to home detention.

The Wairarapa woman has lost custody of the girl, as well as two younger siblings, all of whom were described as being malnourished, dirty, and having developmental issues.

The eldest child also had “ongoing issues with head lice” that resulted in open abscesses to her scalp.

Yesterday at Masterton District Court the manner of disciplining the children was described by Judge Tony Walsh as “sadistic”.

The woman, aged in her late 30s, pleaded guilty to five charges of child neglect last November.

She was given permanent name suppression to protect the identities of the children.

Judge Walsh said that although the woman was not responsible for disciplining the children, included making the eldest stand on her head on a wooden floor, she did nothing to stop it.

The repeated handstands had been “normalised in the family” to the extent the younger children would stand on the eldest’s fingers while she was doing it, the judge said.

It was a “sadistic way to discipline her”.

He said the victim impact statement made for a very “sad read”.

“It is clear all of them have been affected by what happened to them.”

The eldest child was made to look after her siblings from about the age of six, with regular duties including bathing them, preparing formula and feeding them.

Judge Walsh said the most disturbing feature of the case was that it had gone on for years – for the younger children their entire lives.

The woman had failed her children, he said.

“You were their mother.

“They looked to you for protection.

“You did not provide that protection.”

The judge credited the defendant for facing up to what happened and entering a guilty plea.

“You have expressed shame for what happened.”

Defence lawyer Ian Hard said that his client’s actions were not premeditated but rather showed an inability to cope in a situation in which she felt “powerless”.

He said it was a case of omission rather than intentional behaviour and the offending had “crept up on her”.

The woman was sentenced to 12 months of home detention on the charges, along with six months of post release conditions.

A co-accused, who is the father of two of the children, has pleaded not guilty to neglect charges as well as others, including assault.

He will reappear before the court in February.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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