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.
The injuries inflicted on the child over several weeks had caused one side of his brain to shrink. It was believed that the boy would have been screaming in agony for eight weeks because his injuries went untreated.
Khanom, from Poplar, East London, said that she had wanted to purge the baby of evil spirits as it cried and cried. She was not found to be mentally ill.
The court was told that Khanom, a Muslim, did not understand that shaking a helpless baby would not exorcise an evil spirit.
Judge Rodney McKinnon told Khanom: “Normal and right-minded people will be horrified by this. Everybody must recognise how serious it is to treat children in this way and to use violence.” But the judge said that Khanom’s strong cultural and religious beliefs, and the fact that she had been forced by her husband to live in isolation since coming to Britain from Bangladesh, meant that there were exceptional circumstances in her case.
He said: “You are a young lady who came from Bangladesh. You lived there in a rural community, adopting the customs and ways of the people there so that getting to know the ways of living in the West and in this country were not easy.
“I accept you were kept really quite isolated from our society by your community and it would seem to a large extent by your husband as well. Under these circumstances I do not feel it is in the public interest to pass an immediate custodial sentence.”
Khanom was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after admitting one count of cruelty to a person under the age of 16.
Sailesh Mehta, for the prosecution, said that the baby was taken to the Royal London Hospital, in Whitechapel, on November 16, 2004, because he was refusing to eat.
“He had been vomiting and not eating and was having difficulty breathing with a bruise to his head,” Mr Mehta said.
“On examination, the doctor found the top of the head was bulging.”
He added: “On the last occasion the prosecution accepted that the child was doing well and thankfully had passed the developmental milestones expected of him.” 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.”