Vegetarian Mom Charged With Manslaughter After Baby Dies of Malnutrition

flowerA 5-month-old baby tragically passed away from rickets after his parents were insistent on adhering to a strict diet as part of their religion. The newborn, Ndingeko Kunene, died on June 14, 2012, and his parents, British citizens originally from Zimbabwe, were arrested and charged with manslaughter and cruelty to a child between Jan 1, 2012 and June 15, 2012. At a hearing Monday, both Nkosiyapha and Virginia Kunene denied cruelty, but admitted manslaughter. If convicted, they could face jail time.


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The couple is believed to belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, whose members follow a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which allows milk and eggs, but not animal flesh. Acute rickets, which is what poor Ndingeko died from, causes the bones to soften because of a deficiency of vitamin D, phosphorus, or calcium. It was a pervasive disease during the Victorian era, but has seen a small resurgence in Britain due to unnutritious diets and a lack of exposure to sufficient sunshine. Apparently, in the case of Ndingeko, both of his parents were warned that the child seemed ill. The prosecutor said, "This is clearly a tragic case. Because of the diet [Virginia Kunene] adhered to, the child became unwell. There may have been insufficient support about the health of the child but there were warnings from the family. There came a time when it was obvious her son required medical assistance and there was a real possibility of death."

There's no doubt in my mind that both Nkosiyapha and Virginia Kunene are heartbroken over the death of their infant -- especially, if it was something that they could have been stopped. There seem to be some missing pieces to this story, though, as I'm not 100% sure how a 5-month-old could pass away from an insufficient diet due to the mother being a vegetarian. The most disturbing part of this tragedy is the fact that Ndingeko appeared to be unwell, and nobody took him to the doctor. This could have been preventable.

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My heart breaks for this little boy, as well as his parents, as no mother or father should ever have to endure this in their lifetime. But if their newborn son did die because of something his parents were doing, and they were aware of, I think some sort of punishment is in order. As parents, our most important job on this planet is to protect our babies. RIP Ndingeko.

Do you think Ndingeko's death could have been prevented? Do you tihnk his parents should be punished?


Image via Richard Taylor/Flickr

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