A 22-year-old mother of three has been sentenced to 11 months imprisonment for failing to get adequate medical care for her toddler daughter after the child scalded her hand.
In what was a very disturbing case held in Naas District Court last Wednesday, January 23, Judge Desmond Zaidan (pictured right) expressed the belief that the child was initially denied proper treatment because her mother feared that extensive physical abuse of the child would be discovered.
The young girl has now been taken into care, and the Judge agreed to a request from the HSE, via Inspector Patsy Glennon, that she not be identified, although he instructed the media to name her mother, the defendant, Armanca Muntean, who has an address in Newbridge.
Srgt. Paul Reilly from Clane Garda Station, who revealed in the witness box he had spent 18 months investigating the incident, gave evidence that on September 20, 2011, Ms. Muntean was cooking at an address in Clane.
She had a saucepan full of water boiling on the cooker and, according to her account, when she turned away to chop vegetables, her two-and-a-half old daughter, who was sitting on the counter beside the cooker, put her hand in the boiling water. This occurred at about 1.20pm.
Ms. Muntean called to a local pharmacy and purchased a burn gel. She found it didn’t work very well and brought the child to a local doctor. The doctor recommended that the child be brought straight away to Tallaght Hospital. An ambulance was ordered and she was given a prescription for painkillers.
However the defendant told the doctor her husband and father-in-law would bring them to Tallaght. The ambulance was cancelled and she left the doctor’s surgery.
At this stage, the young woman went to the pharmacy again and bought a burn spray. The staff asked her to bring the child in to see them.
When she did, they instructed her to go to the doctor. She left the pharmacy with the child.
Some time later, a CCTV camera picked her up passing by the doorway of the pharmacy, pushing a buggy. Srgt. Reilly explained that it was not possible to see who was in the buggy.
He also explained she lived very close to both the doctor’s surgery and the pharmacy, a matter of a minute’s walk between each.
At 11.30pm that evening, approximately 10 hours after the scalding took place, the child was admitted to the Accident Emergency Department of Tallaght Hospital. She was diagnosed with a severe burn to her hand and transported to the burns unit of Crumlin Hospital.
In the hospital, the child’s parents protested at an attempt by staff to remove her tights. When they finally did, they discovered bruising and scratches all over her legs.
The court also heard the defendant told doctors the child’s hand was burned under a hot tap, whereas doctors were of the view that the child’s hand had been fully immersed in boiling water.
The HSE contacted Srgt. Reilly which lead to the mother’s arrest.
Speaking on her behalf, solictor Peter Flanagan told the court that within the Roma Gypsy culture, of which the defendant is a member, there is a distrust of authorities. This, he argued, made them wary of going to hospital for fear the child would be taken from them.
“It’s also a very male dominated and patriarchal society,” he explained. His client, he explained, wouldn’t have brought the child to hospital without the menfolk, and they weren’t there at the time. Nothing is done unless her menfolk say so.
“She was married at 16. She’s now 22 and has three children at this stage. She’s had to grow up very quickly, although she’s still a quite an immature person.
“She’s had to shoulder large burdens that nobody should be faced with at that age.
“On the day in question, she got into a panic. Initially, she did all the right things. But then she panicked. There’s no reason to believe she would deliberately injure her child. And she says that if she had it over again, she would have done things differently.
“She comes from a disadvantaged community where they live slightly apart from the rest of us. They do things differently. They don’t fully trust the system. She was fearful of the consequences of bringing her to hospital.
“As soon as her husband arrived back from Cork, they brought her to the hospital,” the solicitor explained.
Ms. Muntean is originally from Romania and has been living in Ireland for the past seven years. She has a three week old daughter.
“She’s a person who needs help and I’d be hoping a Probation Report could be prepared.
But Judge Zaidan – pictured – wasn’t moved by the solicitor’s submission.
“The pictures are very distressing,” Judge Zaidan noted angrily. “There’s hardly any clear skin between her hips and her ankles,” he said, holding up photographs. “This is serious.
“I’ve no doubt the reason they didn’t seek help is because that baby had been abused. This whole thing stinks; it’s appalling!
“This baby, an angel, should have been safe in her own home.
“How a mother could stand by and let this happen and blame it on the men is the family is just beyond reason,” the Judge said.
“It is very cowardly. She should have stood up against these men. She put them ahead of the welfare of that baby.”
And while he accepted that the mother did not put the child’s hand in the boiling water, he was not impressed that she had put her in a position where she could do so.
“What followed after was a cover-up. I’ve no doubt this baby was being subjected to abuse.
“This is probably one of the worst cases I’ve had to deal with was a judge. It’s distressing and appalling. Words fail me.”
“There’s no suggestion before me that she’s a victim within her own community. It’s cowardly.
“How did she think she was going to pull the wool over my eyes?”
And he added that “trying to use her gender as an excuse just compounded the aggravating features of the case”.
The court heard that the child has made a good recovery.
“There’s a bit of redness on the back of her hand,” Srgt. Reilly explained. “But that’s it. Otherwise, a good recovery.”
The upper limit for a sentence for this type of crime is 12 months. He gave the defendant credit for having pleaded guilty and sentenced her to 11 months imprisonment and a fine of €1,000.
He refused to consider suspending some of the sentence, or to consider a reporting restriction on the name of the defendant.
“The message has to go out to parents that in this court, this will not stand.”