The mother of Baby Jamie, Patricia Kershnee Ishwarlall, has been handed an effective 20-year jail sentence following her conviction for murdering her 3-year-old daughter
The Baby Jamie case was a “textbook” case of abuse – and yet no one, including a social worker who was supposed to be ensuring her safety, had intervened, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Durban heard on Thursday.
“This tragic waste of life could have been prevented if the social workers had done their jobs diligently.
“How many other Baby Jamies are there out there?” Judge Mohini Moodley asked.
“The media spotlight has fallen on this family… but the statistics show there are many more.”
Earlier this month, Moodley convicted Ishwarlall, 34, of murdering the 3-year-old by beating her on her head with her high-heeled shoe at their Chatsworth home four years ago.
Medical experts said she would have died from “fatal child abuse”.
The judge also convicted her of a raft of other charges relating to ongoing abuse she and her mother Salatchie Basanich (who has subsequently died) inflicted on Jamie and some of her siblings.
The children, except for the youngest, who was just a baby at the time of the crimes, had all been fostered by Basanich when they were young.
“As the evidence showed, she would care for them only until the next one arrived and then she would discard them like dolls,” the judge said.
‘Older two are still traumatised’
Jamie was beaten, starved, burnt with cigarettes, had chilli powder put in her nappy and was tied to her bed at night.
Her older brother was also physically abused, and he and his older sister were forced to beg on Durban’s beachfront.
Only the youngest was spared, although when she was assessed after being taken to a place of safety, she was found to be malnourished.
“The youngest one, now in Grade R, barely remembers her mother and has adapted well to her new environment. The older two are still traumatised. They refuse to have any contact with their mother and she has made no effort to contact them,” Judge Moodley said.
While acknowledging that the crimes were very serious, the judge said that Ishwarlall had to be treated fairly, and “public indignation” was only one factor she had to consider.
She ruled that, while Ishwarlall, who has an IQ of 60, did not have “sub-normal intelligence”, she had diminished responsibility because, following a brain injury suffered in a motor vehicle accident, she functioned as a 16- or 17-year-old.
‘Rehabilitation commences with remorse’
Judge Moodley said this constituted a “substantial and compelling” circumstance to deviate from the legislated minimum sentences as set down by law.
“I am also mindful that the accused should not be sacrificed on the altar of deterring others from committing such crimes… but, at the same time, the court must show that punishment will be meted out.”
Another factor was that Ishwarlall had consistently denied the charges against her, claiming “ignorance” and blaming her mother.
“Rehabilitation commences with remorse,” the Judge said.
Taking into account that Ishwarlall had already spent four years in jail awaiting trial, Judge Moodley sentenced her to 33 years, but ordered that some of the sentences run concurrently with others, making it an effective 20-year sentence.
“This has been an incredibly hard case,” she said, thanking senior State advocate Cheryl Naidu and defence advocate Murray Pitman for their input.