An Australian couple is not going to jail after allowing their infant daughter to become malnourished due to their strict vegan diet.
The mother and father, whose names have not been released to the public, pleaded guilty to failing to provide the bare necessities to their daughter as well as bodily injury. They were given an 18-month jail sentence, though they will serve their time doing community service, CNN reports
The couple, who are said to be in their 30s, are devout vegans. They didn’t hesitate to put their daughter on a strict plant-based diet when she was born, despite knowing the baby may not get enough nutrients from the diet.
Reports say the parents only fed the child bananas, oats, rice, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They also refused to vaccinate the infant and she hadn’t received any medical care post-birth up until recently. Authorities intervened when it was discovered the child only weighed 10.8 pounds at 19-months. After various rounds of medical tests, it was discovered the baby’s bones have not developed properly. She also had no teeth.
Judge Sarah Huggett, who was the one behind the ruling, described the baby’s diet as “completely inadequate.” The judge explained, "This is not the case of an isolated act or omission or a momentary decision made in a pressured context, that led to a danger of serious injury to their child.” She added, "Neither offender was particularly young, immature, uneducated or inexperienced as a parent or caregiver to young children."
The judge did, however, acknowledge that she doesn’t believe the parents acted out of malicious intent. Rather, she believes they were simply reckless and uninformed. It’s also being reported that the infant’s mother may have been suffering from a mental illness at the time.
Luckily, the little girl, who is now three-years old, is doing much better today. She is reportedly being taken care of by a relative and has made great progress developmentally. CNN says she’s currently undergoing speech therapy, physiotherapy, and is also up-to-date on her vaccinations.
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While vegan diets for babies and children can be safe, parents have to be careful to ensure the child is getting the proper amount of nutrients, which takes careful planning and consideration.
“Babies and toddlers need diets high in fat and protein and low in fiber, the exact opposite of many vegan diets,” Dr. Manisha Panchal told Sutter Health. “You will need to make sure your baby gets foods like cooked beans, lentils, tofu, avocados, soy yogurt and nuts.”
However, it’s important to understand kids, especially infants, can’t stick to as strict a vegan diet as adults. If the child isn’t getting enough nutrients from a solely plant-based diet, the parents will have to supplement with other foods. “The rules for adult nutrition can’t directly be applied to a baby or toddler,” Dr. Panchal added. “If you feel strongly about your child being on a vegan diet, be sure to find a pediatrician and nutritionist willing to advise you.”
As always, talk to your medical provider if you have any plans to change your child’s diet and always be honest about what the child is (or isn’t) eating to ensure they’re getting the proper nutrients and minerals.