Authorities were in the spotlight again on Wednesday after it emerged that both the police and welfare services were informed several times over the abuse of a toddler who was hospitalised on Tuesday with injuries and signs of neglect, which were only noticed coincidentally after his mother went to a Limassol police station to give a statement in another case.
Both of the 19-month-old boy’s parents were arrested on Tuesday in connection with child abuse and neglect after a welfare officer noticed abrasions and bruises on his body. The toddler was immediately taken to the Makarios children’s hospital where he was examined and found to have bruises, scratches and abrasions on his head and face, and the rest of the body. The injuries were found to have been inflicted at different times over the past 20 days.
The parents, a 26-year-old Greek Cypriot man and a 24-year-old woman from Latvia, were arrested and were taken in court on Wednesday. The mother was remanded for two days while the father was released, since 24 hours had passed since his arrest so the court could not hear the police remand request. Both parents, however, are on the charge sheet concerning assault and causing real bodily harm and exposing a child to danger. Their case is expected to be filed in court on Friday.
The mother reportedly made some claims on the condition in which the child was found which are being investigated.
Police had previously received reports about domestic violence. The family was also being monitored by social welfare.
Andri Andronikou, scientific director the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Family Violence (Spavo), told state broadcaster CyBC they had received calls on June 3 from people who had witnessed incidents of neglect and abuse of the child. She said, Spavo, as per protocols in place, immediately informed the Limassol police station where the couple lives, CID and the welfare services.
Later in the day she said that they had also received an anonymous call on June 5 from a witness concerning child abuse and violence against the baby’s grandmother. Authorities were alerted again, she said.
Andronikou told the Cyprus News Agency that the removal of a minor from its parents is initiated when officials deem that it is at risk. Perhaps, she said, when a social worker visited the baby, there were no signs of abuse. Neglect of child is by itself not a reason for its removal according to the protocols in place, she said. The removal of parental rights is approved by the attorney-general based on conditions described in the law, she said.
According to the law on domestic violence and procedures for dealing with child abuse, she said, officials are obliged to act immediately and have three days to complete the investigation especially when a child could be in immediate danger and their lives put at risk.
Andronikou said Spavo usually receives feedback on the cases they report but since this response comes by mail, it takes one to one and a half months for the letters to arrive and in this case, they have yet to receive the social welfare department’s response, “without this meaning that there was no intervention.”
CyBC said on Wednesday that neighbours called the television station saying they had reported incidents of abuse concerning the child a year ago. Some two weeks ago, the mother was seen throwing herself on cars on the street while holding the baby, neighbours said, according to CyBC.
Given that the family was being monitored by the social welfare services, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou, has ordered a probe into the case.
For Akel MP Irini Charalambidou, who is also member of the House human rights committee, ordering probes after such cases emerge, is not enough. “The social welfare system needs restructuring, the department is understaffed,” Charalambidou told CyBC.
She said society was witnessing such cases over and over again, referring to the probe launched when a teenage boy committed suicide last year after the ombudswoman said police and the social welfare had failed to recognise the psychological violence his father was subjecting him to, and the pattern of violent behaviour towards his mother.