07 October 2013

The tragedy of Hamzah Khan -- and 170 million others

I have long looked for a written version of a moving story I once heard at a conference.  

I cannot remember who said it, but the story goes like this: imagine what it would take to create a stunted child if you were deliberately and malevolently trying to do it. You would have to slowly starve it, not play or interact with it, not clean it, and not take it to the health clinic when it got sick. The story is evocative because the child needs to be failed in a number of ways for stunting to be chronic and potentially lead to death. 

Now we have a terrible real life case from the UK, that of Amanda Hutton and her son, Hamzah Khan who was 4 when he died. 

The details from the court case are shocking. Hamzah was the youngest of 8 children and the mother is reported as having loved the baby the least. She fed Hamzah half a banana and some milk on the days she fed him. The boy was frequently clothed in soiled nappies and was not taken to any health service after the age of 5 months. When the Hamzah died, the mother let him mummify for 2 years under a pile of debris in his cot. The doctors said that when he died at age 4 he was found wearing clothing appropriate for a 9 month old child (see picture), and the autopsy revealed a child with bones of a 12-18 month child.

This is the tragic case of a child that was neglected, malnourished and died in an environment that should have been able to support him.  

Is this more or less tragic than a child who was not neglected by parents but became malnourished and died in an environment that could not support him? 

This is what the parents of 170 stunted million children fight against each day. Forty five percent of them will lose the battle. Their children will also seem to have the bones of a much younger child when they die. 

Faced with the reality of Hamzah's terrible experience, all of a sudden I am less keen on finding that moving story I heard at a conference.  


Purnima Menon said...

Hi Lawrence - this was really moving, and provides a set of images of neglect that I think we will have to keep reminding people about. That said, the story of global malnutrition is about the world neglecting the parents of infants and young children, rather than the parents neglecting their babies. It is ultimately about equipping and helping mothers and families care for their babies worldwide. And the world is failing quite miserably at this point in time.

Anyway, nicely written. And evocative indeed. It takes me back to the world of "care resources". Cheers. Purnima.

Lawrence Haddad said...

Hi Purnima, I agree with you, that is why I contrasted Hamzah's case with the situation of parents who do care, but whose environments fail them, and I suggest this is even more tragic (if that is possible).. best