Jamie, 3, was beaten to death. Many knew of her abuse. They did nothing
As her mother goes to jail for the horrors she inflicted on her child, some very difficult questions are being asked
Eureka Olivier has seen children breathe their last breaths. She has had children die in her arms. But nothing could have prepared her for the horrors she witnessed when dealing with Baby Jamie.
Baby Jamie, sometimes known as “Baby X”, suffered gruesome abuse at the hands of her mother and allegedly her grandmother. Her repeated beatings ultimately left the child dead. She was just three years old.
“We have seen some horrific cases,” Olivier told Times Select. “We have had children die in our arms, we have held them. But the abuse that this little girl suffered … you cannot describe it. You can’t put it into words.”
Olivier, director at NGO Bobbi Bear, was speaking just hours after the Durban High Court on Thursday had sentenced Baby Jamie’s mother to 20 years in prison for the child’s murder. Her jail time also included a 12-year concurrent sentence on charges of child abuse relating to Baby Jamie’s two older siblings.
The mother cannot be named to protect the identity of the surviving children.
She and her mother – Baby Jamie’s grandmother – were arrested in November 2014 after paramedics and police had been called to their Chatsworth, south Durban, home. There, the bruised and battered three-year-old Jamie lay still in bed. She was dead.
Baby Jamie’s grandmother, 55, died in detention at Durban’s Westville Prison in April while awaiting trial. Olivier said she had first heard of the Baby Jamie matter two-and-a-half years before her murder. The little girl was six months old then.
“We were informed that there was a woman trying to sell her baby at the Durban beachfront. By the time we got there, the woman had left,” recounted Olivier.
The girl was reportedly on sale for just R100.
Olivier said she had inquired with the police about the child and was told the little girl had been taken to a place of safety. It was at this point that the girl’s mother was ruled unfit to take care of her kids.
In April 2014, the three siblings were placed with their grandmother. They would end up being Baby Jamie’s last few months alive.
During the four-year-long trial, chilling details of how Baby Jamie was often beaten, starved and tied to a bedpost came out when her older siblings, who were nine and 12 at the time, testified against their mother. Her only crime, according to her siblings, was that she was of a lighter complexion.
“It was heartbreaking. It was one of the worst things I had ever seen.
“When you look at her injuries, inflicted by two adults who were supposed to love and protect this little body …” Olivier said, her voice trailing off.
“What they did to her, you cannot comprehend.”
In handing down the sentence, judge Mohini Moodley lambasted the 34-year-old woman, who stood unresponsive in the dock on Thursday.
“The accused hasn’t expressed any remorse ... and pinned all the offences on accused no. 2 [the grandmother],” said Moodley. The judge was also harsh on those who noticed the signs of abuse and did not act. Social workers and the school the siblings attended came in for particular condemnation.
“Had the abuse been investigated or reported, the tragic outcome would have been avoided,” she said.
As the sentence was handed out, senior state prosecutor advocate Cheryl Naidu was visibly delighted. She had been prosecuting the case from the onset. Naidu declined to comment when approached outside court.
During the trial, Bobbi Bear contested bail and fought against the two accused being released. Bobbi Bear is a nonprofit organisation whose objective is to “collaborate with and assist the criminal justice system to ensure the rights and safety of the child victim of sexual abuse”. The organisation has been in operation for 20 years.
During the trial, Dr Sibusiso Ntsele, a specialist forensic pathologist who conducted the postmortem on Jamie, had told the court the cause of Baby Jamie’s death was blunt force trauma to the head.
His testimony corroborated the versions of events set out by one of her siblings during the trial. The siblings had testified that on the eve of Jamie’s death she had been struck violently on the head and body with a shoe by the two accused.
The beating was so severe that they had to mop her blood off the floor.
While the details of the case left those involved in it reeling, Baby Jamie’s death is, sadly, not unique. About 800 children are killed in the country every year, something Olivier said could be avoided.
“We hear it daily: ‘We know there was abuse but didn’t really want to get involved.’
“How can you know that children are the – little Jamie was tied to a bed – and you listened to all that abuse as an adult and not report it because you ‘don't want to get involved’? If you don’t want to get involved and I don’t want to get involved, how many children must die? How many more children are going to die because we, as adults, don’t want to get involved?” said Olivier.