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Dead girl’s family ‘barely had enough to eat’

Children missed school, family remained indoors

The home in Żabbar where the family was staying. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The home in Żabbar where the family was staying. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Updated 3.15pm with a statement by the Commissioner for Children, below - The death of Victoria, 7, about which two separate investigations have been opened, was the result of a systematic failure that saw the family remain indoors with the children missing school and barely having enough to eat, friends said.

The Nigerian girl died on Sunday from a rare disease, according to her death certificate seen by family friends.

They said that, having refugee (no social) status, the family of five did not receive any benefits or free healthcare and depended on people’s charity. They all showed signs of malnourishment and the mother was being treated in hospital, they added.

The parents received three bills – one for each child – and this put them off ever seeking medical help again

A person close to the family said that, late last year, the children were referred to hospital for a medical examination but, for some reason, they were instead seen by a psychologist.

Following the examination, the parents received three bills – one for each child – and this put them off ever seeking medical help again for fear of accruing debt they knew they could not settle, he said.

Aplastic anaemia was given as the cause of death, which, the friends pointed out, happened at Mater Dei Hospital’s Emergency Department. She was laid to rest yesterday afternoon.

An ambulance was summoned to the Żabbar premises where the family lived on Sunday evening when Victoria appeared unwell. She was taken to hospital but the mother had to take a bus to be near her, the family friends said.

They questioned why care orders were not issued for the three siblings before the girl’s death, adding they had notified social professionals. The parents had shown symptoms of mental health issues and were treated at Mount Carmel Hospital.

“Did it have to lead to the death of the girl for a care order to be issued covering her two siblings, aged 10 and 12? We have been drawing the attention of Appoġġ and Awas that the children could not stay with their parents since at least 2016,” the family friend remarked.

The family was afforded protection in Malta after fleeing Nigeria. All five were living in a residence in Żabbar lent to them by the Dominican nuns but they were not under the care of any Church entity.

This newspaper is informed that the child protection team was alerted in November about the siblings’ absence from school and all professionals consulted agreed they would allow the family some time to address the shortcoming before issuing a care order.

No care order was ever presented to the Family Minister for the deceased. It has opened an independent investigation headed by Judge Emeritus Philip Sciberras. This is separate from the ongoing magisterial inquiry.

COMMISSIONER FOR CHILDREN: AVOID SPECULATION

The Office of the Commissioner for Children in a statement said it was closely following developments in this case.

"The Office is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the two investigations that have been launched into the girl’s death and, based on these findings; it will assess what, if any, further action it can take to shed light on any systemic shortcomings that might have directly or indirectly contributed to the girl’s death," it said. 

It said the case should be protected from speculation, insisting that comment should be based on established facts.

"Everybody should avoid drawing conclusions from unascertained facts and to refrain from making any judgements about moral or criminal responsibility for the girl’s death until all the facts surrounding the case are known and proven," the Office said. 

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