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Child slapped, thrown to the ground in ‘serious’ assault

Thursday 22 December 2022 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Court, Crime, National


Child slapped, thrown to the ground in ‘serious’ assault

A father of 10, with another one on the way, has narrowly avoided jail after assaulting his five-year-old son.

The child suffered bruising and abrasions to his face and had to be taken to hospital in what has been described as a serious assault.

Eria Bubutei was convicted of four charges of assault on a child when he appeared before Justice of the Peace John Whitta in the Criminal Court at Avarua on Wednesday.

The court heard Bubutei, 39, slapped the child on the back. The child then fled, and was chased by his father, who caught him and slapped the boy several times about the face.

He then dragged the child along the ground and picked him up off the ground above his head and dropped him on the ground, as others intervened.

The incident happened on July 19 when Bubutei, from Kiribati, was with other members of his community.

He was having a meal with his partner when he heard the victim crying nearby.

The court heard he then smacked the victim “hard”, as several people heard it from a distance.

The victim ran, he then smacked the victim in the face several times. The defendant then dragged the victim along the ground before picking the victim up above his head and dropped him on the ground.

The Crown prosecutor told the court the victim sustained bruising and swelling to the facial area and was taken to hospital.

Police arrived and Bubutei admitted his actions. He told police, that was how he disciplined his children.

The aggravating features included smacking the child on the back and face, dropping the child on the ground, attacking his head – and a breach of trust that was involved.

There was also the extent of harm and significant bruising to the face.

“In this circumstance it is distinguishable, this was not reasonable force,” the Crown said.

There was no tariff or guidance in terms of sentencing, so the Crown included information from New Zealand as to how the courts treated varying degrees of violence to children.

The court heard the starting point was nine to 12 months in jail, while noting the family had since reconciled and the defendant had taken steps towards improving his behaviour.

A 10 per cent discount was recommended, along with another 10 per cent discount for no previous convictions, and a 33 per cent discount for an early guilty plea.

After those considerations, the Crown came to a sentence recommendation of between four and six months’ prison.

The Crown said it would accept a probationary sentence with a short term of community service and counselling.     

Defence lawyer Mark Short said it was sad, “when you have a father going overboard”.

Initial discussions confirmed Bubutei suffered from hypertension and diabetes, and his partner had told Short she believed he had overreacted because he had not taken his medication.

Short said his client was a dedicated father who had numerous letters of support. Bubutei had also undertaken counselling.

Short referred to a recent judgement by Justice Colin Doherty in which another defendant, also from Kiribati, had been convicted of assaulting a child, and sentenced to 18 months of probation.     

“Because the defendant has a lot of children – his wife is due to give birth next month – I ask this court not to send him to jail.”

Bubutei’s partner had penned a letter asking the court for leniency.

“Smacking is not acceptable, the child cannot defend themselves,” Short said.

JP Whitta adjourned the matter for about an hour to consider.

When he returned, JP Whitta, upon sentencing, said a charge of assault carried a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

“You moved here in 2015, you have three children, are about to have another child; you have seven children in Kiribati.

“You have accepted the facts and express regret; you say this is the first time this has happened, yet you told police this is how you discipline your children.”

JP Whitta said the assault was prolonged.

“This was a serious assault on a child, four separate incidents in a short space of time, an escalating scenario of aggression.

“There was a level of cruelty that was quite surprising.”

JP Whitta said he found it hard to accept the medical condition was a contributing factor.

“Your betrayal as a father is huge.”

He said the starting point was 12 to 15 months’ jail, allowing a 25 to 33 per cent discount for an early guilty plea.

“I thought long and hard and I did take into account the case Justice Doherty had dealt with. Your case is more serious.”

JP Whitta said the defendant had taken many positive steps in attending counselling and being committed to his family.

“Prison would undo everything.”

He sentenced Bubutei to 18 months of probation, and ordered him to pay $20 towards a medical report and $50 court costs.