Geneva buries toddler who starved to death

Jacques Barillon (left), the lawyer representing Silvia's relatives, with her grandmother, Lucilla Barraud, at the funeral Keystone

A toddler who died while her mother was in police custody has been buried in Geneva. Some 2,000 people turned out to mourn the death of 16-month-old "Silvia", who managed to survive alone for ten days in an apartment before succumbing to starvation.

This content was published on June 21, 2001 - 11:06

The circumstances surrounding the child's death remain unclear, but her ordeal has sent shockwaves across the country, and led to much soul-searching.

"People here will call the police if a dog barks in an apartment, but not if they hear a baby crying," said a Portuguese woman called Maria, who attended the funeral.

Police discovered Silvia's body on June 1 - 23 days after the arrest of her mother. They had been called by neighbours, who complained of a strange smell, and after forcing their way into the apartment found the child's body in the bathroom.

"Why did Silvia have to die under such terrible circumstances - in Switzerland, where everything is so safe and well-ordered?" asked the German-language tabloid, "Blick".

It said the child had prolonged her life - and her suffering - by drinking water from the toilet: "She was too small to reach the tap."

Silvia was the daughter of a 22-year-old Portuguese woman, Susana, with a record of small-scale theft and drug addiction. She was arrested on May 8 after being accused of stealing a mobile phone.

Susana reportedly told police that someone was looking after the child, because she feared that Silvia would be handed over to the social services. She now faces charges of abandonment and negligent homicide.

A 16-month-old child would not normally be expected to survive more than about three days without food or water. But an autopsy report showed that Silvia survived for around 10 days, which suggests that someone looked after her for at least part of her time alone.

Media reports have laid the blame at the door of the police and the social services for not checking that the child was being looked after.

swissinfo with agencies

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