A 7-year-old boy sent home from school for misbehaving was reported to police the next day as being the victim of an assault by the relative who had picked him up.

The relative, a sister of the boy’s mother, appeared in Summary Court for sentencing this week before Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez. The defendant had previously pleaded guilty to assault causing actual bodily harm. The charge of cruelty to a child was withdrawn and the woman received a conditional discharge.

Crown counsel Greg Walcolm said the boy was taken home from school early by his aunt because he had been “behaving poorly.”

At home, she hit him with a belt, causing bruises on his arm and back. The next day, a teacher noticed the bruises and the matter was reported to police. The boy said his aunt slapped him.

Defense attorney Dennis Brady said the defendant admitted slapping the boy with a belt because of his poor behavior at school. That method of discipline is not acceptable in this jurisdiction, he agreed.

“But it was done out of love,” Mr. Brady said. “She didn’t want her nephew to follow the path of delinquency that happens when these things go unchecked.”

He noted with some irony that it was the school that sent the boy home one day and called the police the next day.

“What do we do?” he asked. “We’re trying to correct the child; we don’t want him expelled from learning.”

The incident had exposed the child’s need for professional help, Mr. Brady added, because of other incidents at school. The adults in his life also needed help, he told the court. The boy does not have a father figure and the aunt is often called upon to assist. She and the boy’s mother were participating in a parenting program and availing themselves of professional help, the defense attorney said.

Mr. Brady said it would be unconscionable for the defendant to have a conviction for trying to do good.

The magistrate referred to the social inquiry report and asked about the circumstances of the hitting. It said the woman had told the boy to hold out his hand and when he shifted about, the belt hit his arm and back.

Mr. Brady said it was the aunt’s intention to hit the boy’s hands, but he had moved away. Mr. Walcolm confirmed that was the initial indication when the defendant was first interviewed.

In passing sentence, the magistrate said she took into consideration the defendant’s early guilty plea to the assault charge. “I also accept there is great remorse and you are like a co-parent,” she told the aunt. “The reality is that a belt should not be used on a seven-year-old,” she said.

Following the recommendation of the probation officer who wrote the social inquiry report, the magistrate ordered a conditional discharge – the condition being probation for 12 months. During that time she is to attend counseling and there is to be no further violence against the child.

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