In April, 2016, Sofina Nikat (left) took 14-month-old daughter Sanaya Sahib for a walk in a Melbourne park, smothered her by the banks of a creek and tipped the little corpse into the water, subsequently informing police the infant had been abducted by a drunk of African appearance. Three days later under police questioning, the mother finally conceded her “shoeless African” did not exist and admitted it was she who had killed her toddler. Charged initially with murder, later downgraded to the offence of infanticide, Ms Nikat was yesterday sentenced by Justice Lex Lasry, who took note of the 529 days she had been held pending trial. Concluding that was quite enough time behind bars, he imposed a year of community service and turned her free.
Reaction on Melbourne talkback radio was swift and much of it involved the accusation that Justice Lasry is soft on infanticide. This seems remarkably unfair to the judge, as the maximum penalty for killing a baby in Victoria is a mere five years and, given Ms Nikat’s lengthy stretch on remand, she would not have served much more time even if the full weight of the law had been brought to bear. Worth noting is that Justice Lasry last year presided at the trial of a woman who drowned three of her children after driving an SUV into a pond. He gave her 26 years.
What seems to have been so far ignored in the Nikat matter is the light it shines on this nation’s immigration policies. Consider
Raised in Fiji, 18-year-old Ms Nikat was shipped to Australia as the chattel in an arranged marriage.
Questions: Is an arranged marriage acceptable grounds for seeking and obtaining residence in Australia? The ABC seems to think such unions represent you-beaut cultural enrichment, but is this Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s view? If not, would he deem it a good idea to institute a rigorous screening process?
Observation: A Singapore-born journalist of Quadrant Online’s acquaintance, a woman with several degrees, including one from Oxford, had to jump through hoops to obtain even short-term Australian residency, despite a job offer from News Corp. The process cost her a large sum for lawyers and fees which, after two years, she was expected to repeat in order to stay on the right side of the law. She chose instead to leave and now works for the New York Times. Smart, industrious and never likely to be a charge on the public purse, Australia has lost her. Perhaps, had she agreed to an arranged marriage, she would still be here — at considerably less cost to herself and the nation’s future productivity.
Shortly after her arranged marriage, Ms Nikat and her husband became estranged.
Question: If marriage is the rationale for entry and that marriage has foundered, by what right does a mail-order bride remain?
Observation: According to press reports, Ms Nikat was living with members of her extended family in welfare housing in the down-at-heel suburb of West Heidelberg. We don’t know the degree to which she depended on Centrelink largesse, but it is safe to assume certain ancilliary costs associated with her address. At the time of her confession and arrest, Fairfax Media reported (emphasis added):
In the month leading up to her death, two men in contact with the child were facing serious criminal charges.
One of these men has been charged with serious family violence offences, including assault with a weapon, but can’t be identified as other young children could be threatened.
The man is also believed to be a heavy methamphetamine user, who is regularly involved in violent altercations with neighbours in the socially disadvantaged pocket of West Heidelberg that was once an Olympic village.
So, under one roof, a mother who kills her child and two men taking up the time and resources of Victoria Police.
It gets worse. Several months before Sanaya Sahib was killed her mother obtained a protection order and was moved into a shelter. Again, a burden on the taxpayer as a consequence of Australia’s mute tolerance for arranged marriages and an immigration policy which implicitly endorses them.
Two weeks before she was killed, an ambulance was summoned to the mother’s West Heidelberg address after the child suffered what media reports described as “a seizure”. Conditions in the home were known to authorities, as per the Fairfax backgrounding above. Why was the child allowed to remain in such an environment?
As even her lawyer argued, there was little chance of assimilation or enjoying the full fruits and freedoms of Australian life.
According to taxpayer-funded defence barrister Christopher Dane QC, Ms Nikat was imported as both bride and servant. As he told the sentencing hearing,
“We have a thoroughly unprepared child put into an arranged marriage. Started OK, becomes the servant, becomes the criticised servant, and the marriage breaks down.”
The obstacles to assimilation did not stop there.
Question: To what extent did religious belief figure in the child’s death?
Observation: Little Sanaya, just 14 months when her life was snuffed out, was a difficult child, much given to crying. Clinging to the custom of Fiji’s Indian-Muslim community, Ms Nikat contacted her family, who in turn relayed the diagnostic counsel of a local imam. His remedy: incantations to make water “magic”, which the child should drink for a cure, and various charms, all intended to drive out the demon that possessed her.
Guaranteed to exorcise the imp within 40 days, family members testified that the specified period had almost expired when the child was smothered. Need it be said the imam’s prescription did no good at all?
The taxpayer is now covering the cost of the homeless Ms Nikat’s stay in a motel until more permanent but no less taxpayer-funded accommodation can be found.
Observation: The reason she came to Australia – that arranged marriage – is no longer valid. Given what must by now be millions of dollars spent on police, legal representation, incarceration and accommodation, would it not be better to extract one last sum from the public purse – just enough for a one-way ticket home to Fiji, where she can battle demons with magic water to her heart’s content.
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online