'Neglectful' Spanish couple refuse to surrender 11-stone 10-year-old

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The Independent Online

A couple in northern Spain are fighting to retain custody of their obese 10-year-old son after local authorities accused them of neglect in treating his life-threatening weight.

The saga, which includes many psychologist reports, a police break-in and promises by the child himself to give up candy, has gripped Spain.

In September, child advocates ordered the couple, Margarita Gabarres and Luis Montoya of Orense in the northern region of Galicia, to send the boy to a public treatment centre for his obesity after he had suffered what was described as "severe respiratory failure" in August. Social welfare workers said the boy, whose name was reported as Moisés, weighed 83kg, (11 stone). A local hospital had followed his eating habits since 2005 and found them clearly unsatisfactory.

But the parents refused to send him for treatment. So in October the regional government of Galicia decided to take the child away.

The boy, swamped by media attention, made a public vow to stay away from sweets in order to remain with his parents. "I promise the judge I will not eat candy or pastries," he said on the national television station, Telecinco. "I've lost 10 kilos," he added, noting that he had begun to exercise and eat healthier foods.

The parents, meanwhile, kept the boy out of sight of the authorities – and out of school. So regional prosecutors last week added a new item to their list of complaints: truancy. Moisés has missed 46 days of classes since 2008, officials said. The regional prosecutor said on local radio that the child was "socially isolated" and "kidnapped from class".

His parents told the judge that he missed school because he was recovering from an accident, and his grandfather had had an operation. Another reason, they added, was that they did not want the authorities to take him away.

The parents could face up to three years in jail if found guilty of neglect. A psychiatrist's report said that a jail sentence for the parents could "cause brutal damage" to the child.

The battle was further complicated on Wednesday when a police officer broke into their property without a judicial order and tried to enter Mr Montoya's car, for no known reason. When neighbours asked him what he was doing, he fled. The parents have filed a counter-suit alleging "persecution" by the authorities.

The parents' defence lawyer, José Manuel Rodríguez, accuses the regional government of "lack of sensitivity" in trying to wrest the child away from his parents.

"Criminal action is not the solution, nor is civil action," Mr Rodríguez told reporters. The solution, he said, is to "give support to the parents, so they can correct the dietary habits of the minor."

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