Lee Fu-chen (黎馥甄), 21, had little choice but to grant custody of her one-year-old son to her husband's aunt in 2004, when the single mother was jailed for hawking bootleg DVDs.
With her husband having flown the coop and no family to speak of, Lee grudgingly sent her toddler son Lee Lun-chi (黎倫池) to stay with his paternal aunt Chen Chin-nian (陳金年), who she didn't know very well, the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) reported yesterday.
Money and screams
At the end of Lee's prison sentence last month, Chen threatened over the phone to beat Lee's son unless she gave the aunt NT$400,000 (US$12,140), the report said, adding that Chen would strike the boy during every call, eliciting his screams and sobbing for Lee to hear.
Recently released and destitute, Lee couldn't pay the aunt the NT$400,000 she requested and didn't know where to find her.
Lee therefore turned to the Social Affairs Bureau in her native Taichung County, the report said, calling the bureau many times last month, as well as a local child abuse hotline (113), the Child Welfare League Foundation and the Taiwan Women and Children Association, pleading for help from those organizations.
They all refused to help Lee, citing the fact that she didn't know where her son was, the report added.
The bureau suggested she look for her son herself, while the foundation and association said that intervening in Lee's case wasn't their responsibility, the report said.
"We can't do anything without an address," a hotline representative was quoted as saying to the desperate mother.
Then, the nightmare reached its inevitable climax.
Little Lee succumbed to his injuries, dying after a series of brutal beatings at the hands of his aunt on Friday.
Battered to death with baseball bats and beer bottles, the boy's body is currently in a Taichung morgue, awaiting an autopsy to determine the precise cause of death, the report said.
Head trauma and strangulation with a rope were possible causes, the report added.
A subsequent search of Chen's home by police revealed multiple bloodied blunt instruments, as well as a filthy environment in which dogs were allowed to run loose, urinating and defecating at will indoors.
"Mom's here now! Wake up!" Lee was quoted as saying, as she reportedly sobbed over her son's broken body in the morgue during identification.
The Liberty Times report said that while the social affairs bureau and NGOs claimed they were unable to intervene, the bureau had already opened a case on the boy in 2005 following an incident in which he had allegedly slipped and fell, requiring medical attention.
At the time, bureau officials suggested to Chen that the boy be placed in a home, the report said.
On Dec. 27, the bureau reportedly contacted Chen for a second time in connection with Lee's pleas to find her son.
Because of the inexperience of the social workers handling the case, however, the bureau didn't intervene beyond a house call, the report added.
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