Should It Be Illegal for Parents to Force Vegan Diets on Their Children?

In one shocking case out of Australia this May, a 20-month-old girl was so malnourished she had no teeth and was suffering from rickets, a bone condition commonly caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium. In criminal court the father, 34, and the mother, 32, who were not publicly identified, pleaded guilty in court to failing to provide for their daughter.

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The case was discovered by Australian authorities in March 2018 after the girl had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. Hospital staff presumably informed law enforcement of their concerns. Police later learned the child was not vaccinated, had no birth certificate, and had no medical check-ups.

The mother told doctors she would feed the baby things like oats with rice milk, banana, toast with peanut butter or jam, tofu, potatoes or rice throughout the day. However, the father denied being vegan or anti-vax. The girl was removed from her parents’ custody and is in the care of a foster mother.

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In Belgium in 2017 a judge sentenced two parents to a suspended six-month jail sentence over the death of their seven-month-old baby boy. The judge found that they had caused the death unintentionally. There was testimony that the mother did not produce breast milk and the baby had refused infant formula. The couple owned a health food store and fed the child vegetable milk made of “oak, buckwheat, rice, and quinoa,” according to the BBC. The parents said they had resorted to it because they believed the baby was lactose- or gluten-intolerant. He died weighing nine pounds, which is at least seven pounds underweight according to CDC numbers, and had organs that shrunk to half their normal size.

Pediatricians have explained that as children grow the body manufactures brain cells, which requires protein and essential fatty acids. Because the body does not produce them, it must introduced via animal proteins. Children who do not consume these proteins may experience stunted growth and psychomotor delays, malnutrition, and anemia.

There are many website that champion a vegan diet for parents and children. And believe it or not, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not oppose vegan dietsIts website states, “Although there have been case reports of children failing to thrive or developing cobalamin deficiency on vegan diets, these are rare exceptions.” “Multiple experts have concluded independently that vegan diets can be followed safely by infants and children without compromise of nutrition or growth and with some notable health benefits.” Safe practices include regular medical checkups and taking certain supplements.

Currently there are no laws that make it illegal to put children on a vegan diet, but it is possible to prosecute parents for child neglect based on malnutrition. In Belgium, for example, a vegan diet isn’t technically prohibited for children, but an opinion issued by the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium that veganism for kids is “unethical” will make it easier to prosecute parents who impose the strict diet and whose children have health problems.

What do you think? Is it child neglect or abuse for parents who force certain “health” diets on their children? Is veganism an “extreme” diet? What about parents who allow their children to eat anything to the point of obesity? Should they also be prosecuted?