A proposed Texas law that would make leaving a young child alone at home a felony offense was inspired by the death of Indian toddler Sherin Mathews, who was left alone in her Richardson, Texas, home last October as her Indian American adoptive parents went out to dinner.
Current state law does not specify at what age a child can be left at home alone, leaving it to the parents’ discretion. Only three U.S. states currently specify at what age a child can be left at home alone: Illinois law requires children to be 14 years old before being left alone; in Maryland, the minimum age is 8; while in Oregon, children must be 10 before being left home alone, according to the Web site childwelfare.gov.
Wesley and Sini Mathews – who adopted Sherin Mathews from an orphanage in Nalanda, Bihar – reportedly left her at home alone on the evening of Oct. 6, 2017, as they went out to dinner with their biological daughter. The Mathews left the little girl in the kitchen of their home, as a punishment for not drinking her milk. At 3 a.m. the following morning, Wesley Mathews told police he had “physically assisted” Sherin with drinking her milk, and then watched as she choked to death before placing her body outside the home. The little girl’s body was found three weeks later.
A grand jury, however, found that Wesley Mathews had used a deadly weapon to kill Sherin (see earlier India-West story here). Mathews, who is currently incarcerated on a $1 million bond, has been charged with capital murder, and faces the death penalty.
Sini Mathews has been charged with abandoning a child, a felony offense which carries a sentence of two to 20 years.
Two Texas residents, Reena Bana and Shanna Poteet, were inspired by Sherin’s death, and together created the proposed law, which they hope to bring before the Texas state legislature. "With Sherin, we draw the line. It's enough. It's time to make a change," Reena Bana told WFAA.
"No children under 9- or 10-years-old need to be left unaccompanied at home," said Shanna Poteet. The pair are working with attorney Bilal Khaleeq, who practices family law, and local agencies to determine a minimum age that a child can be left at home alone. Ages 9, 10, and 12 have been suggested thus far.
The proposed law also makes it a felony to wait a few hours before reporting a missing child. Wesley Mathews did not report Sherin missing for about five hours that morning.
In related news, Manorama Online reports that Wesley Mathews’ parents, Valsamma and Sam Mathews of Kochi, were reportedly against the adoption of a special needs child from northern India. Mathews’ parents visited the U.S. after Sherin was adopted. The newspaper reported that Sherin was treated for bruises while her adoptive grandparents were visiting.