A California Sikh woman is accused of drowning the newborn son of her teenage daughter and burying him in the backyard of the family’s home to “prevent family shame,” police said.
Beant Kaur Dhillon, 43, of Bakersfield, is charged with first-degree murder, assault of a child under 8 resulting in death and willful cruelty to a child, Kern County jail records show. Dhillon, who is being held without bail, pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Thursday.
The Bakersfield Californian reported that Dhillon's 15-year-old daughter gave birth Nov. 12 in the bathroom of their home. Moments after the birth, the girl's 23-year-old cousin took the baby from her arms.
Dhillon drowned the newborn and wrapped his body in a garbage bag, the Californian said. She and the cousin, Bakhshinderpal Singh Mann, dug a hole in a backyard flower bed and put the child inside, according to court documents obtained by the newspaper.
Dhillon allegedly admitted to police she drowned the boy to "prevent family shame," 23ABC News in Bakersfield reported.
Police dug up the boy’s body earlier this week after the girl, now 16, told someone about what happened and that person called the authorities, the documents said.
According to the Kern County District Attorney's Office, prosecutors have also charged Dhillon's husband, Jagsir Singh, 47, with felony child abuse and being an accessory to murder. Court documents allege he was called home after the couple's daughter gave birth.
He made no attempt to report the boy's death and allowed him to be buried in the yard, the Californian reported.
Neither Singh nor Dhillon sought medical attention for their daughter, the court records say. The California Department of Consumer Affairs lists Dhillon as a vocational nurse.
Singh was released Wednesday on bail, 23ABC News reported.
Mann is sought by police for his role in the baby's death and the cover-up. Prosecutors have charged him with being an accessory to murder.
Mona Gill, co-founder of the Bakersfield Sikh Women's Association, told the Californian the slaying should be a "wake-up call" to the Sikh community, where teen pregnancy is taboo.
"The family is a central pillar in the Punjabi community," Gill told the newspaper. "A traditional family unit is expected. That probably puts a lot of pressure on a young woman. Teen pregnancy isn't something we see commonly."
That needs to change in light of the recent tragedy, she said.
"This is not something we can overlook," Gill said. "We have to make sure we address this."
Gill's organization posted a message on Facebook Thursday that offered resources to teens in the community who need help. It listed contact information for the California Youth Crisis Hotline and the Kern County Mental Health Crisis Line.
"Our prayers are with all the children involved in this horrendous and senseless tragedy," the post reads. "#Nofear#nohate#noshame."
The Bakersfield Police Department also posted information about the Safe Surrender Baby Law.
"This law allows distressed birth parent(s) to legally, confidentially, and safely surrender their baby within 3 days of birth to any fire station or emergency room within Kern County," the Facebook post read.
According to the law, a bracelet is placed on the baby for identification. A matching bracelet is given to the parent.
"The bracelet will help connect the parent to the baby if the parent wants the baby back," a Kern County Department of Human Services web page about the law reads.
A parent has up to 14 days to reclaim a baby, the page says. If no one reclaims the child, he or she is medically cleared and placed in a foster or pre-adoptive home.