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Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Sheetal and Rajesh Ranot Child Abuse Case: No Protection For Maya

     In January 2011, Rajesh Ranot gained custody of his 9-year-old daughter Maya. A family court judge in Queens, New York, at Rajesh's request, issued a protection order against the girl's mother and her 20-year-old brother. The father, of Indian descent, accused his former wife Ramona Roy of abusing Maya.

     Maya moved into the top floor of an Ozone Park, Queens duplex with her father, his second wife Sheetal, and her four children. The family resided on a block inhabited by other families of Indian descent by way of Guyana and Trinidad. Mr. Ranot drove a taxi and worked most nights until four in the morning.

     Neighbors began to notice that Maya's stepmother treated her differently than the other children in the family. While Sheetal watched TV, Maya cleaned the house, cooked, swept the front porch, and did other household chores. Moreover, unlike her step-siblings, Maya wore dirty clothes and looked malnourished. In the winter, she wore flip-flops and often didn't have a coat.

     Someone in the neighborhood alerted the New York City Administration For Children Services which led to regular visits to the Ranot home by social workers. A neighbor from Guyana would later tell a reporter with The New York Times that in India, stepmothers didn't like their stepchildren and treated them like slaves. The fact that Maya was more like a maid than a daughter was, under the cultural circumstances, normal. But Maya lived in the U.S., not India.

     In December 2012, Maya's teachers and classmates noticed that the girl had lost so much weight it looked as though she was being starved. She also came to school with bruises and scratches on her arms and face. A social worker continued to visit the Ranot home. The child protection agents were told by Sheetal Ranot that Maya stole money from the family to give to her biological mother. The stepmother also claimed that the girl was crazy, and giving the family all sorts of problems. When asked by social workers how she had gotten her scratches and bruises, Maya claimed to have fallen. To her friends, however, Maya revealed that her stepmother regularly beat her and locked her in a room.

     On April 16, 2014, the 12-year-old, now weighing 56 pounds, was taken to the Jamaica Hospital Center in Queens with a badly bruised and swollen face. At the hospital, Maya and her stepmother told the doctor, a detective, and a child protection worker named Ruby Perez, that the injuries had been caused by her falling off a ladder.

     Social worker Perez had visited the Ranot home many times and expressed concern that Maya was being abused. The detective at the hospital told the social worker that he didn't have enough proof to establish an abuse case. As a result, the girl went home with her abusive stepmother.

     On May 6, 2014, Sheetal Ranot took her now 46-pound stepdaughter to the emergency room with a deep cut on her left wrist and a laceration on her right knee. According to the stepmother, Maya had tried to commit suicide in the kitchen with a large knife. Although Maya went along with this absurd story, the doctor called the police.

     Finally, after three years of abuse, Maya was sent to live with an aunt. She also began to reveal the details of her ordeal. She had not fallen off a ladder. Her stepmother had beaten her with a rolling pin. Three weeks later she was beaten in the kitchen with a broken metal broom handle. She had not tried to kill herself.

     A prosecutor in Queens, on July 29, 2014, charged Sheetal Ranot with several counts of first-degree assault. In convicted as charged, the stepmother faced up to 25 years in prison.

     Rajesh Ranot, at the time of Sheetal's arrest, was in India visiting relatives. Three days after his wife's arrest, he returned to the U.S. where at the airport he was met by detectives who took him into custody. Charged with lesser assault related and child endangerment offenses, the father faced up to 7 years behind bars.

     When the news broke about Maya Ranot's three-year ordeal, New York City Commissioner Gladys Carrion thanked the Administration For Children's Services and their social workers "whose diligence and professionalism saved the life of a young girl."

     Investigative journalists with The New York Times looked into the Maya Ranot case and wrote a different story. Social workers, instead of interviewing Maya's teachers, classmates, neighbors, and others familiar with the family, simply took the word of the stepmother. As a result, the girl almost died from abuse and neglect.

     Ruby Perez, the 29-year-old social worker who in April 2014 expressed concern regarding Maya's wellbeing, posted the following message on her Facebook page in 2010: "I want to quit my job. Now. I can't take it." Perhaps Perez didn't like working for a child protection agency that didn't protect children.

     On July 29, 2016, following a three-week trial, a jury in Queens, New York found Sheetal Ranot guilty as charged. She will be sentenced later. Ranot's attorney, Mahmoud Rabah, told reporters that his client maintains her innocence and will appeal the conviction.

     Rajesh Ranot's trial is scheduled for a later date. In all probability, he will enter a guilty plea for a lesser sentence. 

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