Shanna Poteet Rivera and Reena Bana's nonprofit is aiming to create a law that would harshly punish child abandonment. Photo by Amina Khan.

Local News

How ‘Sherin’s Law’ Can Make Texas Children Safer

Could legislation have saved the life of three-year-old Sherin Mathews, found dead in Richardson last year?

Two North Texas women are fighting to hold parents accountable for their children’s safety. Shanna Poteet Rivera, an advocate for victims of human trafficking, and Reena Bana, an investigator with a background in criminology profiling and forensic science, were both drawn to the case of Sherin Mathews, a 3-year-old girl found dead of “homicidal violence” last year in Richardson.

The story of the adopted young girl from India echoed around the world, as allegations of abuse by her adoptive parents surfaced. Wesley Mathews has since been charged with capital murder, and Sini Mathews faces a charge of abandonment of a child. The couple has since been revoked parental rights to their biological child.

Bana and Rivera met while hanging flyers to help find Sherin Mathews, originally reported as missing before her body was found. Their shared passion in advocating for children cemented an instant friendship and partnership. Using the Mathews case as a focal point, they founded Love and Justice for Humanity, a nonprofit raising awareness of child abuse and human trafficking. 

Specifically, they are pushing for what they hope will be called “Sherin’s Law,” legislation that would make it a felony for any parent to abandon their child, or to not immediately report to authorities that a child is injured, missing, or dead. I spoke with Rivera and Bana about their advocacy, and their push for Sherin’s Law.

Why did you create Love and Justice for Humanity?

Reena Bana: I know a lot about abused women and children within my line of work. Once we started a Facebook page, we got messages asking for help. We have raised awareness for people to come out and speak up, especially women in the community who face abuse but don’t have a voice because they’re afraid of (backlash). When they’re in that situation they need someone who doesn’t care about politics, religion, or culture. I am known as that voice in the community. I’m glad Shanna and I partnered to build something where people know if they contact someone, something will be done.

Shanna Poteet Rivera: I am a child abuse survivor and the past few years I’ve been working as a sex trafficking advocate, working with runaways and child abuse victims. I have become very close with the Carrollton Police Department, having attended sex trafficking courses with law enforcement. After hearing Sherin Mathews’ story, I realized we don’t have a law in Texas against leaving a child at home. There are many cases of children left home alone at a young age and parents aren’t held accountable for those actions.

What makes the Sherin Mathews case stand out?

Bana: Everything that happened to her was beyond tragic. (Her parents) knew how to get around the law and these loopholes need to be closed. People need to remember what happened to Sherin shouldn’t happen again. These cases are usually open and shut, but this case was far from that. Sherin’s Law is important because anyone who hears about her story is changed. It’s not something you can forget, we want to make sure there is a law you can’t forget.

Rivera: She is one of many children who slipped through Child Protective Services. We need more reliable foster care and group homes for these kids. Too many kids are slipping through these cracks and nothing is ever done about it…CPS failed her. Our organization is to help other children and honor Sherin because she wasn’t honored by anyone else.

How can Sherin’s Law help in child abuse cases, and how could it possibly have saved Sherin Mathews’ life?

Rivera: Representatives and lawmakers are working on the specifics, but the main factor will make it illegal to leave a child at home alone at the age of 5 and under. Another main portion is reporting a child’s disappearance within an hour. It’s hard to prove anything when Sherin was reported a day or two later. Our law would apply an extra charge for failure to report in time.

Bana: The informants we met were professionals: these are your doctors, dentists, and pediatricians who were witnesses to Mathews’ abuse. They believed she was being drugged and saw her bones were constantly broken, but no one in their tight-knit community reported these crimes. They approached Sini Mathews but said she was hostile and would shut them down. Sherin’s Law would make them responsible for witnessing a crime and not reporting it. This law is not to punish — it’s to hold people accountable so they feel they are doing the right thing. If you see something, then say something. If Sherin’s Law existed, it would have saved Mathews life.

What’s come out of your work on Sherin’s Law so far?

Rivera: Sherin’s Law is so amazing it’s grabbed attention nationwide. We’re meeting representatives that are Democrats and Republicans. Some of them said this is the first time they will be working on something together. Most people didn’t know a law like Sherin’s Law didn’t exist, so I’m proud we’re bringing awareness.

Bana: I’m proud that our law has raised awareness worldwide and people are supportive. We have raised a huge debate and conversation on what needs to take place when something like the death of Sherin Mathews happens, and how it shouldn’t happen again.

 

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

Comments

  • PeterTx52

    “(Her parents) knew how to get around the law and these loopholes need to be closed.” bad guys will just find another loophole
    “the main factor will make it illegal to leave a child at home alone at the age of 5 and under.”
    and how will that be enforced?
    “Another main portion is reporting a child’s disappearance within an hour.” and what would that have done for Sherin? again how do you enforce this. you can’t, it is just another charge to be filed against the parent if something happens to the child and they failed to report them missing within the proscribed time period.
    what really needs to be done is get the neighborhood involved. Those are they people who need to be reporting problems.

  • JoeBl

    Well intentioned but misguided.

    First, suspected abuse is already required to be reported under Texas Law. Second, Sini Mathews was charged with abandonment and therefore there already is sufficient legal grounds to charge someone if they leave their kid at home.

    In fact, “They believed she was being drugged and saw her bones were constantly broken, but no one in their tight-knit community reported these crimes.” Nonsense. Texas law requires suspected abuse to be reported. If what is described is actually what occurred than those professionals are in violation of State Law already. See FAMILY CODE Sec. 261.101. SUBCHAPTER B.

    “CPS failed her.” No. State legislators failed because in Texas we don’t care about that and try to figure out how to do as little as possible and CPS is not properly equipped to handle the volume of reports. Adding laws which overlap existing ones will not aid the agency.