"The light goes out in their eyes." Why a 12-year-old boy has refused to eat for 20 days.

*M is just 12 years old.

For the past 20 days, he has refused all food and medical treatment.

He weighs just 36 kilograms.

He is now so weak he can’t stand up or even sit.

He hasn’t had a bowel movement in over 15 days and he rarely urinates.

According to Dr Barri Phatarfod, M is suffering from resignation syndrome. Children with this condition become unresponsive and withdraw into themselves, refusing to talk, eat, drink, and go to the toilet.

“This particular child, like many other children, has just completely lost all hope,” Dr Phatarfod told ABC PM.

“We see adults who suffer from depression being unable to take pleasure in usual activities, being unable to be motivated enough to go to work. All of those signs are magnified with children and yet they’re a lot more subtle.”

Eventually, children with this condition end up in a near catatonic state and sometimes it’s even fatal.

“They withdraw from contact, the light goes out in their eyes,” Dr Phatarfod said.

“They don’t want to engage any more and if the only way that they are engaging in society is by eating, then withdrawing that aspect is quite an ominous sign in their complete withdrawal from their life.”

M is an Iranian-born refugee. He has been held on Nauru for the past four years.

On Tuesday afternoon, he was medivacced from Nauru by air ambulance with his mother, stepfather and sister.


According to The Guardian, the Australia Border Force (ABF) initially refused to move M with his family. The authorities insisted the family be separated, with M’s stepfather to remain on the island.

But M refused to leave without his family.

And after several failed attempts to move him on commercial flights, and then by air ambulance, the ABF conceded and allowed the young boy to travel with his family.

The trip occurred just in time.

As The Guardian reports, M is gravely ill and would have died within a few days.

“He is now at day 19 of food refusal,” his treating doctor wrote on Monday.

“Likewise apart from sips of water and the… dextrose solution that he was given, he has not had any significant oral hydration. His last bowel motion was 15+ days ago and he rarely passes dribbles of urine painfully.”

The doctors on Nauru refused to restrain or sedate M to forcibly feed and hydrate him due to ethical concerns.

M and his family have been held in detention since he was eight years old. They fled persecution from their homeland Iran and have been officially recognised as refugees.

But, four years later, they remain on Nauru.

Mamamia, along with other publications including The Guardian, have chosen not to name the 12-year-old boy.