CRIME & COURTS / 13 Jun ’16, 11:00am
Durban – A 2-year-old boy’s chance at a new life in Canada is in jeopardy because of the interference of a local magistrate.
The boy, who was dumped in a pit latrine by his mother just after his birth, is caught up in a legal tug of war between a local social worker and a Canadian couple who want to adopt him and – on the other side – the magistrate who claims this is “child trafficking” and wants to return him to his granny, whom he does not know.
The child is not the first to be caught up in legal wrangling involving the same magistrate.
A similar case, in which a young child was removed from her caregivers, came before the Durban High Court earlier this year when a judge overturned the decision. And in 2012 an advocate was appointed to protect the legal rights of six children whose adoptions by Canadian couples were being blocked by the same magistrate, then based in Richmond. In her report, she found his “child trafficking” allegations to be unfounded.
But in this most recent matter, magistrate Vallaraman Kathuravaloo, who now presides over the Children’s Court in Verulam, has repeated the allegations, saying the curatrix, advocate Sarah Jane Linscott, is “pro-adoption” and had not interviewed him at the time.
His attorney, Godfrey Pillay, told The Mercury: “My client is not anti-adoption. He has probably made 300 such orders. But he sees cases where so-called legal adoptions are nothing more than trafficking, as R50 000 can change hands for one child.”
He said his client was still drafting his opposing papers.
The application, due back in court this week, was launched as a matter of urgency by Ruth Grobler who runs a home for abandoned babies in Verulam where the child has been living, as per court order, since his rescue from the latrine and “effective abandonment” at hospital.
Social welfare reports claim his mother was charged with attempted murder but absconded to the Eastern Cape to her mother. At the time, it was decided it would not be in the child’s best interests to be released to the granny, “because the mother will always remain in contact with the child”.
While living with Grobler, he was placed on the adoption list, but no suitable home was found locally and he became eligible for inter-country adoption placement.
A suitable Canadian couple was found and the legal processes, through private social worker Robyn Shepstone, were attended to. This included a review of the file by the Canadian Authority, the South African Central authority and Provincial Authority, with no objections.
Shepstone had been previously accused by Kathuravaloo of “selling babies” so, when she realised he had now moved court and was to preside over the matter, she asked for his recusal. He refused.
When the matter came before him in early April he demanded that the grandmother, who lives in Lusikisi, be brought to court. She came a month later with the birth mother. It is alleged the magistrate asked her: “Do you want the child or don’t you?” The granny said: “Yes”. He then turned to the social worker and said: “You know you can go to jail for selling babies?” and ordered that the child immediately be given to the granny.
In her application, in which she obtained an interim order allowing her to keep the child in her care, Grobler said: “His conduct falls so short of what is expected of judicial officers, it is difficult to know where to begin. He should have recused himself. At no point did he have the authority to direct that he (the child) be given to the granny.” The granny had also not been screened.
Grobler seeks to have the interim order made final and to review the magistrate’s decision to give the child back to the family.
In the other recent matter, the magistrate removed a child from a couple, who had been tasked by her imprisoned, drug-addicted mother to care for her. The little girl, now almost 2, had been living with the couple since she was 2 weeks old. At some point the mother agreed that she could be adopted, but later withdrew her consent.