R400 to buy a baby

2011-04-02 16:43

A state social worker has been ­exposed selling babies for ­adoption. The revelations have sparked a top-level police investigation that will probe the possibility that this was connected to a ­wider child-trafficking and adoption syndicate.

Sharon Mushokabanji was ­employed as a social worker at Child Welfare in Kempton Park, but had faked her qualifications and wasn’t registered at the Council for Social Service ­Professions.

She was fired for fraud in December, shortly after Child Welfare found out that she had stolen state grant money from a foster parent’s bank account. Child Welfare then discovered that she had charged people who wanted to adopt ­children an “adoption fee” of ­between R400 and R6 000.

City Press has obtained witness statements, invoices showing her signature and an internal report describing the racket.

Child ­Welfare doesn’t know how many children were dealt with in this manner and has launched an investigation to determine the ­extent of her activities.

A Child Welfare report released in February described the scandal at the Kempton Park office. Two more social workers – the programme manager and office head – were fired ­because they were not registered.

Another worker was dismissed for distributing pornography.

The employment of three unregistered social workers has far-reaching consequences because they had conducted statutory work. This renders all court ­reports and legal submissions they made or court evidence they gave illegal.

A shelter supported by Child Welfare was closed towards the end of last year and 11 children had to be removed after allegations of abuse, neglect and rape. Children were allegedly exposed to pornography and a 14-year-old girl fell pregnant after she was raped. She was forced to give birth in secret.

City Press understood that Child Welfare met a top police ­delegation this week to ­investigate fraud allegations against Mushokabanji and probe the possible ­existence of a child trafficking syndicate on the East Rand that ­targeted neglected and abused children.

A teenage boy in one of the shelters claimed that a Nigerian man – accompanied by Mushokabanji – attempted to recruit him last year as an underage sex worker and ­promised him money, a cellphone and nice place to live in return.

Mushokabanji said in a series of emails to City Press this week that she had made “terrible mistakes” but found the allegations against her “amazing”. She denied all the charges against her.

She claimed to be in possession of damning information against Child Welfare and offered to give it to us if we didn’t publish the allegations against her this week.

She also said she was in danger and forwarded an email to City Press from one “Queen Segone” who said to her: “I will make sure I cut your throat if you ever speak out the truth about this adoption... If you mention my name, you are dead.”

Child Welfare officials told ­police they suspected that Mushokabanji was still involved in the adoption scam. She removed files, a stamp and letterheads from the office when she was fired.

Since then, she advertised herself on social network sites as both a social worker at Child Welfare and the owner of a mediation firm that worked with children. She used several pseudonyms.

Child Welfare’s report said some of the people she had made “arrangements” with had reported she was still contacting them, demanding more money for a baby.

Johannesburg businessman ­Harold Whiteley paid Mushokabanji R3 000 in July last year to adopt a Mozambican baby.

He is 72 and would not, under usual circumstances, qualify to adopt a child. Whiteley said he and his girlfriend went to Child Welfare and had a meeting with Mushokabanji, who said they had to pay R3 000 “to get this thing moving”.

She gave Whiteley a receipt on a letterhead with an official stamp.

“I thought it was for legal fees and other expenses like that. I wanted to write out a cheque but she said she only takes cash.”

He said he received another call from her in January to say she wanted another R3 000. He asked her if she would come to his house to collect it.

“I called the cops and said they must come and arrest her. They agreed, but just before the meeting, the investigating officer phoned to say he’s busy with another case. I then cancelled with her and she disappeared.”

Mushokabanji denied that her qualifications were fake and said we should inspect her certificates. She claimed that she obtained a social work degree from Mulungushi University in June 1997. This university only opened its doors in 2008.

In 2009 she obtained a bona fide social worker’s registration certificate and inserted her own name onto it.

Child Welfare SA executive ­director Ashley Theron said Mushokabanji had performed “adoption services” without working through the Children’s Court. People were given a false impression they had legally adopted a child.

“These adoptions would need to be redone. Her unethical and fraudulent behaviour as well as possible involvement in other ­illegal activities is gravely concerning and needs to be put to a stop.”

Theron confirmed that charges were laid against her, but “no ­action has been taken by the local police”. He said the matter was ­taken to “higher authorities” ­within the police.

“We have followed all legal ­avenues to do so and have now ­pursued the matter with higher ­authorities,” he said.

He added that since Mushokabanji faked her qualifications, they had reviewed their recruitment ­process and that Child Welfare would now have to see copies of registration certificates.

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