Refugee bishop wants curator for kids

2009-12-16 10:28

Johannesburg Central Methodist church Bishop Paul Verryn approached

the High Court in Johannesburg yesterday in a bid to have a curator appointed

for minors living at the church.

The curator would be in charge of the 56 children without parents

or adult guardians, said the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), which filed papers on

behalf of Verryn and the church.

“In essence, it is the protection, promotion and achievement of the

best interests of the unaccompanied children, many of whom are refugees who have

been living at the church,” LRC attorney Jason Brickhill said.

The church wanted to appoint Dr Ann Skelton, a children’s rights

lawyer from the Centre for Child Law to act as the curator. If the application

was successful, Skelton would be involved in all matters pertaining to the

children at the church, including their pending relocation to shelters and safe

homes.

The application followed ongoing wrangles between the church and

the Gauteng government. The latter had accused Verryn of refusing to co-operate

with social workers who wanted to move the children to proper homes and

shelters.

Gauteng health department spokesman Simon Zwane said on December 9

that children were supposed to be moved from the church on the 7th, but that

social workers were left “frustrated and undermined” after the children ran away

and church officials failed to help.

Verryn said at the time that while it had been agreed that social

workers would visit the church on Monday December 7, he had given notice that he

could not be present due to a scheduling conflict.

Further, he said he had asked

the children, aged between 14 and 17, to be there but was rebuffed.

“I pleaded with them not to run away... because in fact it could be

the beginning of a good thing for them,” said Verryn.

“The children said they didn’t trust them [the social workers]

because they had spoken to them. They said they had run away before and will run

away again.”

Verryn said the lack of trust stemmed from the “inappropriate and

vindictive” manner in which social workers had spoken to children in earlier

meetings.

“Inappropriate because the children were told at least 10 times

that they were lying about their age and how they came to the country,” he

said.

The Gauteng legislature’s health and social development portfolio

committee called for the closure of the church, saying conditions there were a

health hazard.

Following a visit there in October, chairperson Molebatsi Bopape

said “children are being exposed to abuse, babies are sleeping on the floor...

the place is so filthy that we couldn’t even breathe“.

Brickhill said: “The application takes place in the context of

statements by the government to the media of its intention to remove the

children to places of safety. However, precisely which solution are in the best

interests of the children is not clear.

“The position and future of the children raises a number of complex

legal and social issues. It has given rise to a series of conflicts between

different role-players seeking to protect the children.

“For this reason Bishop Verryn believes that it is essential that

someone sufficiently experienced and independent be formally and legally

empowered to protect the best interests of the children, to represent their best

interests in negotiations with government and investigate the best options

available.”

He said Verryn believed he was unable to “adequately safeguard the

best interest of the children at the church or if and when they are

relocated”.

“In the application... he notes the fear and trauma experienced by

many children, that some have run away from places of safety they have been sent

to from the church and the continuing media allegations of abuse of children at

the church,” he said.

The matter would be heard next Tuesday.”

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