Adoption heartache

2013-01-24 00:00

A KWAZULU-NATAL woman is pining for a little girl she adopted in Botswana, but who she was forced to leave behind after being accused of child trafficking.

The woman, who cannot be named to protect the identity of the child, had worked in Botswana for several years as a teacher. When her contract ended, she and her family returned to South Africa earlier this month, but without the child she had grown to love.

She started her new job at a northern KwaZulu-Natal school last week.

The woman said they were preparing for their return trip when she received a court order barring her from taking the child with her.

Prior to this, she said, she was interrogated by the Botswana spy agency, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS).

She said she was questioned for hours by the agency, shouted at and humiliated. “They took my daughter’s passport away, sneered when I spoke and accused me of things. They told me I was not worthy to be a mother,” she said.

She found this bewildering, she said, because she had taken care of the girl since she was three months old.

“We’ve never been separated since. I got married last year and we took her on our honeymoon to Thailand.”

The woman said her six-year-old son, whom she adopted before leaving for Botswana, was traumatised because he misses his sister.

She said the DIS accused her of child trafficking.

“For four years I’ve had the child. Where is the trafficking? Everything I did was legal.”

She said she adopted the girl from a woman for whom she had looked after the child when she was a baby.

“I looked after the baby for the Christmas holidays and even travelled with her to South Africa. I obviously had all the relevant permission and documents,” she added.

On returning to Botswana, she informed the mother that her family was getting “too attached” to her little girl and she should take her baby back. “But she begged me to start with adoption proceedings rather than return her baby,” she said.

Months later, on August 17, 2010, the adoption process was finalised.

However, the biological mother started telling people that the “white lady” was just looking after her baby and a year later appealed the adoption in the Botswana Supreme Court. However, a judge ruled in the teacher’s favour.

Now a man claiming to be the girl’s biological father has approached the courts, saying he wants to be part of his daughter’s life.

“It’s still not proven that he’s the father … as far as we’re concerned, he hasn’t done the paternity tests,” a source said. Nevertheless, the man’s actions have prevented the woman from returning to SA with the girl.

Botswana police have refuted the Botswana Guardian’s report that the teacher was charged with child trafficking.

Assistant Commissioner Christopher Mbulawa said the police were not involved as this was a civil matter.

He said no child trafficking case had been opened.

The Botswana Minister of Justice, Defence and Security, Ndelu Seretse, said he had only seen newspaper headlines that an SA woman had been charged with child trafficking. He said a problem would have arisen only if the teacher had adopted the baby without going through the legal process.

The corporate services manager at the SA High Commission in Gaborone, Nelis Strydom, said he was not entitled to give any information due to the nature of the case.

Child law expert Professor Ann Skelton said it was difficult to comment on the laws of Botswana.

But it seemed that once the adoption process had gone through, there would be “narrow circumstance” to overturn the decision, one of the reasons being if the biological father had not been consulted. However, an array of other factors would also have to be looked at.

Skelton said that in South Africa there was a “cooling period” of 60 days during which either of the biological parents, or the child itself in certain circumstances, could undo the adoption. She said inter-country adoption was complex and should be done properly, ensuring that every rule was followed carefully.

“Because once a child is moved to another country, it will be hard to get that child back to his or her country of birth,” she added.

Social Development Department spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said she was unaware of the case.

However, she said the department could not interfere in another country’s domestic affairs.

The case returns to the Lobatse High Court at the end of this month.

The teacher has engaged the services of a lawyer in Botswana and will be in court to fight for the child.

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