Court: KZN first as boy gets lawyer to assist him

2008-09-09 00:00

A Pietermaritzburg teenager is believed to be the first child in KwaZulu-Natal to appoint an attorney to intervene in his parents’ custody battle on his behalf, and has finally won the right to live with the parent of his choice — his father, a local policeman.

The order was granted by Judge Ron McLaren in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.

The case started in July 2008 when the youngster, aged 16, approached the Legal Aid Board to help him to assert his legal rights.

The youth — who cannot be named as he is a minor — wanted the court to vary the original court order giving custody to his mother when his parents divorced in 2002. He said he was unhappy living with her and her new husband and stated that he was feeling suicidal and considering running away.

His father tried unsuccessfully to have the custody order changed in 2006.

Legal Aid attorney Ashok Kaloo took the case on behalf of the teenager and invoked provisions of the Children’s Act and the Constitution allowing a child to “bring and be assisted in bringing a matter to court”.

Kaloo submitted that it was a case where substantial injustice would occur if the child was denied the right to be legally represented.

The teenager has siblings who live with both his parents and their new spouses.

Kaloo said it has always been the youth’s desire to live with his father, but his mother opposed attempts for a variation of the custody order.

“He has clearly expressed to me that he wishes to live with his father. He has made his choice in this regard crystal-clear,” said Kaloo. He said that although the teen respects his mother, he cannot be forced to live with her and has threatened to run away to live with his father.

He said the youth has difficulty adapting to his mother’s relationship with his stepfather and feels “lonely and stifled” at their home. The teen also said he is afraid of his stepfather who is very strict, will not allow him to take part in the school choir, which he loves, and lets him attend only certain parties. He also complained he does not get along with his younger sister.

He indicated that he is so unhappy that he almost committed suicide.

Kaloo submitted in his affidavit that it is not in the child’s interests to restrict him and order him to remain in circumstances in which he is unhappy and which are bound to make him “more defiant and rebellious”.

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