Children who were removed from three children’s homes in Ladysmith and Newcastle were allegedly being subjected to physical and verbal abuse, neglect, racial discrimination, bullying and corporal punishment.
And at least four children were subjected to “sexual relations and assault” with fellow children, and another nine allegedly denied “access to nutritious meals”.
That is according to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development, which had previously removed 146 children from the care of the Christian Social Services Association.
The department was ordered by a high court judge to compile a report into alleged wrongdoing at the homes after the court previously granted an urgent application sought by the association to return the children.
The children were returned and are currently still at the homes.
The department’s report submitted to court contained its preliminary findings to date, including testimonies from 50 children and 39 parents or guardians.
Children ranging from babies to 18-year-olds were removed from the Ladysmith and Newcastle Môrester Child and Youth Care Centres and the Home Meah Child and Youth Care Centre in Newcastle by the department last month.
They were removed after the department received complaints of abuse at the centres.
The report, which was attached to an affidavit by the department’s Nthuthuko Hlabisa, recommended the children be “temporarily removed” from the association’s care.
The children would be placed in “alternative places” and the department will later provide the court with a list of alternative youth care centres.
It said at least 37 of the 50 children interviewed by the department so far “confirmed the allegations or incidents of abuse at the centres”.
The preliminary findings included:
• At least 11 children were subjected to physical abuse;
• At least 11 children were subjected to “unfair racial classification and discrimination”;
• At least three children were subjected to neglect;
• At least two children were subjected to verbal and emotional abuse; and
• At least five children were subjected to bullying, and another four to “undue” corporal punishment.
The report compiler noted it could not be “completed” in time for Monday’s court appearance, adding that the association had “employed delay tactics by making unreasonable, unethical demands”, including removing and intimidating children while they were being interviewed.
“The children were generally scared and fearful of victimisation and expulsion should they talk to the investigating team,” the report said.
Hlabisa’s affidavit further alleged that the investigation was delayed by several conditions set down by the association, which included the department having to explain to every staff member at care centres how the interviews were being conducted.
Judge Nkosinathi Chili adjourned the matter sine die (indefinitely) on Monday for both legal teams to exchange further affidavits.