A Russian couple living in Durban want to be reunited with their young children, who were placed with foster families after their parents were arrested in 2003 on allegations of indecently assaulting three of them and using them to generate pornography.
In a tug-of-war being played out in the Durban High Court, the foster parents want to adopt the four children, but the biological parents – whose convictions and sentences were set aside on appeal in 2006 – intend to oppose this.
The children’s representative has applied to the court to terminate the Russians’ parental rights, or suspend them, pending the adoption proceedings.
André Stokes, SC, who was appointed curator ad litem (to make decisions in the children’s best interest), said in court papers that the four minor children had adapted well and wished to remain with their foster parents.
He said the two older children “strongly” expressed dissatisfaction with their biological parents and an unwillingness to be reunited with them.
When the couple were arrested and charged in 2003, the children, one of them a boy only six days old, were removed from their custody and taken to a place of safety. The children were soon split up and placed with two sets of foster parents. The children were then eight, four, three, and one month old.
The biological parents have not been allowed to see their children during the past nine years.
They were tried on charges ranging from contravening the Films and Publications Act and the Child Care Act to indecent assault.
According to Stokes’s court papers, the father and mother were convicted and sentenced in 2005 to eight and four years’ imprisonment.
The couple’s convictions and sentences were set aside on appeal in 2006.
Stokes said the outcome of the appeal resulted in the ex-clusion of photographs that depicted the sexual and lewd acts the parents performed on their minor children.
He said the couple, who were pagans, did not deny the content of the photographs, but had sought to justify them on the grounds of their religious and cultural practices.
The Children’s Court had investigated and numerous reports had been filed by social workers and psychologists.
In 2007, the court placed the children with the two sets of foster parents, Stokes said. It made no order or finding on reuniting them with their biological parents.
Stokes said numerous experts had been asked to evaluate the impact of the sexual abuse on the children and whether it would be in their best interests to have contact with – or be reunited with – their biological parents.
One psychologist, cited in court papers, said the two older children had manifested symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, “which are attributable to being victims of sexual abuse”.
A third report, compiled on the instruction of the biological parents’ attorney, said the caregivers were excellent with the children and loved them dearly.
The expert said the parents were aware their behaviour had traumatised their children.
The parents loved their children and wanted to be part of their lives.
The expert said, however, that it would not be in the best interests of the children to remove them from their caregivers at that point, and suggested that the Children’s Court order that a reunification programme be implemented gradually.
A report compiled for the Children’s Court concluded that the children would continue to suffer serious emotional and psychological effects stemming from their past.
Judge Anton van Zyl granted an order yesterday for Stokes’s application to be placed on the unopposed roll in August.
The Russian couple may file answering affidavits and a counter application by next month.
Advocates Peter Rowan and Ann Skelton, director of the Centre for Child Law, appeared for the minor children. Advocates Dashendra Naidoo and Kemp J Kemp, SC, act for the biological parents.