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Pretoria - Two Gauteng families are being ripped apart after two baby girls were apparently swopped at birth at a hospital nearly four years ago.
The mistake only recently came to light when one of the fathers insisted on a paternity test.
He was sued for maintenance but blood tests revealed neither he nor the mother were the biological parents of the child.
The hospital has conceded the babies had been swopped.
The mother who first discovered the mistake now wants her biological child back, but the other mom does not want to give up her child. The children turn 4 in August.
This astonishing tale was revealed this week in the chambers of the North Gauteng High Court to Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba.
He was approached by the Centre for Child Law, which asked for an order to investigate the facts to decide what was in the best interests of the two children.
The head of the centre, Professor Ann Skelton, was appointed as a friend of the court on the side of the two children.
She has the difficult task of investigating all issues pertaining to the children, including how it came about that they were swopped at birth, and how they are presently being cared for.
The girls were switched on the day of their birth, at a Gauteng hospital.
The two have since been in the care, and still are, of their non-biological mothers.
The one mother, after discovering her daughter was not her own, turned to the Children’s Court.
The director of Child Welfare contacted the Centre for Child Law concerning the difficult matter of the baby swopping.
Skelton, in papers handed to the high court, said the chief executive of the Boksburg hospital apparently told the mother her child was with the other mother, identified only as the second respondent.
The latter went for DNA testing but the tests had not yet been made available. Skelton said it was not clear at this stage how the hospital identified the one baby as the first mother’s child and vice versa.
The mothers met at joint therapy sessions provided by the hospital, but the first mother became unhappy with the process and approached the Children’s Court to assist her.
She told that court she wanted her biological daughter placed in her care and the child she was presently caring for to go back to her biological mother. The second mother, however, refused to give up the daughter in her care.
The first mother, adamant that she should have her biological child back, launched formal proceedings.
The high court was the only court empowered to make decisions regarding guardianship of children while the potential conflict of interests between the two mothers and their children required the appointment of a curator, Skelton said.
“Litigation may be inevitable to remedy the tragic situation in which these mothers and children find themselves in.”
Skelton said there was little guidance in law in this regard. The situation needed careful and sensitive management by the correct professionals.
Apart from trying to decide what was right for the children, a curator would be able to appoint lawyers to pursue the children’s interests on possible damages claims against the Health Department.
Skelton said further litigation was a clear possibility, as the one mother wanted to give her non-biological child back, but the other one refused point blank to return the child in her care.
Following a request by Skelton, the court ruled the parties may not be identified as this was a sensitive and traumatic case for the parties. Identification would have a negative impact on the children.
Skelton accepted this case was in the public interest, especially as it related to the quality of service delivered in public hospitals.
She said the issues had to be resolved as soon as possible to try to mitigate the damage done to the children.
The first mother said she was unemployed and could not support the child without maintenance. However, she could not claim maintenance from the man she believed to be the father, as he was not biologically related to her child.