Durban - A mother and her former boyfriend have been convicted of caning her eight- and 10-year-old children – at times for not doing their homework, being disrespectful or forging her signature on report cards.
The traumatic, five-year legal battle finally came to a close on Thursday for two Durban girls, now teenagers, after their mother and her former boyfriend – who is well-known in yachting circles – were convicted for assaulting the girls with a cane and wooden spoon when they were children.
As part of a plea agreement, they were given five-year suspended sentences, and the former boyfriend was ordered to pay R100 000 to cover the medical costs to the paternal grandmother, who is now the guardian of the children.
The daughters have undergone years of psychiatric treatment.
The two adults had pleaded guilty in a Durban Regional Court to four counts of common assault and the contravention of the Child Care Act 38 of 2005.
In their plea statements the couple admit that during July and November 2007 they assaulted the children by caning their naked buttocks and striking them on their bare hands with a wooden spoon.
The use of the cane was dependent on “serious issues” such as reports of bad behaviour from their headmaster, not doing their homework, being disrespectful to their mother and forging their mother’s signature on homework books and report cards.
“(The mother) and I disciplined the children in the exact same manner, however she was occasionally of the opinion that I should be harsher with the complainants,” said the former boyfriend in his plea statement rendered before Durban regional court magistrate, Anand Maharaj, yesterday.
In his plea, he said that the mother thought her daughters were in need of “stricter discipline” which resulted in the use of the cane.
In her plea, she said: “The reason for the punishment would always be explained to the girls before the punishment was administered.”
She said discipline would be determined by the severity of the behaviour of the girls.
“In my opinion, it was necessary for such punishment to be meted out,” she said.
In handing down sentence yesterday Maharaj said the delay in the finalisation of the matter was an embarrassment for the bench.
“The constitution, in 1995, declared corporal punishment unconstitutional. The constitution provides that the interest of the child shall always be of paramount importance.”
Maharaj commended the grandmother for taking it upon herself to assist the children with treatment.
Speaking afterwards, the grandmother said: “We wanted the highest possible punishment, but the case has been going on for so long that we decided to accept the plea to prevent further trauma to the girls.”
Since the couple’s arrest in 2008, the girls had been to four psychiatrists, she said.
She felt, too, that the trauma of testifying in court would have undone the progress the girls had made and therefore accepted the plea.
She said she was first informed of the abuse by the older girl.
“We were at a party and I asked why she wasn’t swimming with the other kids. She told me she was in trouble at school and she was scared that (the boyfriend) would find out and cane her.”
The grandmother went to the school and notified the teachers of what was happening, which led to the charges being brought against the couple.
The girls were removed from their mother’s custody after she refused to leave the boyfriend once she was confronted about the abuse. They are now no longer in a relationship.
The younger of the two girls was not yet born when their father died in 1995.
The oldest, now 19, had taken her grandmother’s advice and had not gone to court.
She told the Daily News on Thursday night that she had no desire at all to rekindle the relationship with her mother.
The teen, who is on medication for stress-related illnesses, said neither her mom nor the boyfriend had apologised to them.
Despite getting rude SMSes from her mother almost daily, she felt sorry for her.
“The drugs have ruined her,” she said. “I’m just glad that it’s over. There was a point when I thought this day would never come.”