UK threatens to place child in foster care

Published Feb 20, 2016


Johannesburg - A South African woman embroiled in a custody battle has 30 days to return her young child to his father in the UK - even though it’s been two years since they last saw each other.

The boy, identified as Gâ, is now eight years old and his parents, who are unmarried, are involved in such a bitter custody fight in the English courts that it has threatened to place the child in foster care until the matter is resolved.

The boy’s father has successfully obtained an order granting him access to the child pending finalisation of legal proceedings. He has claimed that Gâ’s mother was “obstructive” in granting him rights to access the child in the two years since she returned to Mpumalanga.

The Hague Convention orders that children unlawfully removed from their habitual countries of residence be returned to that country.

The South African Central Authority, the body tasked with ensuring the child is returned to the UK, has now instructed the mother to return the child to the UK.

“Gâ” is a British subject so local courts have no jurisdiction to determine his fate.

But the mother has argued though that if she returns her child to the UK she could face prosecution for “abducting” him. She has asked for an undertaking from British authorities and the child’s father that she will not be prosecuted in the UK until a resolution is reached.

She has also claimed that the father, who is unemployed because he is unwell, is a virtual stranger to her child.

The case stems back to 2014 when Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann of the North Gauteng High Court, did not order the return of the child, pending an undertaking safeguarding his interests. The court, meanwhile, appointed Professor Ann Skelton of the Centre for Child Law, as the child’s lawyer. Judge Daisy Molefe, who presided over the most recent South African case, was told that although the child is only eight, the court should honour his wishes.

Skelton interviewed G, whom she described as a “bright, friendly little boy”. He told her about his puppy which he had to leave in the UK. But when he was asked about his father, he referred to him as “the guy who wants to hurt my mom and who wants me to live with strangers”.

He told Skelton he wanted to stay in South Africa. “That’s in my best interest. England is the worst place… but the grass is lovely.”

Skelton told the court that she felt part of that speech was rehearsed by the child. She suggested that G be returned to England, as the Hague Convention left the court with very little discretion.

The court ordered the father pay for the child’s flights and that the Cornwall Council house the mother and child and give them financial assistance until the conclusion of custody proceedings.

It also stated the mother should receive free legal representation. It will now be up to the British authorities to decide Gâ’s fate.

Meanwhile, in another controversial ruling, British authorities declared that 92-year-old Myrtle Cothill, a South African, be deported to the country on Tuesday. The UK Home Office had stuck to its decision to deport the ailing Cothill to South Africa, despite an outcry in both the UK and South Africa.

This means that Cothill who lives with her daughter, Mary Wills, 66, in Poole, Dorset, has now had her application to remain in Britain permanently rejected.

Wills is Cothill’s only relative and the elderly woman has heart problems, is losing her eyesight and cannot walk unaided.

More than 50 000 people signed a petition, appealing to UK authorities to allow her to stay in Britain.

A devastated Wills fears the flight alone will kill her mother. “It would really tear strips out of our heart and probably would kill my mother, and maybe myself,” she said in a statement on the petition.

Saturday Star

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