Durban - While a criminal court has been dealing with the Durban mother who last March staged her newborn daughter’s kidnapping, a children’s court has been trying to figure out what to do with the infant.
On Tuesday, a social worker told regional court magistrate Anand Maharaj that the child was last month returned to her mother and explained to him how - and why - the authorities had decided to do this.
Two days after the mother reported her then one-month-old kidnapped from the city centre - and following a nationwide search for the child - police found her with the mother’s lover and the man now understood to be her biological father.
The mother has since pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, defeating the administration of justice and making a false statement.
Lydia Watson on Tuesday took the stand in sentencing proceedings. After she was found, Watson was tasked with looking into the baby’s family circumstances.
“With a view to placing her in alternate care, because of the criminal charges her mother was facing,” she explained.
Watson also said she had looked into the impact of the entire saga on the woman’s three other children.
“We visited them at school and interviewed their schools’ staff and the children,” she said. “It had a serious impact on them personally. I think there was an element of shame and embarrassment - especially for the two older girls”.
The baby was placed in “crisis care” and weekly supervised visits with the mother and the mother’s husband, were arranged.
The mother suggested the maternal grandmother as a “suitable alternate carer,” Watson said, and the process of screening and vetting her began.
That process was finalised in November and Watson’s offices approached the children’s court in December.
“We were preparing to vary the baby’s place of safety into her (the grandmother’s) interim care,” Watson said. “But when the matter came before the court, the presiding officer asked why the child was not being placed with - or returned to - the natural mother."
Watson had been concerned that the mother’s criminal case was still pending.
“But the presiding officer said if a person was taken out of a family system by means of imprisonment, the rest of the family would then care for her child,” she said on Tuesday.
Watson said the magistrate had been of the opinion that the mother had shown remorse.
And, she added, the mother had expressed that remorse to her.
“She said she was part of a polygamous relationship, that she was much younger than her husband and that she missed the affections of her husband and so sought affection elsewhere,” she said.
“Did she tell you she had planned this (the ‘kidnapping’), with the biological father?” public prosecutor Kuveshni Pillay asked Watson under cross-examination.
“She told me after the baby was born, he gave her photographs to say this baby was not her husband’s because she looked very much like his other children,” Watson replied. “And that began to worry her. I think in her pregnancy, she was still in two minds about who the father was … But upon the birth - and upon receipt of those photographs - it crystalised in her mind. And she then decided she was going to have to ask the natural father to care for the baby because - due to customs - she was not going to be accepted in that community."
The mother told Watson a day after she had handed the baby over to the biological father, she phoned him and asked him to return her.
“She indicated she hadn’t thought it through properly… That was her statement,” she said.