Twins reunited with parents after being 'lost' in social care system

30 December 2019 - 12:54 By JEFF WICKS
Twin girls, aged five, were reunited with their parents with the help of the Johannesburg high court.
Twin girls, aged five, were reunited with their parents with the help of the Johannesburg high court.
Image: Jeff Wicks/TimesLIVE

No good deed goes unpunished. For a Johannesburg couple, giving an acquaintance a lift set in motion a chain of events that saw them arrested and their twin five-year-old daughters “lost” in the social care system for four days.

The Johannesburg high court on Friday ordered that an unnamed place of safety and the police return the girls to their parents. The identity of the couple, known to TimesLIVE, has been withheld to protect the children.

The girls’ mother said the drama began on the way to a family outing at McDonald's in Roodepoort, west of Johannesburg, on Monday night.

“People from our neighbourhood asked us for a lift. I told my husband that it was a bad idea, but his view was that the guy was disabled and had no other way to get home and that we would be doing a good deed,” she said.

After the acquaintance, his girlfriend, daughter and the family piled into the car, police descended and asked to search the vehicle.

The woman said officers allegedly found drugs and drug paraphernalia on the hitchhiker. A search of his daughter’s toy box revealed live pistol ammunition.

“They put us all in cuffs and took us down to the police station. When we got there, the guy confessed that the bullets were his. But it was too late - we all needed to be arrested,” she said.

The couple desperately called relatives to come and fetch the twins. An estranged aunt arrived. “She assaulted me in the police station and accused me of putting my children in danger. The police just let her take my children,” alleged the mother.

After the couple appeared in court on Tuesday December 24, where unlawful possession of ammunition charges against them were withdrawn, they called the aunt.

“She had gone and dropped my girls at a place of safety, but wouldn’t tell us where it was. She gave us a number and all the people would tell us is that the girls were fine, but that we couldn’t bring them home,” said the woman.

The couple said police did not follow protocol when removing the children from their care.

Police officers and social workers are empowered to remove children from custody without a court order if they feel the child is in imminent danger or requires care. In these circumstances, a “form 36” requires completion in triplicate, a copy of which is given to the biological parents so they have knowledge of where their children are to be housed.

On demanding this information from the police, the couple said they found the paperwork had not been done and officers had “no idea” where the children were.

“They didn’t want to help us. We were at police stations for three days and we got nothing. Our children were missing and no one would tell us where they were,” said the mother.

“We had no Christmas for our girls. We couldn’t sleep and we couldn’t go home because everything there reminded us of them. One night my husband spent hours washing his car and eventually slept in it.”

On Friday December 27 the beleaguered pair made an application before the high court. Citing police management as respondents, they demanded the return of their children. Alternatively, if the police could not bring the children to court, they wanted the court to order that they immediately commence with a kidnapping investigation.

Acting judge Anthony Millar said the girls had been wrested from the arms of their parents in what could only be described as a travesty. He ordered that the twins be brought to court immediately.

Attorneys acting for the police countered by insisting that allegations of abuse had been made against the parents, but these allegations were not substantiated in court.

Beyond reuniting the family, Millar ordered the family advocate to investigate and bear out the veracity of abuse claims.

In the hallway, the girls leapt into their sobbing parents’ arms.

When they were carried into court, the family thanked Millar. “We can’t wait to get them home and have a real Christmas. We didn’t know if they were alive or dead, or if we would ever see them again,” said the mother.

Police spokesperson Col Noxolo Kweza said on Monday that officers did not remove the children from the custody of their parents. She said it was their mother who handed them to an aunt.

She said the arresting officer asked if there was someone at home who could look after the children while the parents were in custody. “The mother indicated that there is an aunt who can assist. However, her phone was off.”

A person was sent to the home of the aunt, who later arrived at the station “and was allowed to speak to the mother regarding the children. She then left the station with the children.

“The police did not remove the children from the custody of their parents. Instead it was the mother who facilitated the handing over of the children to the aunt,” said Kweza.

“The aunt who took the children then went to Fairlands police station the following day and made an affidavit, which indicates that she collected the children and she also took them to the place of safety after the mother failed to collect them the previous day from her.

“The police procedure when arresting suspects who have children with them is that the initial stage is to allow parents to find someone who can look after their children. If this does not materialise, the police then arrange with social workers to take the children and ensure their safety."