Court battle to force state to look after 12-year-old Free State girl
She was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, was raped when she was seven by a neighbour, has been continuously neglected by her family, has never been to school, suffers from behavioural disorders and epilepsy and is now addicted to snuff and alcohol.
This is the life story so far of a 12-year-old Free State child who, on top of it all, has been “wholly neglected and treated with contempt” by social development, health and education authorities in the province.
This is the opinion of advocate Hasina Cassim who was appointed by the Free State High Court in January 2018 as a “curator ad litem”, to act on the child’s behalf.
Cassim has now brought an urgent application — to be heard on Tuesday — in which she admonishes government officials for not doing anything to protect the child, identified only as R, and for an order compelling them to take immediate action.
She wants the court to order that R be immediately placed in a temporary care facility (pending final placement), that her health and addiction issues be properly assessed and that she be enrolled and admitted to a local special needs school.
“The government respondents have not provided her with the care and concern befitting of any child in this country, more so a child living in poverty with disabilities, who is out of school,” Cassim says in her affidavit before the court.
“That she is a child that has experienced abuse and neglect is common cause. When state institutions then perpetuate that abuse and neglect through not properly applying themselves to her cause, that conduct is inexcusable.”
The respondents have filed a notice to abide by the decision of the court and have not put up any reports or affidavits.
R’s plight was first noticed by a local occupation therapist who reported her concerns to the Centre for Child Law (CCL).
The centre approached the high court “in an urgent application because of her dismal circumstances” and Cassim was appointed.
In the ensuing months, Cassim and CCL attorney Anjuli Maistry took a “collaborative approach” with government officials who undertook to do proper assessments for her addictions for the purposes of getting her admitted to school, and made undertakings to speak to various child and youth care centres.
Cassim reported back to the court in November 2018 with her recommendations, which were made an order of court.
While the government officials drafted various reports and did some assessments, there has been little progress to date.
R’s parents are both dead. While R’s aunt was appointed as her foster parent, Cassim said she lived in the same household and was not a fit person for the job. There were concerns that grant money was not being used properly.
While R had been “admitted” to a special needs school, she was not attending because the school was 100km away from her home and she could not stay at the hostel, apparently because of her aggression and addiction.
There had been an “intervention” regarding her addiction to snuff but she had been given only one month’s supply of medication to reduce her cravings.
“The family was to purchase the subsequent supplies themselves, which is unfathomable in a home where food security is a concern and where there are serious concerns about the use of grants for her benefit and wellbeing,” Cassim said.
A social worker told Cassim in April this year that R was now consuming alcohol “which was freely available in the household”.
She also bought her own alcohol with money she was given to “keep her quiet”.
“A year and seven months have passed since the court order, and no progress has been made. She remains neglected, vulnerable and addicted,” Cassim said.
“This litigation is to compel them to take steps to assist her and realise her rights.”