The baby who's going back to prison

A bewildered 16-month-old Haroon, clutching a furry toy and a half-eaten biscuit, was handed over to an officer at security police offices on Cape Town’s foreshore yesterday to be returned to his mother. His release from Tenterden place of safety, where he was taken last Thursday after a security police-initiated court order to remove him from his mother’s cell, followed a decision in the children’s court yesterday. 

The toddler emerged from Tenterden in the arms of his grandmother, Audrey Gunn, pointed at one of the reporters and cried “Mama”. Later Audrey Gunn, accompanied by attorneys and weighed down with sup· plies of baby clothes and food, handed Haroon over to Security police. She told The Daily Mail she was overjoyed at the decision of magistrate Hendrik Venter that the child be returned to his mother ‘‘forthwith”. 

In his finding, Venter said the court had been faced with the “unique situation” of the child’s mother being held under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. In terms of the Child Care Act, his enquiry had to determine whether Shirley Gunn was unable or unfit to have custody of Haroon. Before the court could make such a decision, it had primarily to hear the evidence of the mother, Venter said. But because she was in detention, the court was unable to hear her views or inspect the circumstances where she was or would be detained. 

“The court was unable to determine whether these circumstances are conducive to the maintenance and welfare of the child. Because of this fact, which is of prime concern to the court, the court is unable to make any determination as to whether the mother is fit or not to have custody of the child. “The court accordingly makes no order and as a result the child is to be returned I forthwith to the person in whose care (he) was before the commencement of the enquiry - that is to (his) mother.” 

Venter said he was of the view “that I justice must not only be done but be seen ’ to be done”. Thus he ordered that his finding- and the child’s identity could be published. At issue now is whether Shirley Gunn, who was detained on June 25, will be transferred from police cells to a prison such as Pollsmoor, which has facilities for children. Evidence before the supreme court, in an urgent application brought by Audrey Gunn and subsequently postponed pending the outcome of the children’s court hearing was that her cell was cold, with a cement floor and no wall-plug. 

A security policeman, Detective Warrant Officer Johannes Louw, in an affidavit opposing the supreme court application to have Haroon returned to his mother, said that her cell was no place for a child “because it is cold and spate is very limited”. However, since the child was taken away, Gunn’s interrogation had progressed, Louw said. “If the child is again placed with the detainee, her interrogation will again be hindered and that will just mean that her detention is lengthened.” 

Audrey Gunn told The Daily Mail yesterday she felt certain her daughter would now be transferred to “more suitable surroundings”.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.



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