Curator wants probe into abuse cases

paul_verrynJOHANNESBURG - The guardian of unaccompanied children at the Johannesburg Central Methodist Church has called for a more robust investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of children at a school run by the church. Ann Skelton described the allegations as alarming and accused authorities of not fully probing the violations. (Pict

The allegations of sexual abuse of the children by the school principal and certain other teachers at the school were sufficiently alarming to have required a more robust response, she told The Zimbabwean at the weekend.

Verryn not to blame

She said that Bishop Paul Verryn, who was suspended from the church following the revelation of such violations in January, was not wholly to blame for the alleged sexual abuse of the mainly Zimbabwean minors.

Whilst Paul Verryn and the Central Methodist Mission have suffered a lot of criticism about the conditions at the Church and the exposure of children to danger, the fact remains that the Church was providing shelter and assistance to a group of children to whom little or no assistance was (initially) being offered by the State, said Skelton.

The Johannesburg High Court appointed Skelton as curator in January following reports of sexual abuse of children at the church, where hundreds of foreign nationals, mainly Zimbabwean have sought shelter.

Meanwhile, Skelton, who last week released a report on unaccompanied children at refugee sites, called for the speedy implementation of the Standard Operating Procedures for the identification, documentation, tracing and reunification of children. She also raised concern that the children were finding it a daunting task obtaining documents regulating their stay in South Africa.

A better system

The report also considers the situation in Musina, where approximately 150 unaccompanied children are staying in registered shelters, and more children are arriving on a daily basis. There needs to be a more effective system for unaccompanied children as they enter the country, she said.

Unaccompanied children are experiencing problems with immigration documentation. The standard procedure is to issue them with asylum seeker permits, but in reality very few of them will qualify for asylum, and a rejection of an asylum claim will leave them without documentation, with a risk of becoming stateless. It is recommended that those who are found in need of care and who are placed in the South African care system should have some recognition of their immigration status. The Department of Home Affairs should consider issuing permits in terms of s 32(1)(b) of the Immigration Act that will provide some of the rights that permanent residents have, she added.

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