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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
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Curator to look into church refugees row

By Katlego Moeng | Jan 06, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THE government has agreed to let an independent curator assess the circumstances of each unaccompanied minor at the Central Methodist Church before they can be relocated.

THE government has agreed to let an independent curator assess the circumstances of each unaccompanied minor at the Central Methodist Church before they can be relocated.

Since September, when allegations surfaced about the sexual abuse of children at the church, the government has been trying to have the children removed from the church premises, which housed more than 2000 mostly Zimbabwean refugees.

Bishop Paul Verryn went to court to apply for an independent curator to handle the case of the unaccompanied minors.

Because he did not have the support of the church, three organisations - the Aids Law Project, Legal Resources Centre and Lawyers for Human Rights - stepped in.

Yesterday the Johannesburg high court was supposed to rule on the application but instead an agreement was reached among the parties.

"Government and attorneys from the Aids Law Project agreed just before court proceedings yesterday that a blanket relocation is not the best way forward but an independent curator should make recommendations on how to deal with the problem of unaccompanied minors at the church. So this is a court order by agreement," said Mark Heywood of the Aids Law Project.

"Children's rights advocate Ann Skelton, of the Centre for Child Law, is now the legal guardian of the children and will interview 56 of them who have been identified as living at the church without their parents."

Skelton may also talk to those who would come to the church premises before she has to report to the court.

She will then have to present her recommendations to the court on February 8.

The national and provincial departments of social development were respondents in the application brought by Lawyers for Human Rights, the Legal Resources Centre and the Aids Law Project.

The organisations argued against the blanket relocation of all unaccompanied children from the church.

Verryn had to withdraw his individual application because he did not have the support of the Methodist Church as an institution.

Government was ready to move most of the children on December 7, but when they arrived at the church, there were no children to be found.

Some of the children told Sowetan that they knew that social development officials would be coming that day so they found themselves alternative accommodation to avoid the move.

They said they were not keen to go to a shelter, as those who had previously gone to those facilities ran away and came back to the church saying they were being mistreated and threatened with deportation.

"I see my role as a neutral one," said Skelton yesterday.

"I work closely with all the relevant parties that have been involved thus far.

"I will make recommendations regarding steps to be taken in the best interest of the unaccompanied children."

It is not yet clear what is to be done with the hundreds of adults who live on the church premises.

Gauteng's portfolio committee on social development believes that they are a health risk and they should be moved to alternative accommodation.

Simon Zwane, who speaks for the department, could not be reached yesterday for comment.


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