We are very grateful to Amber* for contacting us and telling her story. We know that wrongful removals are taking place all the time, causing untold harm and distress to the children and their mothers involved.
* not her real name
My older siblings and I were wrongfully removed from our loving and highly ethical mother when I was 7 years old (in South Africa, 1982). For 14 months we languished in institutions: the first, a “place of safety” like a prison, and the second, a children’s home. . We had been torn from our mother by police, and taken from our loving, warm and secure home and thrown into the nightmarish “place of safety”. We had never experienced anything like it: not the prison-like structure, not the heartless and petty wardens, not children who had come from homes where they had been abused and seen their parents abuse each other. Bad things happen in such places.
A newspaper report a year or two after our release stated that the wardens at the” place of safety” had been prostituting children at the local harbour. We may have been amongst those, but I cannot remember. Although I do have a hazy memory of being led to a van containing children one evening. And there the memory ends. And bad things happen in the dormitories, where little boys and big boys are sodomised and beaten by bullies who themselves were subjected to such things in their past, and girls are abused by older girls. I was made to do things I never would have been exposed to in my home environment.
Our mother watched as we deteriorated emotionally and physically, and managed to sway the authorities to have us transferred to the children’s home. When you are only 7, and you have a loving mother you adore, being placed in an children’s home is very disconcerting. But it was much better than the prison-like “place of safety”.
The removal was apparently instigated by the mother of my mother’s ex-husband. I am unable to bring myself to refer to him as my ‘father’ anymore as he never was a father. He was – he is, as he is still alive, I believe – the man who raped and beat my mother regularly and whose sperm produced me and my siblings. A word needs to be developed for such a person, if one doesn’t already exist. A father is something else. A person who supports and nurtures and loves the family. He did none of those things. His mother had sworn to see my mother in the gutter when she divorced the rapist. My mother was expected to accept the role of punching bag and provide the man with a family. His mother accused her of being a paedophile and having mental health issues.
The removal destroyed us.
My mother desperately sought help. She wrote letter after letter after letter to influential people, trying to get someone to listen to her story and assist. But if children are removed, there must be good reason . . . . but that is a load of rubbish. My family was just one of the many hundreds of thousands destroyed by wrongful removal. Online research will show how common wrongful removal is in the ‘developed’ world. But the problem is that the wronged families don’t have the resources to fight the all-powerful state departments. As a well-educated, professional adult, I see how the resources to fight wrongful removal STILL do not exist. This needs to be changed. Wrongful removal is as archaic as statutorily accepted spousal abuse – something only changed in my country with the acceptance of domestic violence legislation in 1998, just the other day.
The impact of wrongful removal is ongoing. My whole family was ostracised by the community upon return to our mother. Child welfare refused us the psychological treatment my mom requested, and she did not have the money for the treatment. One of t the things the rapist ex-husband and his family had apparently claimed was that my mother was a paedophile. This lie was shared with the community. And my siblings and I were labelled children from reformatories. We must have done something wrong.
Finding work was difficult for my mother as a result, and we became poorer and poorer as the years passed. My mom thought the ostracism would stop when we went to university. But it didn’t. Universities source their students from schools – schools we had attended. And then it continued into our work environments, as companies source their employees from universities. So the stigma never leaves. Opportunities in life are limited as a result. Basic relationships are impacted.
There is nothing acceptable about wrongful removal. It needs to be stopped. No matter how well-meaning the social workers and lawyers and doctors and other professionals are who mistakenly remove our children: YOU CANNOT DO THIS! YOU are responsible for our innocent children being sodomised and raped and whole families emotionally destroyed. YOU are responsible for our children and families being permanently ostracised. YOU are responsible for making us untouchables.