The parents of two Cape Town boys are grappling with the emotional and legal fallout after discovering that their sons — now aged 14 — were swapped at birth at a hospital in the city.
Western Cape authorities are investigating the baby-switching incident, confirming this week that an inquiry had been launched last year.
We have decided not to name the parties involved, or give other identifying details, to protect the children.
The baby swap was discovered after the father of one of the boys — embroiled in a maintenance dispute with the mother — questioned the boy’s paternity because there was little physical resemblance between them. The man insisted on a DNA test, which proved he was not the father. The woman then also had a DNA test, which showed she was not the mother.
The woman said she was told in June that her biological son was being raised in the same neighbourhood.
“I have bonded with [this child, but] I want to see my blood,” she said. The woman said she was keen to meet the couple raising her biological son. “I want to meet with them so they can perform rituals for their child. This ordeal has caused us both inconvenience,” she said.
The man involved told the Sunday Times this week that the thought of his child being raised elsewhere caused him sleepless nights.
“A social worker contacted me and informed me that the child had been found and that they had been switched at birth. She stated that the child is ours psychologically, but biologically he belongs to the other parent, and vice versa,” the father said.
“She said she would call both families to a meeting. Words cannot express how much this has disrupted my life.
“Knowing that my child is being raised by someone else haunts me. I occasionally wake up in the middle of the night. I requested that the social worker provide at least one photograph of this child. But she said I couldn’t see the child,” he said.
“It worries me because this is a boy who needs to go to the mountain. He will require the assistance of his biological family to carry out the necessary rituals.”
He said the baby swap had strained relations between him and the child’s mother.
“It involved monetary costs as well as the courts,” he said. “I was surprised when I was told that my child had been found. My family was taken aback.”
He said he was excited about meeting his biological child but admitted that the path forward would not be easy.
“I am worried that this child has been raised differently and that we might struggle to have a parent-child bond with him,” he said. “But at the same time, I was thinking that we should not disturb him now and let him concentrate on his studies, and tell him when he is 18. I just want to [meet] the family that raised him and keep communicating.
“I know how such things derail a kid’s education. It’s a trauma.”
He said he had considered suing the hospital.
There have been two prominent baby swapping cases in South African courts since 1996 and in both the children ultimately remained with their new parents, rather than being returned to their biological family.
In a joint statement, the Western Cape departments of health and social development said they had been alerted last September to the “alleged incident which happened in 2008, and immediately started with an investigation, which included extensive counselling by a psychologist to the known mother. This investigation is ongoing.”
The departments said this was an “isolated incident, with the circumstances around it still unclear”, and “a very
I want to meet with them so they can perform rituals for their child. This ordeal has caused us both inconvenience sensitive and complex matter”.
They added: “Both departments are cognisant of the trauma this has caused and will continue to provide counselling and psychological support. The department of health has stringent measures in place to ensure the correct baby is handed to the correct mother at our facilities. We are fully co-operative to see this investigation through until the end.
“Generally, in matters of this nature, families require extensive, specialised counselling, mediation and support. Through the social development processes, both families must reach a mutual agreement about the way forward. If this doesn’t happen, a court process will follow to determine the way forward.”
He said a mother would have to go to court if she wanted to obtain parental rights over her biological child.
“There are multiple legal issues that would be at play, but essentially the court would consider the best interest of the child as provided for in terms of … the constitution, together with … the Children’s Act,” he said.
“If it found that the hospital staff were negligent … the parents would be entitled to compensation. We have case law which has provided a precedent for this.”