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Children swapped at birth ‘should not be returned’

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March 28, 2024

Two South African children who were accidentally swapped at birth should not be returned to their biological families, a legal expert has urged.

Now aged four, the children were born in a Johannesburg hospital on the same day. Nurses mixed up the identities of the boy and the girl and, as a result, they were taken home by each other’s parents.

The switch was not discovered until last year. One of the mothers was seeking child maintenance from her ex-husband, who denied paternity of their child. After a DNA test, it was revealed that not only was he not the father but his ex-wife was not the mother.

Upon learning of the mistake, the other mother was hospitalised due to the intense shock. Her ex-boyfriend, who believed he was the girl’s father, likened the discovery to “the loss of all his limbs”.

Despite the revelation, the second mother expressed her desire to keep the child she had raised. The first mother initially reacted differently, expressing a desire to have her biological child returned, however she later admitted this would not be a good idea.

The High Court in one of South Africa’s three capital cities Pretoria commissioned an investigation into the issue. Ann Skelton, the director of the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law, led the investigation. In her subsequent report, she said it was likely the children were switched following a mix up with the medical files or name tags on a very busy day.

She concluded with the recommendation that the children remain with the families who have been caring for them since birth.

While the court has not yet set a date for a final decision to be made, Skelton said she hoped her recommendations would be followed as it is what both mothers want.

For more of our latest family law news, click here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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