Reversing baby swap will affect well-being

Picture: AFP

Removing the swapped toddlers from their primary attachment figures now will undoubtedly impact massively on their psychological wellbeing, according to a psychologist.

Last Monday, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ordered the Centre for Child Law to investigate the best possible solution for the two children swapped at birth in 2010. The centre is expected to present a solution that is in the best interests of the children and their parents.

Psychologist Nicola Dugmore said earlier that it could be assumed that under good enough circumstances the children would each have attached to the mother raising them and would have no attachment to the biological mother.

“We would also need to consider the mothers’ attachments. Presumably while ignorant of the exchange they may have felt bonded with the baby in their care, but knowing now that the baby is not theirs and the offspring of their own womb is not in their care may interfere with that bond,” said Dugmore. “I am using speculative language because attachment style will be particular to a mother-baby couple and it may be that there is already a disturbed attachment between either or both of these mother-child couples.”

Dugmore added that the age of the children would have to be taken into account, as the important relationships extend beyond the mother. “Many other factors may come into play including the attachments and relationships each child has with other family members.”

It is still unclear how the babies were switched at the Tambo Memorial Hospital on the East Rand four years ago. The mistake was discovered last year after one of the mothers sued her ex-husband for maintenance. The man denied paternity, resulting in a DNA test which confirmed that neither parent was related to the child.

Psychologist Anne-Marie Wenzel said the long-term effects such a situation could have on both children included identity confusion, effects on self-esteem, feelings of rejection and then acting those out in depression, drugs and sexualised behaviour.

Wenzel, who was the expert witness on the merits of a baby swap case previously, said: “With reference to placement of children, the American system favours the biological parent. In the South African cases, in my experience, the emphasis is on what is ‘in the best interest of the child’.”

The Centre for Child Law is expected to report back to the North Gauteng High Court in 90 days.

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