The case of Zephany Nurse*, a 17-year old girl kidnapped at birth from Groote Schuur Hospital, has captured the hearts of South Africans over the course of the past week. The story of the young girl came to light after she befriended a girl who it would later be uncovered to be her biological sister. The story has made global headlines and has resulted in a world renowned child justice expert coming in to see to the legal needs of the teenager.
Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Friday, Professor Ann Skelton of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria said the girl was being assisted by a team of social workers, in order to come to terms with the revelation.
“Her world has been turned upside down; there is no doubt about that. She certainly strikes me as being quite mature for her age, and coping better than most people would. That doesn’t mean that it is easy for her,” she explained.
With Nurse now fully under the glare of the media, she said it was likely the girl was facing a fair bit of pressure being under the spotlight.
Addressing the rights of a child in such a situation, Skelton said it was impossible to ascertain what would be in her best interest without taking into consideration the girls own views and wishes.
“Therefore I think whatever decisions are going to be made as to where she is going to live and so on, these things are going to be guided by what she wants,” she noted, adding that Nurse would be assisted and advised along the way.
Although a final decision would not be taken as yet, it was unlikely the information would be made available to the media.
The case has also brought about criticism over media coverage, with some journalists accused of being insensitive in how they have handled the story. Whilst the media has so far adhered to sticking with the use of the girl’s pseudonym to this point, Skelton said there was a risk that once she turned 18 at the end of April, the media would reveal her identity.
“We have written to the media houses telling them in our view that it would be a breach, and we are asking for an undertaking from the media that they don’t do that,” she stated, adding that they were waiting for responses in this regard.
Whilst such cases were not unheard of, Skelton said Nurse’s case in particular was not that common.
“It’s always highly complex, particularly when the child has been living with another family for a long time, that makes it even more difficult,” she added.
*Zephany is still a minor and is using the name that given to her before her abduction. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)