College of Law and Management Studies

The Application of African Customary Law in relation to children switched at birth was explored by Medical Law Master’s graduate Ms Samukelisiwe Jali.

The research, supervised by Dr Annie Singh, was titled: In the Best Interests of Whose Child? An Examination of African Customary Law in Matters Relating to Children Switched at Birth.

Highlighted was the African perspective on a predicament faced by two parents whose children were switched at birth at OR Tambo Hospital in Boksburg, Gauteng.

‘I felt it was important to bring to the fore the African narrative that is very easily discarded when the court considers matters that involve African customary law,’ said Jali.

‘As an African – and a South African – this perspective remains very close to my heart and spurred me on to complete my research. Thankfully children being switched at birth is not something that occurs often in our country.’

The study’s findings reveal that when using African Customary Law to interpret the best interests of the child, children switched at birth should be returned to their biological parents. This is because in African Customary Law it is presumed that the child’s interests are best served by ‘belonging’.

Jali, who is an admitted attorney and an ad hoc lecturer at UKZN’s School of Law, loves teaching and research and hopes a career in academia will allow her to explore these passions further.

‘I have always wanted to teach so pursuing my master’s degree became very important. Now I am able to enter academia and lecture at a university I consider home – so PhD here I come!’ said Jali.

Words: Thandiwe Jumo 
Photograph: Supplied