WASHINGTON — A top Zimbabwean emissary called anew Tuesday for the State Department to "hand over immediately" a diplomat's son whose custody has sparked a legal and international battle and he refused to rule out the prospect of the boy's return to the father who had beaten him.
"We have waited too long. The child is being wrongfully held and should be released immediately," Jonathan Wutawunashe, chief counsel in Zimbabwe's U.S. Embassy, said in an interview.
Asked whether the child might be returned to his father once in Zimbabwe, Wutawunashe said that he would not speculate on such questions. "What the government of Zimbabwe wants is for the child to be transferred to his rightful jurisdiction. That's the end of the story. . . . Beyond that, we are getting into speculation."
First Official Comments
Wutawunashe's comments were the first from a Zimbabwe official since the Supreme Court last week ruled that the State Department has no justification in keeping 9-year-old Terrence Karamba from his African homeland. The department has said that it will release the boy, but only after it is certain that he is emotionally ready for the transfer and will be protected.
Such conditions, heard by Terrence himself on television news reports after Friday's court ruling, have helped the boy adjust to the thought of returning to his homeland--an idea that previously had prompted him to try jumping from a moving car and a second-story window, according to those caring for the child.
Terrence has been living with a foster family on Long Island since Dec. 11, when he came to school bloodied and bruised. Once he is released, the U.S. government says, the boy should be placed in foster care in Zimbabwe as well, at least temporarily.
His father, Floyd Karamba, formerly a mid-level diplomat with the Zimbabwe mission to the United Nations in New York, was ordered out of the country last month after initial reports of child abuse. Court records indicate that the elder Karamba bound Terrence to a basement pipe, beat him with an electric cord and dropped him to the floor.
The battle over Terrence's custody and prospects for his return to his homeland quickly became a tense legal standoff involving the State Department, the Zimbabwe government and local welfare workers that weighed the domain of diplomatic immunity against the interests of the child, with the case finally reaching the Supreme Court.
'Position Hasn't Changed'
In response to the Zimbabwean diplomat's comments, a State Department official asserted: "We're not rushing the child's return. We're depending on the advice of the doctors (to know when he is prepared). . . . Our position hasn't changed."
Wutawunashe, the second-highest ranking diplomat at the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington, would not disclose what diplomatic efforts his nation is making to speed the child's release. But he added: "You can be quite sure they (State Department officials) have not forgotten our request."
Dr. Leonard Gries, a private psychologist who is treating Terrence regularly in conjunction with a State Department-appointed doctor, said Tuesday that it could take more than a month for Terrence to overcome his emotional scars and "adjust to the idea" of going home.
The boy's treatment suffered a temporary setback late last week, Gries said, when plans for a meeting in New York between Terrence and his mother--who reportedly watched the father beat him--fell through. The boy holds strong feelings of resentment toward his mother but at the same time longs to see her, to avoid "being completely alienated from his family," Gries said.
With the mother gone, psychologists are hoping to bring a Zimbabwean social worker to New York to develop a trusting relationship with Terrence before his return home.
Concern Over Rushing Return
Terrence's foster father, identified in court papers as John Doe, said Tuesday that he is deeply concerned that the Zimbabwean government may rush the boy's return and wipe out the progress he has made.
The boy "wants assurances--concrete expectations--that he will be protected" when he returns to Zimbabwe, the foster father said. Statements to that effect from State Department spokesman Charles Redman and others "did help. . . . He felt comfortable knowing that (the return) wasn't immediate."
Assertions to the contrary from Zimbabwe, he said, only confuse matters for a boy whose past has already been deeply troubled, whose daily life is beset by local news photographers staking out the house--as one did this weekend--and whose future is dictated by legal decisions and diplomatic haggling.
"He's living day to day," the foster father said. "He has this remarkable ability to persevere, to put what's going to happen the next day out of his mind and go on. But it's not easy."