The client had grown up in the USA and was deported to Tonga. The people living on her family land rejected her and judged her because she had many tattoos and was raised in a very different culture. She became very isolated and couldn’t find a home to take her in, and fell into a violent relationship. When she left the relationship, she was pregnant. No one in Tonga was willing to give her support due to her background, appearance, and reputation for having “slept around”. Finally, her father’s distant relative who lived nearby offered to look after the baby while she looked for work. Her family then tried to get custody of the baby, and with assistance from another local organisation they had her declared mentally unfit. When she first came to WCCC she was feeling totally powerless. WCCC treated her as an equal and did not pass judgement on her on the basis of her appearance. She was supported by Counsellors through the court process to regain custody of her child. It was a huge breakthrough for WCCC when the Magistrate allowed WCCC to speak on her behalf, when the Director explained that she had been judged on the basis of her appearance alone, and not on her ability to care for her child. The Magistrate ruled that her baby be returned to her, and stated that he was not going to judge her on the basis of her looks and an unsound mental health assessment.
This case demonstrates one of WCCC’s greatest achievements, because WCCC is often criticised by traditional and conservative leaders for supporting victims who do not conform to local norms and expectations – WCCC is frequently told that such women and children are “a waste of time”; this case demonstrates WCCC’s commitment to human rights. It was also the first case heard by that particular Magistrate under the Family Protection Act and a milestone for court judgements based on a human rights framework.