Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun stopped State Department officials Saturday from taking legal custody of a 9-year-old abuse victim they want to send back to his native Zimbabwe over objections from welfare workers in New York City.
Blackmun gave a child-care agency in New York the right to keep custody of Terrence Karamba for the time being rather than give the State Department control. He asked the department to submit additional information in the case by Tuesday afternoon.
Blackmun's order overturned a lower court ruling that would have given the department custody at noon Saturday.
The effect of the justice's action will be to give the State Department and welfare agencies more time to fight over Karamba's future. Specifically, the State Department will submit evidence designed to prove that the boy will not be harmed by returning to Zimbabwe.
According to court documents, the boy was the repeated victim of beatings by his father, Floyd, a member of Zimbabwe's delegation to the United Nations, and New York City authorities have said the child is in danger of further abuse if he is sent to his homeland. The father has returned to Zimbabwe.
Suzanne Trazoff, a spokeswoman for New York's Human Resources Administration, said last week that welfare workers initially wanted only to delay Karamba's return to make sure he had suffered only minimal psychological damage.
She said the city changed its stance when the boy exhibited "extreme manifestations of fear on going back to Zimbabwe."
Lawyers for the State Department have asserted that international rules designed to protect diplomats of all nations require them to send the boy back to Zimbabwe. In addition, the department is making arrangements to ensure that he is properly treated if he returns to Zimbabwe.