Adoptions plummeting

2014-05-23 00:00

CASES of abandoned babies and newborns found in rubbish bins or pit latrines have become tragically commonplace. In a grim case earlier this week a newborn baby was found strangled in bush in Mariannhill.

Such incidents dramatically underline the research released by the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa (Nacsa) this week detailing how, while child abandonment has increased, rates of adoption have declined.

The research was undertaken by Dee Blackie, a consultant to Nacsa, to investigate what lies behind the grim statistics (see below) on child abandonment and the decline in adoption.

“Adoptions have decreased by more than 50% over the past decade,” said Blackie, “with research indicating that much of the decline is due to the implementation of the new Children’s Act in 2010 and what has been referred to as ‘cultural barriers’.”

Speaking to The Witness, Blackie said the act was “a good piece of legislation designed to facilitate adoption” but all the experts she spoke to said “the act itself wasn’t the problem but that the Department of Social Development and the courts were using it to prevent adoption”.

Blackie said the act had increased the bureaucratic procedures required to adopt. “There are the parents that have to be vetted, the children have to vetted, and the birth parents,” she said. “You can do all that and have everything right and then you end up waiting two years for the required letter of recommendation — something that should take two weeks.”

According to Jasu Jagjivan, manager of the adoption team at Child Welfare in Durban, the intention of the act was that adoption procedures be more thorough and “that children not be adopted just willy-nilly. But it is a long drawn-out process and unfortunately they have not put a fast-track process in place.”

Justin Foxton, who runs the Baby House in Umhlanga, said the correct application of the act took time for those involved to “get up to speed — not only social workers but the courts themselves.” As a result “nothing happened”.

Since the Baby House opened in 2010 there were 20 adoptions up to 2012. “From 2013 to now we have four,” said Foxton.

Blackie’s research also found that child abandonment and the decline in adoption are influenced by African ancestral beliefs. “These are strong religious beliefs,” she said. “People believe that if a child is brought into a family the child will suffer and so will the family as the ancestors will not recognise the child.”

Blackie also found that abandonment was seen as preferable to adoption because abandonment “is not seen as permanent; they can go back when things improve and get the child. A social worker recently told me of a woman who had abandoned her children nine years ago and wanted them. The social worker had to say, ‘Sorry, they were adopted and are living in Germany’. The woman was shocked and appalled.”

However, Blackie said sangomas she had consulted said there was ritual, known as ubigile, “where an adopted child can be announced and introduced to the ancestors”.

According to Foxton, there isn’t the political will to drive adoption because of the cultural issues. “The president is a traditionalist and he’s not going to be top down in advocating adoption.

“Adoption is not promoted by government,” said Foxton. “There are posters about Aids, TB, condoms and abortion, but not about adoption. Unless we can overcome these cultural hurdles we are not going to get anywhere.”

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