Mondli Zondo

Is giving a child up for adoption 'unAfrican'?

2017-10-31 09:19


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A few months ago, a white couple who are friends of mine asked if I would write a letter of recommendation for them as they are in the process of adopting their first child. 

I didn't hesitate to do this as I believe they will make great parents and I know they will go out of their way to provide the best opportunities for their child. 

Because of the racial demographics in our country, the majority of children available for adoption are black and so it was almost inevitable that my friends would raise an interracial family. Like me, they carry a liberal outlook and so the race or gender of the child is irrelevant to them because their desire is to provide a stable start in life for any child. 

Unfortunately, living in a country with a history like ours means that race does matter to the outside world whether my friends like it or not, and it is through this adoption process that this became glaringly clear. 

I was also intrigued as I do not personally know any black person who has given a child up for adoption and I wondered further about how this works in the context of African ancestral beliefs. Until now, adoption hasn't been a concept I have intimately engaged with. 

My mother had me when she was 18 and she was too young and irresponsible to raise a child. My great grandmother took care of me and when my mother passed on when I was 12, I became a foster child under the guardianship of my late aunt. 

I know this is the story of many black families. When a parent passes or is unable to care for a child other relatives take on that responsibility and raise the child as a "community". 

But what should happen in an instance where there is no relative willing to care for the child or when they simply do not have the means to do so? I've found myself wondering: is adoption compatible with African views? 

I understand that this may seem like a daft question to people who are unfamiliar with African practices but I find it necessary to interrogate this topic if we want to build broad acceptance of adoption in our country.

Experts in this field share my view as exemplified by the National Adoption Coalition South Africa (Nacsa) which has conducted extensive research on the matter and their findings are remarkable but unsurprising. 

First, Nacsa notes that adoption rates in the country are decreasing and there are a number of reasons for this. Bear in mind, this does not mean the number of children who could be adopted is low. It simply means that most people do not consider this option. 

The danger in this is that our reality means more children will be born into and live in poverty or in an unstable environment. 

When I speak of 'reality' I am talking about the fact that many children are orphaned by HIV/Aids, the fact that most children are raised by grandparents on social grants and the fact that according to Nacsa child abandonment is on the increase. 

There are children who could benefit from adoption but we seem to prefer raising children in poorer conditions. Is this all in the name of doing what is 'African'? 

A document released by Nacsa titled "Fact Sheet-Research on Child Abandonment in South Africa" tells us that there is a view that abandoning a child is better than giving it up for adoption. 

Adoption is seen as a formal process where one 'rejects' a gift (the child) given to them by their ancestors and nobody wants to face the wrath of their forefathers. 

I think a lot of resistance to adoption is motivated by fear. When a baby is born into a family that observes traditional African practices he/she is introduced to their ancestors. Certain traditional ceremonies are done for the child as part of this process. So when one introduces the idea of adoption, some will rightly question what this means given this context. 

If you give a child up for adoption, whose ancestors will protect the child, for example? What if the child's new family is white and don't hold these beliefs? Won't that harm the child? 

What if the child falls ill later in life and western medicine can't help and a traditional remedy from their biological family is needed? These are just some of the questions that can prevent people from considering adoption. 

These views aren't held by uncivilised, poorly educated ignorant people or whatever else you want to call them. 

There are harrowing stories from social workers about how some nurses mistreat a mother who intends to give her baby for adoption by withholding care, painkillers and hormone treatment for example as they disapprove of her decision. This is also usually followed by intense verbal abuse. 

But what is the alternative? What if my mother didn't have relatives? Should she have thrown me down a long drop toilet like so many mothers do today? Would that be 'African'? 

Doesn't 'Africanness' mean we need to care for the vulnerable and protect them? Can't adoption therefore be viewed through this prism? How can we accept that it is against African beliefs to provide a child with a stable home and opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have? 

I have no easy answers on this issue but what I do know is that we need a whole of society approach. We need to see traditional leaders and healers collaborating with the formal structures of adoption in order to create understanding and broader acceptance in our communities. 

As someone who benefitted from the kindness of others when my mother was unable to raise me, I know that this is not only the right thing to do but also the African thing to do. 

- Mondli Zondo (@MoZondo) is a columnist and a Mandela Washington fellow. He writes in his personal capacity. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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