Searching for SA’s Madonnas?

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South Africa has 1,5 million orphaned children. During 2008 there were 2055 national adoptions, a small drop in a very large ocean. Encouraging foreigners to adopt South African babies seems like an obvious solution, and yet according to the most recent statistics from the South African Registrar of Adoptions, there were a mere 230 intercountry adoptions from South Africa last year. 

Intercountry adoption is an incredibly controversial and complex issue. There seems to be a general confusion around the issue, not helped by the fact that over the last few years the South African government can’t seem to take a solid stance on this hot topic. The actual legal answer on the issue reverts to The Child Care Act, Act 74 of 1983, which does not make legal provision for intercountry adoptions. But since then, there have been two pivotal constitutional court findings where the court ruled in favour of intercountry adoption as it was found to be in the best interest of the child.

This helped bring in the new Child Care Act 38 of 2005, which is still not fully operational yet. This Act legalises intercountry adoption as a ‘last resort’ once all other avenues for permanent family care in our own country have been exhausted. There are hopes that the new Child Care Act 38 of 2005 will become the final legal stance on the issue from April 2010.

Should this Act become legalised, the necessary procedures will need to be regulated and monitored with extreme caution. Government’s hesitance is presumably surrounding the issue of what will happen if the procedures aren’t strictly followed, or if positions of power are abused. Intercountry adoption comes at a cost.

While the cost may vary per organisation, the basic principle of ‘paying’ for an intercountry adoption is impossible to avoid. The agencies are providing a professional service and the cost goes towards covering mediation organisations, medical expenses, legal work and therapeutic and counseling services. But unfortunately, where money changes hands there is always the opportunity for all kind of corruptions, worst of all child trafficking.

So it is understandable why the government has not taken this decision lightly. They do not want to facilitate crimes against the very children they are trying to protect.  Another aspect worth considering is the possibility of child trafficking increasing should government not legalise intercountry adoption. If it is legal and above board, procedures are more likely to be followed, and bribes and buying children would hopefully be less likely to take place.
Another negative of intercountry adoption is the cultural and language barriers the children will face in their new environment.

On the positive side, as the South African court has ruled twice in recent history, an intercountry adoption can often be in the child’s best interest. While growing up within a familiar cultural context certainly has its benefits, growing up in a loving home is obviously more beneficial to a child than growing up in an institution, regardless of what country the home is in.

The children who are candidates for intercountry adoptions are more often than not orphaned. As all local avenues have been investigated, it can be assumed that these children do not have any relatives available or willing to adopt the child. The sad reality is that these children will probably spend their childhoods in orphanages, when they could be loved and cherished by a family in another country; a family who has been thoroughly screened, prepared and equipped for intercountry adoption.

This screening is a lengthy process that can be off putting to potential foreigners wanting to adopt South African babies, but it is a vital process none the less.

Whether an adoption is national or intercountry, the basis for each and every individual case starts with a child’s need for stability, but should never be seen in isolation. Correct legal and ethical procedures must always be strictly adhered to.

Although intercountry adoption is not the easiest route for all parties involved, it is an avenue South Africa has not yet fully benefited from and is certainly a worthwhile solution for some of the many destitute children in our country.

Is intercountry adoption an acceptable solution for SA’s orphans?
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