Racial and cultural taboos persist, write Melitta Ngalonkulu and Siyamtanda Capa
ADOPTION as an option for couples or singles who want to raise children but cannot conceive for whatever reason is riddled with historic racial and cultural challenges in South Africa.
While there are many black babies eligible for adoption, there are not enough parents interested in adopting them.
On the other hand, there is a long waiting list of prospective coloured, Indian and white adoptive parents who are seeking same-race babies, but there are none or very few of these babies available for adoption.
Abba Adoption social worker Denise Henry said for the first time the agency had had to put coloured parents seeking to adopt on a waiting list too – with these families specifically wanting to adopt coloured babies.
“When matching babies to parents, ethnicity plays an important role for both the biological mother and prospective parents.
“It becomes a problem because we do not have Indian, white and coloured babies – there are just no babies from these ethnic groups,” she said.
Henry says the reason for this could be that women from these ethnic groups opt not to proceed with unexpected pregnancies, preferring to have abortions.
Ingrid Ahlfeldt, coordinating social worker at PE Ulutho, an information network for adoptive and foster families, shared the same sentiments.
“In terms of adoptable children there is a long waiting list for white, coloured and Indian babies. So the number of black babies is by far the majority.
“There are possibly other misconceptions that the challenges relating to adoption are insurmountable and that it is for the elite few who can handle these challenges, when in actual fact you do not have to be a rich superhuman to adopt,” she said.
Last year the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa released a research study on child abandonment and adoption.
The research undertaken by Dee Blackie found that most people wanted to adopt a child of their own race and that girls were preferred to boys where gender was specified.
Cultural barriers, Blackie found, were also a major problem with cross-race adoption a contentious issue – many adoptive parents shared experiences of judgement and discrimination from social workers, the Department of Social Development and from society at large.
According to Blackie, adoptions have decreased by more than 50% over the past decade.
Blackie found that ancestral beliefs played a significant role in both the reasons for child abandonment and the opposition to adoption by black families in South Africa.
Young women chose to abandon the child as “formally placing a child up for adoption amounts to rejecting a gift that the ancestors have given you”.
Similarly, there is a huge stigma against adoption of a child who does not share the same ancestors. Most research respondents believed that children who did not know their ancestors would live a difficult life.
Despite these challenges, Ahlfeldt encouraged families to adopt whatever the race of the parents or the child, saying that children primarily should be raised in loving families.
The Muston family with Skylar and Abigail
Leon Muston and his wife, Tersia, both aged 38, adopted Skylar (now two years old) when she was only two months old.
“We both went for tests and the doctor told me and my husband we wouldn’t ever be able to have children unless we went for fertility treatment or adopted,” Tersia said.
Although they considered fertility treatment, they decided to take the adoption route rather than the expensive medical process which was not guaranteed to be successful.
“We thought that there were so many children out there who didn’t have homes,” Tersia said.
The Mustons’ adoption process took less than a year.
“It wasn’t that long a process, although we had all sorts of things that we needed to go through before being allowed to adopt Skylar,” Leon said.
After a number of meetings with the social worker, they were expecting to receive a call to come and fetch a nine-month-old child, but to their surprise it was for two-month-old Skylar – which meant a major shopping spree that weekend as they did not have the right sized clothes for such a young baby.
“We went through a private adoption agency . . . which was definitely worth it at the end of the day,” Tersia said.
About a year later, Tersia fell pregnant and Skylar’s sister, Abigail, was born three months ago. The Mustons call Abigail their miracle baby as her conception went against all the doctors’ predictions.
They love Skylar and Abigail equally and Leon joked that the two are “colour-coded so we don’t call them by the wrong names”.
The Mbambo family with Busisiwe
As a safe house mother, Mbambo met Busisiwe after being called to intervene in a family crisis.
Mbambo said adopting informally and simply taking a child into your home came with a significant number of challenges.
“Most people in our community take in children and choose not to formally adopt. However, you hit walls when you have to produce important documents like birth certificates and register the child for benefits. I really would encourage people to adopt formally,” she said. Busisiwe, who is a grade 7 pupil at Walmer Primary School, said she was grateful for all that her mother (Mbambo) had done for her.
“I believe that had she not helped me when I needed it the most I would probably be in a lot of trouble or just on the street.”
The Miles family with Antonio
IT was Antonio Lamani’s fighting spirit that drew Alice Miles, 44, to him and led her to taking him on as her own child.
The three-year-old boy was abandoned in Walmer and taken to Erica House, a place of safety in Hillside, in 2012. He had been born without a soft palate and was suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome.
Their dream of becoming biological parents was dashed after Miles was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
After seven years of praying, their social worker informed them three babies were available.
“When I met Antonio I knew he was our baby,” Alice said. “He is our little sunshine.”
Alice has been trying to complete the adoption process for three years, with no luck. Her biggest fear is what would happen if a biological mother came forward and claimed Antonio.
“No one tells us what would happen.”
The Kruger family with Tyler and Lexie
AFTER five attempts at in vitro fertilisation and a traumatic miscarriage where they lost twin babies, Kim and Frans Kruger decided to look into adoption.
The couple, who live in the countryside area of Chelsea in Port Elizabeth, decided to take the next step and adopt.
Kim said: “Because my husband was also adopted it is all very special, but that was 40 years ago and things have changed since then in the sense that we can adopt across races today.
“The other kids at school have started asking questions about why we are different, but we are very open about adoption and explain everything to them.”
Kim said many people considered their family abnormal and different.
“Our family is different and that is all right with us – this is our own kind of normal.”
The Gerwel family with Luke
FEARS of their son being taken away haunted Ettienne and Shanthel Gerwel until the adoption process was finalised.
Luke was placed in safe custody with the Gerwels for three months in August 2011 and his adoption was finalised a week before his birthday in December the same year.
However Shanthel, 35, still had sleepless nights until the day that Luke’s biological mother lost the right to change her mind and take the little boy back.
“But she has shown no interest,” Shanthel said. “We will always have great admiration for his ‘tummy mummy’ because she could have not had Luke.”
Making things easy for the couple was the reaction they had from friends and family. “Our family and friends were just amazing . . . We had four baby showers.”