Adoption system in crisis

Success Story: Port Elizabeth residents Tersia and Leon Muston with their adopted daughter, Skylar
Success Story: Port Elizabeth residents Tersia and Leon Muston with their adopted daughter, Skylar

Bureaucracy, missing documents make process a nightmare

THE adoption system in South Africa is in a state of crisis.

Hamstrung by bureaucracy, missing documents and inefficient court processes, the system is working against matching children with suitable parents and has resulted in fewer children being adopted year on year.

Since 2004, when 136 adoptions took place through Joburg Child Welfare, the number has dropped to only 50 adoptions taking place last year.

“[This is] a really big decrease,” adoption supervisor at Joburg Child Welfare, Pam Wilson, said.

Nationally, according to a report by the National Adoption Coalition South Africa, adoptions saw a decrease of about 50% from 2 840 in 2004 to 1 448 last year.

The implementation of the Consolidated Children’s Act in 2010 is partly to blame, social workers and prospective parents contend.

Dee Blackie, consultant to the National Adoption Coalition South Africa, said while considered a good piece of legislation, implementation had caused a number of challenges. These include: ý Illegal immigrants are unable to legally place their children in the formal child protection system in South Africa, and face deportation should they try;

ý Relinquishing one’s parental rights so a child can be adopted can only be done without a legal guardian’s consent from the age of 18, making this option inaccessible to teenage mothers.

However, a child of any age can request an abortion in South Africa, sending mixed messages about the option of adoption;

ý Anonymous child abandonment has been criminalised, with mothers facing a range of charges such as concealment of birth and attempted murder; and

ý Baby safes, dropoff points where mothers can leave their babies anonymously, legally, and safely, are considered illegal in terms of the Children’s Act.

Hopeful parents who spoke up highlighted Form 30 and unabridged birth certificates as hindrances to their adoption process.

Form 30 is a document that confirms an applicant is not on the Child Protection Register – a list of people considered unsuitable to work with or adopt children as a result of previous criminal convictions.

While applicants are informed that it will be returned within 21 days, many say they have waited for more than six months.

Applications frequently went missing, or applicants were told to resubmit for a second or third time with no explanation given, prospective parents said.

And even where adoptions were completed, several parents said there were massive delays in receiving unabridged birth certificates. This had knock-on effects such as not being able to travel with the baby, and not being able to claim UIF for maternity leave.

But national Department of Social Development spokesman Lumka Oliphant said the delays were caused by “faults on the adoption documents that are sent for registration to and from courts”, and that the challenge was the shortage of prospective adoptive parents.

She said adoption of babies should not be commercialised. “Our babies are not up for sale.”

There are 351 prospective adoptive parents on Racap (register on adoptable children and prospective parents) at present, while 544 children wait to be adopted. This is out of an estimated 5.2 million children listed as orphans in South Africa.

But Oliphant said just because a child was orphaned or vulnerable, did not mean he or she was adoptable. “Various alternative care options are explored.”

Tanya Farber and Poppy Louw

Leave a Reply