In light of the recent uproar about the killing of a protected lion in Zimbabwe, the recent LGBT court ruling in the USA as well as the stories breaking about the Planned Parenthood scandal this is well worth a read. Time to rather put the focus on the sanctity of human life – born and unborn.
The last few weeks marked an increase in incidences in South Africa of babies being abandoned. This is a very sad look into this reality in our country with several factors playing a role as well as our government’s inability to respond with appropriate action.
Clearly portrayed in this article is the fact that so many women falling pregnant with an unwanted child is not just because of her being negligent and cruel. It is hard to imagine the deep dark state of a mother’s mind to feel that abandonment is the only option, but obviously we do not understand the complexities behind this.
Abandoned children, SA’s dirty little secret
- ROBYN WOLFSON VORSTER
- 09 JUL 2015 10:10 (SOUTH AFRICAAround 3,500 children are abandoned in South Africa annually. News of yet another child found dead or left in a precarious position elicits strong public condemnation and emotion. Public consensus on the issue of child abandonment generally provokes a knee-jerk response to blame and demonise mothers. But despite our deeply felt beliefs, research has indicated that while abandonment affects individuals, it is often as a result of wider socio-economic factors and ultimately, politics.
Zanele’s baby was born two days before her sixteenth birthday. By then, the man who had impregnated her was long gone. Thirty years her senior and married, he seemed unperturbed by the fact that she was underage. He had seduced her, not as many would assume with jewellery or clothes but simply with the promise of safe transportation to and from school. They did not use contraception; he wouldn’t and rejected her attempts to do so, stating that it made her “taste bad”.
Not even the pregnancy had dismayed him. But he had been furious when, fearing judgement and infertility from her ancestors, she had rejected the idea of an abortion. It was the end of the relationship. At 15, she was pregnant and all alone. Her mother had passed away when she was three, her father was unknown and the aunt who claimed the foster care grant for her and her five siblings was distant and abusive. Her only other relative, a grandmother in her home town, was already caring for four grandchildren. Zanele feared that the shame of a baby would make her aunt cast her out and then, without support, how would she raise a baby and still finish her schooling?
In the end she sought help at a clinic in another town. The nurse lectured her for her stupidity at falling pregnant and warned her that she has no other option but to raise the baby. When she asked tentatively about adoption, the nurse told her that her ancestors would not forgive her for letting anyone outside of her family take the child, or change its identity, and that since she was underage, she would need parental consent for adoption anyway. Before Zanele left, feeling humiliated and vulnerable, the nurse told her not to consider leaving her baby at the clinic – “if you do, the security will come and find you” she laughed.
When the contractions began Zanele left school early, travelling alone with a pair of scissors and a plastic bag.The child, a boy, was born in an open field. She cut the umbilical cord, put him in the bag and placed him in a dustbin. In her confusion and fear, she told herself that one day she would return to claim him. She didn’t look back.
The next day, the newspapers trumpeted the story of a newborn left in a dustbin in Thembisa. The headlines were typically sensationalist, accompanied by scarce information reported in a matter of fact manner, along with stock photos of a pristine baby foot. There were no details of the child’s gender or whether it lived or died, simply the commitment that “police are investigating”.
In the online comments section, readers vented their disgust for the child’s unknown mother.“POOR, POOR LITTLE MITE. I hate and loathe the person who [did this to you]. She is a SAVAGE! I hope they catch the “Thing” who did this.” said one. Another: “Whyyyyy does this not surprise me?! Some just shouldn’t breed…….or breathe!!!! Rodents!” And yet another, “Any person involved with child abuse or abandonment of any kind should be subject to sterilisation”.
United in their vitriol and condemnation, they vilified both the act and the woman who committed it. Zanele (not a woman but in fact a child) was arrested and charged for concealment of birth and attempted murder. To date, no effort has been made to find the man who raped her and fathered her child.
Although Zanele’s story is based on actual events, it is easy to assume that it has been sensationalised. But nothing could be further from the truth. Both the reasons that she abandoned unsafely, and the response of the public, are painfully real. With an estimated 3,500 children abandoned annually, some variant of her story is being played out across the country every day.
South Africans increasingly don’t agree about much, so it is notable that almost everyone from government downwards, across class and racial divides, seems to hold a similar opinion about abandonment: it is the fault of sad, bad, mad mothers, too irresponsible or lazy to use birth control and too stupid or uncaring to put the child up for adoption or abandon safely.
The argument is plausible; it is impossible to think about abandonment without attributing some blame to mothers. But despite our deeply felt beliefs, research published more than a year ago shows that while abandonment affects individuals, it is in fact governed by wider socio-economic factors and ultimately, politics.
It was 2014 when Dee Blackie, a consultant to the National Adoption Coalition of SA, released her seminal report challenging all of our conventional viewpoints about abandonment. The key contributing factors read like a laundry list of all of our societal ills: poverty, the breakdown of traditional kinship support systems due to HIV/Aids and urbanisation, rape and statutory rape. The report also highlighted some more surprising influencers such as culture, anti-adoption practices on the part of government and state officials (for example nurses and social workers), and both the legislation governing who can place a child for adoption, and that which outlaws safe abandonment mechanisms like “baby bins”. The implication of the report was that no amount of condemning abandoning mothers was going minimise the practice. If we wanted to stem the tide, we would have to deal with much bigger issues.
A year later how much progress has been made? A recent spike in abandonments seem to indicate that despite the report being widely debated at the time, nothing much has changed since its release – either in the perception of the general populace, or in government policy and the practices of those applying it. Authorities have done little to counter or confirm the findings, seemingly unwilling to quantify or research the issue. We have to conclude that either government disbelieved the report, or it is in denial about the extent and causes of abandonment, or it has accepted the findings but lacks the political will to address them. Either way, the outcome has been an eye-watering number of senseless deaths, and for those who survive, complete separation from family, culture and tradition. We can no longer stand by and watch it happen.
In government’s defence, some of the factors influencing abandonment are not going to change in a hurry. Despite the stabilisation of HIV/Aids infections, our pitiful economic growth rate means that rampant poverty will continue, as will the crumbling of extended family support structures and kinship based care. But, are we so conditioned to accepting the permanence of our extreme socio-economic circumstances that we have stopped challenging factors that can and must be changed? Not all aspects of abandonment are immutable. If we are to minimise it, we urgently need to address two embedded practices: the irresponsible and sometime criminal behaviour of men, and government’s blatant anti-adoption stance.
The first ‘incontrovertible’ fact we need to contest is that men in this country will continue to rape or commit statutory rape,refuse birth control and then insist on an abortion, or abandon their partners after impregnating them; and that they will do so with impunity. This conduct is at the heart of the abandonment problem, but to date we seem to have lacked the political, legal and social resolve to challenge it. Even programmes designed to take on these practices appear misdirected – the 2012 ‘anti-sugar daddy’ campaign is an example. Run by the KwaZulu-Natal health department in an attempt to curb massive HIV infections among young women, it astonishingly targeted the girls themselves instead of the men that victimised them. Nor is this isolated.
When our president, Jacob Zuma, stood up in front of the traditional leaders in March of this year (in his now infamous ‘Robben Island’ address) he exclusively blamed girls for teenage pregnancies, which he termed “alien” to traditional culture. At no point did he address the men – often powerful, older and wealthy – who impregnated them, sometimes through rape or coercion. How different might things have been if he had criticised the perpetrators rather than the victims? And when last did we see a high profile rape or statutory rape case (especially one with a huge age difference) result in a guilty verdict and proper punitive jail time? Wouldn’t that go some way to curbing the practice?
Perhaps cultural beliefs play a role here too. While women seem frightened of being judged by their ancestors for having an abortion or placing a child for adoption, the men traditionally responsible for introducing their offspring to the ancestors appear able to facilitate abortion or abandon the mother of their child (and therefore the child) without fear of condemnation.
Regardless of why this behaviour endures, we can no longer accept its inevitability. Men in this country cannot be immune from consequence when lives are at stake.
Nor can our beliefs and policies around adoption – another area of national myopia – continue to be indisputable. Adoption is legal in South Africa, yet government has been quite transparent in recent times about it being both “unAfrican” and unnecessary. It is a conviction that underpins the way our legislation is applied but also (significantly in the case of abandonment,) permeates the advice given to women about their options when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. The argument is culturally based, that legally changing a child’s identity will separate him from his ancestors and bring him heartache and bad luck in life. It is so pervasive that government has openly favoured kinship care, foster care and even (although perhaps slightly less openly), institutional care or child headed households over adoption.
Government’s position has always been problematic, contributing as it has to our rampant orphan crisis. But now, eliminating adoption as a meaningful option is resulting in abandonment, and either the child’s death, or a complete and permanent disconnection from his familial and cultural roots. In ‘inadvertently’ promoting abandonment, government’s anti-adoption campaign is serving to alienate children from their culture and traditions rather than keeping them connected. We have to conclude that this policy, which has always been misguided, is now self-defeating too.
It may also be unconstitutional. South Africa’s Constitution provides children with the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation, as well as the right to family or parental care. It further states that any law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid. If we continue to justify policy that violates our Constitution, are we any better than the iniquitous pre-1994 government that used beliefs to excuse separate development and the resultant death of thousands of its people?
Surely it is time for government to put its cultural prejudices aside and change its stance towards adoption. Nurses and state social workers need to be educated so that they can actively promote adoption to women facing unwanted pregnancies, and the law needs to change. Abandonment can be mitigated by removing the age limit for consensual adoption (if a child is old enough to choose an abortion how can we say that the same child isn’t old enough to place a child for adoption?), and by re-evaluating the policy of deporting illegal immigrants who try to place a child for adoption. But if abandonment continues despite changes in law, then regardless of our beliefs, we need to acknowledge that doing so safely is the lesser of two evils. Shockingly, nurses and social workers often know that women are abandoning but like government, they seem proud of measures such as increased security at hospitals that prevent safe abandonment. In the end, our goal must be to save lives, which means both legalising baby bins and using them strategically.
And, it is time for some research, specifically into how often and where abandonment is taking place, how many are safe or unsafe and why, and how many children are actually dying. As with all denial, this lack of research has led to a functional blindness which means we are currently unable to manage the problem at a policy or practical level.
Policy makers and those enforcing social practices can no longer plead ignorance. Without these changes, it could be argued that they are just as culpable as the mothers who abandon their children, and the men who first abandoned them.
As a final note to the public: moral outrage is a valid response to abandonment but it doesn’t change anything. If you care about these tiny innocent victims, perhaps it is time to trade anger for activism. Champion adoption, support organisations lobbying government for a change in policies (like the National Adoption Coalition), join a movement like Choose to Care to aid women faced with an unwanted pregnancy, help educate healthcare workers about the advice they are giving, speak out against rape and sugar daddies and be a voice for abandoned children and desperate pregnant women in your community. Above all, it is time to face the problem head on and to remind government that there are things more “unafrican” than adoption and teen pregnancies.
As things stand, the headlines will persist, children will die in dustbins and toilets, in plastic bags and open fields and we will self-righteously continue to judge their mothers. But unless we are part of the solution, maybe, just maybe, their blood is on our hands too. DM
Good and helpful thoughts!
A good read about making the mental shift!
Very good read on thoughts around adoption out of an adoptees’s perspective.
What an Adoptee Wants You to Know About Adoption
Disclaimer: I am but one person with my own experience. Adoptees are human beings, so of course our feelings and experiences vary from black to white to every shade of gray. I cannot and do not speak for everyone, but will always stand up for everyone to have a chance to speak.
When I was a baby, I lived in a car for a time. My birthmother left me behind one day and did not return. I was adopted when I was a little over a year old. Adoption is how I came to be with my family. I know people in supermarkets and school registration lines always seem to have a lot of questions when they see a family that was obviously built through adoption, and I certainly get a lot about mine, so in case you were wondering and because I have shared it with people since I was very young, this is what I want you to know in response to years of questions.
1. Foster kids are not like the foster kids you see in the movies. Yes, I was in foster care for a while, but I do not have red curly hair, a really furry dog or a gang of plucky girlfriends who can sing. Foster kids are kids. They are not damaged goods. They are children who have endured hardships that many of us cannot imagine; children who deserve safety, security and love. There are thousands of these sweet faces who “age out” of the system at age 18, still without a family to call their own. We ALL need a family. At 42, though she is with God now, I STILL need my mom. I still want somewhere to go for Thanksgiving. I want someone who cares if I have taken my vitamins or who always has a place for me. Don’t we all? The difference is that you and I HAVE that. It’s likely we take it for granted. These children still want and need a family.
2. Adoptees have different feelings about their own adoptions. I have never questioned why my birthmother left me behind that day. I am thankful, and in a time when many say adoptees should not be and don’t have to be thankful, that is the best word I have for it. Adoption is where my family came from. Where my love and my life truly began. Some adoptees will always feel the loss of their biological family or the life they might have known and choose not to be “thankful,” and that is their prerogative.
3. Adoption is not something that should be a secret or something that anyone should be ashamed of. I think that is why it has never been a big deal for me. I have ALWAYS known I was adopted. It’s never been anything more than the way I came to be with my family. If you always know, then it just IS — there is never a feeling that someone kept something from you. For me, it is as normal as having a belly button; it has always just been there. If you are a parent through adoption, tell your child FROM THE START. Be honest and always keep the lines of communication open. And remember, an adoptee’s story is theirs. If you are a parent through adoption, you have a great responsibility to let it be that way, and strangers and even friends must understand that they may not know every detail.
4. Adoption is NOT a second-best choice for family building; it is just another avenue. Not everyone who adopts suffers from infertility. I assure you, though I was adopted and my sister was not, I was never second best. My mother was no less a mother, nor I less of her child, because I was adopted. I was no less of a pain in the butt through my teens or no less sweet and loving as a toddler. She was no less present and would have taken a bullet for either of us. The time, the attention, the love — all the SAME. I am not #2!
5. Some adoptees say, “I was adopted,” and others say they “are”; either way, we are many other things, as well. I do not wear a badge that says, “HELLO MY NAME IS MADELEINE AND I AM AN ADOPTEE.” I want you to know that I WAS adopted. I am a million other things besides an adoptee, and I am not defined by it. It is just ONE part of my story, just as it should be for all children of adoption. Please never refer to a child who was adopted as “the adopted child.” He or she is a child. In their mind, today, they might be a cowboy or a ballerina. When they grow up, they might be a doctor, a parent, a friend, a dog lover and a basket weaver. Let them be the million other things as well.
6. While it is not right to judge or to quantify what type of adoption is best, it will happen; others seem to always have an opinion. Whether it is foster care, domestic infant adoption or international adoption, if it was done to provide a loving home for a child, it is a good thing, and that is all that matters. No doubt parents through adoption will continue to be asked if they adopted from the same agency as Madonna or how much their baby cost, but people are curious, sometimes ignorant and other times just without manners. There will ALWAYS be people who judge you, whether it is regarding your sexual preference, choice of hairstyle, your neighborhood or how you choose to decorate your lawn for Christmas. People will judge, and adoption is no different. Remember: No matter how you built your family, YOUR family comes first — ignore other people’s judgments.
7. Some adoptees really need to find their birthparents to find closure, or maybe a new beginning — but not all. I have never met my birthparents and never have truly considered looking for them. This is what everyone seems to want to know about when they hear I am adopted. I am not a living Lifetime movie. I have been curious, but have never had the aching need to search. I hope my own birthmother has peace and even a portion of the happiness I have known in my life. Other adoptees seek out their birthparents out of a sincere need to create a relationship. Adoptees are entitled to whatever feelings about their adoption they have. We cannot be put in a box; adoptees are individuals and all have our own thoughts and feelings.
8. Parents’ words and reactions are important. Some children become available because of a loving, thoughtful choice by their birthparent(s) at birth, others because their parents have failed them in some way. Whatever the reason, if your children came to you through adoption, do not ever badmouth their birth family. Your child may feel it is a judgment on who he or she is if you do. If my mom was ever asked offensive questions, I never knew. Be the grace. And for heaven’s sake, if you are a family member or friend or just chatting with someone, please stop and think before you say something inappropriate in front of a child.
9. Real is not defined by biology. My Mom IS my REAL mom. She dealt with tears over math homework and finding prom dresses, and came running when I fell off my bike and picked the gravel out of my knees. She listened as I poured out my heart over the stupidity of teen boys and loved me beyond my biology. Mommies through adoption ARE real moms. Daddies through adoption ARE real daddies. Real in every way. REAL is not defined by DNA, it is defined by L-O-V-E.
10. Adoption is often predicated on some kind of pain or loss. The pain of a birthparent and whatever led them to placing their child. The trauma of a child who has known things in their life that no child should. The poverty and loss of life in other countries. These wounds are not caused by adoption; adoption is often the best solution to very difficult issues.
11. Parents: there is no voice on or about adoption that is more important than YOUR ADOPTEE’S. I think people make a much bigger deal about adoption than they need to. When I was growing up, it just WAS. I had my adoption day celebration each year and that was that. I knew my mom was there if I had questions and that she would be honest with me. We did not have to make a huge “to do” about it, though I know my parents would have done whatever I needed if I had needed more. It was not pre-determined that I would automatically suffer from any number of issues relating to my adoption. I was just a normal kid and sometimes I think even some parents through adoption have a hard time accepting that. If you are a parent through adoption, listen to YOUR CHILD, because ultimately, with all the voices you will hear about adoption, theirs is the most important. Let your child be your guide.
So, when you hear that someone was adopted, or notice because they look different from the rest of their family, know that so many of the stereotypes about adoption are not true. That we did not just step out of a made-for-TV movie. We are individuals and don’t all feel the same way. We are REAL people with REAL families, and there is so much more to us than having been adopted. And parents, love your child and meet his or her needs, adoption-related or not, because that is what parents do.
* This post first appeared on Huffington Post.
This post is another sobering look at the adoption situation in South Africa and how frustrating it is to deal with the bureaucracy and also the perceptions associated with adoption in this country. Going through our second adoption currently we can testify to how difficult it is to get the adoption and paperwork finalised. Siya has been in our family for 18 months already but we still do not have the documents finalised so that we can apply for his new birth certificate and passport.
Babies not for Sale. Or are they?
IT WAS a shock, turning on the radio recently and hearing a government official publicly questioning my motives for adopting my beautiful daughter. In an interview on Talk Radio 702 about the declining number of adoptions, the spokeswoman for the Department of Social Development declared defensively that “our babies aren’t for sale”.
The statement came days after our family finally concluded our long and arduous adoption process. Although dismaying, it didn’t come as a surprise — for us, the last three-and-a-half years have been characterised by a battle against the government’s hostility towards adoption.
While officials cite fear about trafficking as a reason for their adoption obstacles, millions of South African orphans are significantly more vulnerable to trafficking, poverty, abuse and neglect than my little girl. We are fiddling while Rome burns.
Across the globe, adoption is seen as necessary and socially beneficial, a permanent way of taking care of the world’s 153-million most defenceless children. SA seems to be a notable exception. Here, adoption is viewed with suspicion and, in some senses, it is considered to be un-African.
A nuclear family that does not respect the child’s origins is seen as no substitute for authentic community. The communal raising of vulnerable children is a valuable thing. But the flip side is that anyone wanting to care for a child in a way that removes him from his kin and culture, and legally and permanently changes his identity, is seen in a negative light.
This affects the likelihood of many children being adopted, even when that identity, kin and culture is unknown. It explains why, even though adoption is legal and apparently accepted in this country, the government seems to ascribe evil intent to anyone who tries to adopt — hence the “babies for sale” comment and the highly combative process.
Since we began our adoption proceedings in 2011, my husband and I have been vetted by social workers, psychologists, doctors, the police, the courts and, of course, government officials.
It has been checked whether we have a police record, whether we are on the National Register for Sexual Offenders, whether we are psychologically and physically well, whether our marriage is in good shape, and whether we are financially able to afford adoption. We have opened our lives, health, finances, history, relationship and mental state to an astonishing amount of scrutiny, and all at great expense.
But we did not pay money to buy a baby. Instead, we paid for all of the professional services required to approve us for adoption; we paid to ensure that our child was adoptable; we paid for the legal process of having the relationship confirmed; and we paid to have our child’s legal status changed.
Not that I am complaining: like most adoptive parents my view is that no matter how hard, combative and costly the process, I would do it all again — and more — for the joy of having my child. I find myself asking: if you wanted to traffic children, why would you join what must be one of the most highly monitored groups of people in SA and accept the wait and costs involved?
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that SA has more than 5-million orphans. The agency considers them to be particularly vulnerable to abuse and trafficking.…
THE government’s policy suggests a longing for a utopia that no longer exists because communal care is becoming financially and practically less viable. The reality is that traditional extended families and communities have been decimated.
“Kinship” relationships, underpinned by the notion of ubuntu, are still presumed to be keeping our children safe, but HIV/AIDS, poverty, urbanisation and the dispersal of families it brings have changed things. As long as adoption is discouraged, the government is dooming many orphans to institutional care, child-headed households, mistreatment, neglect and trafficking.
Given that millions of children are eligible, SA’s adoption figures are astonishing. They declined by about 50% from 2,840 in 2004 to 1,448 in 2014.
Nonetheless, the government appears to be offering community caregivers the foster care grant in support of their approach to managing orphans. This grant was never intended to be used for large numbers of children or to combat poverty, but it has now become something of an incentive — one that actively discourages legal adoption.
The foster care grant differs from other welfare grants in important respects. First, it is not a poverty alleviation grant so it isn’t means tested. Provided the child is poor, caregivers can receive the grant whether they earn R200 or R200,000 a month.
Second, it is a particularly large grant — R860 a month, more than double the childcare grant of R330.
Finally, as an emergency grant designed for short-term interventions in crises, it is intended to be paired with close and careful monitoring of recipients. But, given that well more than half a million South Africans receive the grant, and the ratio of social workers to recipients is very low, it is likely that monitoring is often nonexistent.
The grant is expensive, resource intensive (social workers must renew the court order for each recipient every two years) and, bizarrely, carries the inherent assumption that orphans are two-and-a-half times more expensive to care for than other children.
While many caregivers have good intentions, the fact that it cannot be effectively monitored means that the policy puts the very children it is supposed to protect at high risk. Yet, it remains the default grant for people caring for orphans.…
ADVOCACY groups began calling as far back as 2001 for the government to implement a means-tested “kinship grant” to relieve the pressure on the foster care system, and pay and oversee caregivers in a way that is more equitable and manageable. But, although plans for this new grant have been discussed, they have yet to materialise.
It is hard to miss the irony — people are benefiting monetarily from SA’s orphans, but not adoptive parents.
And who will raise abandoned children if adoption is not an accepted solution? No matter how committed and capable some communities are, the government’s approach does not cater for abandoned children whose families are in most cases unknown.
Current estimates are that about 3,500 children are abandoned annually. There has been little research, so the figure may be much higher. If officials remain opposed to adoption, not only privately but publicly, what hope is there for children who have been tragically labelled “weggooikinders”?
Society has changed and SA’s strategy for coping with orphans is simply not working. If it were, we would not have 5-million children deemed vulnerable to abuse and trafficking, we would have a plan for dealing with abandoned children and we would not need to financially incentivise community-based care for unparented children in a way that may collapse the foster care system.
Sadly, hindering adoption is not going to restore traditional African culture or reinstate universal, altruistic kinship care. The only likely result is that it will prejudice those who want to be part of the solution.
The government either needs to substantiate the claim and act accordingly, or it needs to back down, make the process less adversarial and start viewing adoptive parents for what they should be — partners in giving SA’s children hope and a future.
This post originally appeared on Business Day Live.
This is so true! No adopted child is “saved”, “fortunate”, “lucky” to be adopted so don’t advertise it!
This isn’t a fashion blog (wouldn’t that be fun!), but let’s talk about clothing. And I’m sure you’re wondering how this topic could possibly relate to adoption, but I promise it does.
I remember the first time I saw one. The lady was confidently wearing it and toting her transracially adopted child in her arms. And then I saw another one sported by a mom who was holding the hand of an unknowing toddler with black hair and dark brown eyes.
One Less Orphan was screen-printed on the first mama’s shirt. Just ADOPT! said the second mother’s tee.
With the same cotton fabric but with different texts and graphics, similar t-shirts say:
Save the children! (with a graphic of the country of China)
Orphan No More
147 Million Orphans
Expecting… (and then a graphic of Ethiopia… or China… or Korea…)
147,000,000 orphans… minus 1!
Change One Life
or a t-shirt that gives statistics of third world countries and then the words, Adopt One!
Before I write any further, I realize that the people who make and wear these pieces (or dress their kids in them) are likely coming from a place of love. They mean no harm. In fact, they are likely compassionate and creative and want to care for children just like you and I do.
But when I see these t-shirts, I cringe, recognizing the incredible amount of attention they put on adopted children. Just walk a day in the life of a transracially adopted child, and you’ll see he already gets copious amounts of attention given the mismatched appearance he has with his parent(s).
Then add the presence of one of the t-shirts, pushing him into the spotlight further and without his consent, and it screams, “THIS KID WAS AN ORPHAN!” It makes the child, even if unintentionally, the poster child for international adoption or for orphan care. Yes, the child instantly becomes an advertisement for adoption.
Beyond the issue of elevating the child as an ambassador for international adoption, these t-shirts connote far more than the actual words and graphics. Strangers and others start seeing the child as a service project. Or view the first grader as a charity case rather than a boy who likes Legos like his friends. Or perhaps others will believe the child is continually in need of saving or rescuing, given that the a-parents wear these t-shirts again and again and again. Some will fail to see the child as any other child but rather first as an orphan in need of pity.
And what comments and conversations do these t-shirts evoke?
Oh, you’re child is so lucky to have been adopted.
That poor, poor child. He’s so fortunate.
And to think she would have grown up in an orphanage without you.
You’re such an angel for adopting!
She was once so helpless and now she has you!
Thank goodness she could come to America.
I sure hope he grows up to know how lucky he is and what you went through to adopt him.
You can imagine how these comments and ensuing conversations might be internalized by the adopted child and how they may affect identity formation. That, however, could be a whole other blog post.
I understand that these shirts are worn proudly to raise awareness or to celebrate adoption and/or children. I recognize that proceeds for some of these shirts are used to feed and shelter vulnerable children, but could we think of other ways to accomplish these same goals — perhaps ones that do not dehumanize adopted children into numbers or charity cases in their presence? What an unnecessary and tremendous burden to put on adopted children, reducing them and their personal stories to pity, propaganda, and statistics.
I’ve surely stepped on some toes, but I urge you to consider what you might not have already.
Insightful article from an adoptee’s perspective.
This article, published in the Wall Street Journal, gives insight into the rising problem of baby abandonment in South Africa. As the article stated there are a number of reasons for this crisis. Thankfully there are many NGO’s working hard to provide anonymous drop-off points for moms that feel that they cannot look after the babies.
Another look at the current statistics in South Afrcia on this can be found here.
Updated Aug. 22, 2012 7:21 a.m. ET
JOHANNESBURG—South Africa, buffeted by AIDS and economic crisis, is grappling with a related issue, baby abandonment.
When police in Port Elizabeth confirmed earlier this month that they had retrieved a newborn boy, alive in a shoe box inside a plastic bag, it added to accounts of infants abandoned by mothers in toilets, flowerpots, railroad tracks, rubbish bins, sidewalks and city parks. Many perish. Others are left to hospitals, acquaintances or charities, as mothers seek ways to give better lives to children they can’t support.
The issue has spurred unorthodox private responses such as the so-called Door of Hope—akin to a library drop box where desperate mothers can leave infants to be retrieved by volunteers. The Door of Hope has been operated by a nonprofit group of the same name in Johannesburg for more than a decade. Since then, the group’s founder said that about a dozen similar programs have sprouted up across the country.
A Home for Abandoned Babies in South Africa
A house mother, Francinah Phago, tends to a baby at the Door of Hope. Abortion is legal in South Africa, but many religious communities, particularly those in rural areas, frown upon it. David Dini for The Wall Street Journal
“Babies are often left in places moms are hoping people will take care of them,” said Heidi Loening, a South Africa-based child-protection specialist with Unicef. “It’s the dilemma of ending a life.”
South Africa’s government doesn’t provide statistics on baby abandonment. But people who deal with the issue say it is rising as families that are already fractured by disease and poverty grapple with the fallout of the global financial crisis. South Africa was hit harder than most on the continent. Overall unemployment stands at 25%, and is much higher among the young.
According to one group, the number of abandoned babies fell from 2008 to 2009 but rose over the next two full years. Some 2,583 infants were abandoned across the country in 2011, up 36% from the year before, said the group, Child Welfare South Africa, a nongovernment organization that collected the data from 263 member organizations, including homes for infants and children.
Comprehensive global infant-abandonment figures aren’t available. Anecdotally, however, some fellow BRICS nations—Brazil, India and China—are also seen as particular problem spots, according to Shantha Bloemen, the chief of communication for Unicef in Johannesburg. Large portions of the population in such nations live in poverty, even as they are more acutely aware of better opportunities around them. But unlike in China and India, where rates of female abandonment are particularly high, South Africans abandon boys as well as girls.
South Africa’s government is devoting more funding to children’s and women’s shelters that aim to keep families together, according to social development minister Bathabile Olive Dlamini. For the 2013-14 year, the government has allocated what she said is a record $162 million for women and children’s shelters, and in funding to relieve the financial burdens of early childhood education.
Ms. Dlamini said her ministry has also tried to make the adoption process easier and quicker.
But the slower economy means fewer families can afford to adopt. Last year, about 2,400 babies in South Africa were adopted, down from 2,900 in 2010, according to the ministry. International families can adopt only once the government has determined that a South African parent can’t be found. Fewer than 10% of babies are adopted internationally.
Abortion is legal in South Africa. But many religious and traditional communities, particularly those in rural areas, frown upon it, as they do single motherhood. South Africa also has one of the world’s highest rates of rape; women often have difficulty bonding with infants conceived through violence. HIV-AIDS also has taken a particularly heavy toll on a generation of childbearing South Africans, often removing at least one parent from a family. About 18% of adults are HIV-positive, one of the highest rates in the world, according to Unicef.
The problems have led many women to the bright white hatch labeled Door of Hope, located steps away from a corner shop selling chilled drinks and cigarettes.
When a baby is placed inside the door, motion sensors trigger an alarm. Helpers check a live video feed of the box, where people also at times leave trash. Babies often arrive at night.
“We never judge the moms,” says Baptist pastor Cheryl Allen, who founded Door of Hope, which receives no government funding, in 1999. “Things are difficult here in the inner city. If the mothers stay with others, crying babies get them kicked out; they are orphans themselves.”
The group cares for babies until they are adopted, which can take up to year. Meanwhile, they are fed, cleaned and taken to medical appointments. HIV-positive babies are given antiretroviral drugs. The facility’s 54 baby cots are always full, say the home’s helpers.
The number of babies taken in at the home has more than quadrupled since its founding, from four per month to as many as 18.
Inside the home, there are sounds of cooing and crying. Volunteers “kangaroo” infants, wrapping them close to their chests to spark bonding.
Some South Africans, including social-development minister Ms. Dlamini, have raised objections to the use of baby doors, saying anonymous abandonment leaves children without any way of their tracing family or heritage.
Supporters say the hatches are a necessary option for women who might otherwise leave babies to die on the street.
Charmaine Coetzee says that in her case, she could neither bring herself to abort an unborn life nor take responsibility for the babies. So she left them to others.
Ms. Coetzee, now 40 years old, says that as a 19-year-old prostitute she gave her firstborn to a friend. A few years later, she said, an acquaintance raped her; she abandoned the twins at a hospital. Two years later, she said, she was a homeless alcoholic when the father of her fourth child proposed to her before he was killed in an alcohol-related car crash. She handed the baby to the boyfriend’s elderly mother.
Five years ago, as a homeless alcoholic, she arrived at a Johannesburg shelter seeking help. She has since taken a paid position there, doing laundry. Her face cracks into a smile when she says she is no longer an alcoholic, drug addict or sex worker.
Parts of Ms. Coetzee’s story were confirmed by Dr. Rebecca Walker, a volunteer at the shelter and a lecturer in anthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Ms. Coetzee says her four abandoned children, unlike herself, have all attended high school. Three of her sons speak to her occasionally by phone, she says. Her youngest refuses.
“I wanted the best for them, not for me,” said Ms. Coetzee, who is planning a trip to Cape Town to see them.
Last year, Ms. Coetzee had a fifth child.
“The baby was a second chance for me,” she said of her one-year old, Ruthie, whom she tries to spoil with new shoes and clothes. “I’m trying my very best with her. This time around, I will not fail.”
This video and the story behind it just brought tears to my eyes. Being reminded of the orphan crisis in Africa and what emotional and physical trauma many of these kids have to go through are unimaginable. With the current Ebola crisis in West Africa, Unicef also note the dire needs of these vulnerable children loosing one or both parents.