“As we become more attuned to the Gospel, we’ll have more of a burden for orphans”
“As we become more attuned to the Gospel, we’ll have more of a burden for orphans”
“When children are adopted, they are no longer an orphan or statistic. They are sons and daughters.”
Good to know these statistics. How can it not make a difference in how we feel and act on this global crisis?
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.
“Theologically, adoption is a non-negotiable gospel principle, for no one comes to the Father as a natural-born child. Practically, adoption is the most despised gospel principle, because in our prideful self-agggrandizement we feel entitled to gospel grace. Somewhere in the crossfire of this are orphans, image bearers of a holy God, waiting for the people of God to show up.’
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
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.
Good insight into the current bureaucracy surrounding adoption in South Africa.
The Real Cost Of Adoption – Speed Bumps Vs Stumbling BlocksIt seems adoption and the challenges contained in the processes have been in the spot light lately. Several articles, opinion pieces and radio shows have highlighted the challenges currently faced. The latest such article entitled Babies “not for sale” who will love these innocents? inspired me to throw my proverbial weight into the mix.
The article, for me ,hits the nail squarely on the head. It brings home the message that we need to protect children, we need to establish processes and practices that have at their core a desire to place a child into a forever family as quickly as possible, while not forsaking the need to make sure that the child’s past, current and long-term needs are taken into account. Picking a family for a child cannot receive the same scrutiny as what colour paint should be used to brighten up the north facing lounge wall, but it also cannot receive scrutiny that is artificially prolonged or justified because of a governments inefficiencies and lack of focus. To throw a dart into a board covered with adoptees as a process of picking a new family can be just as dangerous as an official expressing some god complex in his uninformed-opinionated-thought process when deciding if an adoption should be finalised or not. The whole process has actually very little to do with us, our ego’s, flippant comments or second-hand-I-know-someone-who-told-me-something-theories. IT IS ABOUT A CHILD WHO NEEDS A MOMMY AND A DADDY!
The numbers speak for themselves, fewer children are receiving forever families! We can play the name game, we can justify our stance with a desire to curb child trafficking, rape etc, we can profess that there aren’t enough families willing to adopt, we can even get the spin doctors in the mix and have them weave a tale of deceit and corruption blaming the situation on inaccurate reporting and misconstrued facts.
Here’s a couple of facts for the powers that be to chew on while a child somewhere out there spends another afternoon in the care of yet another volunteer as she goes from child to child, trying her best to nurture and be attentive to the 30 or so children in a home realising she has 2 hands, one body and limited time and resources.
- Our first adoption order was granted in a month, by an amazing Magistrate. Professional, thorough and so supportive of the idea of giving a child a home. I know of several other situations where just the court date has taken months, some have yet to be graced with the opportunity to have their documents scrutinised.
- Our second adoption is currently under way, the police clearance has taken around 10 days and our form 30 took under a month. Why is it others are waiting 6 months to a year?
- I have a beautiful black son, and soon a daughter. Some Magistrates openly declare that they want the black child to go to a black family. These gifts to humanity eventually run out of stalling tactics and the child gets a home, but the damage has been done as the process had nothing to with the best interests of a child. Instead we see a public servant parading opinion as fact, all the while, relying on nothing other than simple-minded prejudice; and
- I applied for my son’s new birth certificate last year July, as of today, there has been progress in finalising the matter but I am still waiting for someone in Pretoria to push this mystical button that is obviously mind numbingly difficult to push, which will allow my local home affairs department to print out the certificate. Yes that’s right, everything is finalised, all we need is someone to check a box which enables another person to click print. But it’s ok, because I am comforted by the fact that it’s a difficult challenge to navigate for them, otherwise it might get frustrating.
While departments, magistrates and officials play the mine-is-bigger-than-yours game, a little child sits, at best, in the corner of a home, surrounded by other similar children and their caregivers. They sit and play looking around for mommy or daddy, looking for permanence, looking to belong. Don’t worry sweetheart, it will happen soon, or at least it would if you were seen as a priority!
South Africa, we are failing our children! With every hungry tummy, lonely heart and abandoned child, we are nailing the lid on the coffin of our future. Our systems are too slow, too inefficient and too cumbersome. There are some amazing social workers, magistrates and government officials who are going to war against the disease of orphanhood, tirelessly waging a daily war against the notion that some children won’t have a family. These silent warriors are having their light and energies snuffed out by a system that promises what is best for the child, all the while, employing and retaining people who not only fail to uphold this ideal but flagrantly drag knuckles heels and whatever else they can in an attempt to do as little as possible for as long as possible, under the auspices of process, best practice and following protocol. You know where you can stick your protocol don’t you!
We can never stop working towards and engaging with the need to do what is best for each of these children. We cannot succumb to an approach where would be families are not scrutinised, but evaluated. We should never think of giving children away to anyone who feels the need to raise their hand without first checking whether they will be able, as best they can, to uphold the need to do what’s best for the child. I say, check, equip, screen, support and even charge for the service. But once a family has equipped themselves as best they can, shown a desire to become a forever family and welcomed a new son/daughter into their hearts, surely it would be best to expedite every other process so finality can be found and this new family can begin to do life together.
So in conclusion, speed bumps are great, they slow things down, help us navigate the terrain safely and with a better awareness of what lies ahead, while still allowing definite forward progress. Stumbling blocks on the other hand, prevent, frustrate and eventually cause movement to stop, and with that, lives, hopes and dreams.
What are your thoughts?
* This was posted originally here.
“We care for orphans not because we are rescuers, but because we are the rescued.”
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.