Abandoned Children, SA’s Dirty Little Secret

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

Around 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


Africa Day 25-05-2015



africa day


Today is Africa Day. I am as much an African as Siya is an African. I was born and raised here as my parents were born and raised in this country. I love South Africa deeply and dearly and although not unaware of the sad realities of poverty, abandonment, corruption, violence and inequality that millions of people face daily on this continent, I praise God that I can be rooted in this beautiful vibrant country. I will continue to pray for leaders to lead this country in honesty and integrity to the glory of His name and the upliftment of all people.

Babies not for Sale. Or are they?

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.

The Real Cost of Adoption – Speed Bumps vs Stumbling Blocks

Good insight into the current bureaucracy surrounding adoption in South Africa.

The Real Cost Of Adoption – Speed Bumps Vs Stumbling Blocks

speed-bump-appendicitisIt 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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
  4. 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.

Baby Abandonment – The Rising Crisis in SA

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.

In South Africa, a Grassroots Battle on Baby Abandonment

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.”

Fact Sheet on Child Abandonment in South Africa

This is quite a sobering look at the orphans crisis currently in South Africa. Several factors play a role in this, as discussed in this article. Apart from the cultural complexities involved the lack of qualified social workers is also a big problem.


The alarming increase of abandonment requires deeper research insights and understanding of cultural beliefs to stem crisis

[20 May 2014]: A new qualitative research study on child abandonment and adoption in the context of African ancestral beliefs in contemporary urban South Africa was released today by the National Adoption Coalition South Africa (NACSA) ahead of Child Protection Week.  Here is that document: Fact Sheet – Research on Child Abandonment in South Africa

The research undertaken by Dee Blackie, a consultant to the National Adoption Coalition of SA, is the result of an intensive, 1-year long research project that will provide NACSA with the understanding and insights needed to address the growing social crisis of child abandonment and declining adoption rates in South Africa.  Blackie’s fieldwork, conducted from March 2013 to February 2014, involved in-depth interviews and participant observation with young women experiencing unplanned pregnancy, women who had been apprehended for abandoning their children, community members, police officers, nurses and social workers, baby home managers and caregivers, adoption social workers, foster care and adoptive parents, psychologists and psychiatrists, legal experts, traditional healers and abandoned children (predominantly in Alexandra, Soweto and Tembisa).

“Child abandonment continues to rise in South Africa, but there is little to no understanding of this alarming social challenge.  This together with the increasing numbers of orphans due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic is placing extreme pressure on temporary care solutions such as children’s homes and foster care.  Adoptions have decreased by more than 50% over the past decade with research indicating that much of the decline is due to the implementation of the new Children’s Act in 2010 and what has been referred to as ‘cultural barriers’,” says Dee Blackie.

Contemporary South Africa has a number of the challenges associated with child abandonment including restrictive legislation, high levels of poverty, mass urbanisation and migrant labour, high levels of violence especially rape, gender inequality and diminishing family support.  All of these issues lead to the increasing vulnerability of young women in the urban environment and can result in child abandonment as a ‘survival strategy’ on the discovery of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.

Blackie’s research found that both child abandonment and the decline in adoption are influenced by indigenous African ancestral beliefs.  She found that some mothers and community members believe that, in the eyes of their ancestors, to abandon a child is better than formally relinquishing their rights as parents so that the child can be adopted.

The research found that ancestral beliefs play a significant role in child abandonment in South Africa. “Formally placing a child up for adoption is seen as a conscious act, and similar to the choice of abortion, amounts to the rejecting a gift that the ancestors have given you.  Many young women believe that the punishment for doing this could be extreme suffering and bad luck and in some cases, they believe they may even be rendered infertile as a result of their actions. Other circumstances such as depression, high levels of stress possibly due to how the child was conceived such as rape, or that she had been abandoned herself by the father of the child or her own family, which is often the case, are often contributing reasons for abandoning the baby.  In this instance, the mother can then sacrifice something to call her ancestors, and then when they appear, apologise to them at which point they could choose to forgive her,” explains Blackie.

“Adoption is also viewed with great concern as bringing a child with an unknown ancestry into a family is thought to cause problems for both the adoptive family and the child.  Most research respondents believe that a child who does not know their ancestors – the decedents of their father’s line – will live a difficult life and may also not be able to fulfil many of their traditional roles and rituals in their family.  These include paying damages for a child, paying lebola (to get married), celebrating big milestones such as matriculating, graduating or getting a new job.  Ancestors are also important for guidance and support, for understanding where illness may come from, and assisting a person in making important life decisions.

“Many black adoptive parents choose not to disclose that their children are adopted for fear of rejection from their extended family or community.  However, if this is discovered later on in life, it can cause high levels of trauma for the abandoned child” adds Blackie.

But the research also revealed that despite the negative perceptions of adoption, all of the sangomas (traditional healers) interviewed confirmed that they could assist a child who has been abandoned to find their ancestors.  They can also help a family who chooses to adopt a child, through a process called ‘ubigile’ or the announcing of the child to the ancestors.

“The sangomas believe that despite child abandonment being increasingly associated with postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, the only way to solve this issue is to fix it at a family and community level, rather than through the medication and counselling of the individual mother or child,” adds Blackie.

The comprehensive research will inform a number of initiatives planned by the National Adoption Coalition in their attempt to curb this growing social crisis.

Pam Wilson, spokesperson for NACSA adds:  “Getting to the heart of cultural and ancestral beliefs is crucial if we are to address this challenge by understanding the reasons behind high levels of abandonment and declining adoptions. It will inform and shape our messaging and approach, particularly as we are about to embark on a campaign specifically aimed at unplanned pregnancy and helping families to support the young women in their homes.  The research information will also be used to expand on the Coalition’s Community Engagement Programme specifically around option counselling for unplanned pregnancy to help young pregnant mothers to make informed decisions.  Finally, in support of the call by sangomas and traditional leaders, this year’s adoption conference planned for October, will focus on trying to find more culturally relevant approaches to adoption and other child protection strategies,” says Wilson.

During Child Protection Week 2014, the National Adoption Coalition will focus on the insights revealed from the research and use this as a basis to inform its actions going forward around the plight of South Africa’s adoptable children and provide accurate process information to birth and prospective adoptive parents, particularly around the issues of ancestry and cultural beliefs in South Africa.

* The whole article can be read here.

On the 90th percentile and sleeping – Siya at 5 months

Last week Siya turned 5 months and today marks 3 months since he came home!


We get asked frequently by people what it feels like to have Siya now. The answer? It just feels RIGHT. The other day I was browsing through old photos and I came across a picture of us with Nina and I immediately realised that this picture didn’t look complete. We are now a family of 4 and it is impossible to imagine life without Siya. I prepared myself that the transition to another child – but also a child of a different race would be very hard and tough. And though it definitely has had its challenges it really has been much easier than I anticipated.

Up until about 2 weeks ago our biggest challenge with Siya was his sleeping patterns and his love for a comfort milk bottle (or two!) during the night when we all so desperately want and need to sleep. This has had a snowball effect, he kept on waking up more and more frequently and also caused Nina to wake up with “not-so-ideal” effects. In the meantime he has been gaining weight rapidly. At 5 months he has nearly tripled his birth weight (which should only happen at around a year!), eating 3 meals a day. When he came home he was just on the 25th percentile of the growth chart, now he has jumped to the 90th!

With this in mind we realised we need to change things drastically or the problem would just escalate. I attended a Good Night Baby seminar 2 weeks ago and this gave me the right knowledge and tools to deal with this sleep problem. Safe to say we are all sleeping much better these past few days!

Every week that goes by with Siya we are filled with immense gratitude for this very friendly and happy baby! It is such a blessing to see his personality develop, the way he plays with his toys, his attachment to us, the look in his eyes when he sees De Wet entering the room and his fascination with his sister’s hair! He is easy going, and such a pleasure to have in our house!

Siya 5 maande 2

Above all we are reminded daily that God is good and gracious – always.

It Takes a Family

Family photo Siya

If it takes a village to raise a child it takes a family to love them. Not a sentimental love but a love that owns that child no matter what, a love that takes them in encircling them with bonds of care, a love that anchors their hearts with a deep sense of belonging. A love where children find rest, safe and secure, knowing they are wanted and loved without reserve.

We are very grateful for the special welcome and love Siya has received from our family. Bringing a child from a different race into our family, we expected apprehension and perhaps even disapproval. What a blessing, however, to see the way in which our families have embraced Siya into the family. We know it’s not easy and therefore their attitude and actions have been even more meaningful.

Grandpa Chris has embraced Siya in a particularly special way. For the first two family gatherings he has insisted on a whole new set of family photographs as part of Siya’s welcoming – a reminder to the broader family, and a special remembrance for Siya, that he belongs. On the day Siya was placed in our care Grandpa Chris made the following post on his Facebook profile that set the tone for the way the family welcomed Siya:

Facebook post

“Today we have a new grandson. At first glance, he does not look like us from the outside, but soon he will speak like us, laugh like us, eat like us worship like us. Yesterday, his biological mother gave him away and if I have my way, it will be the last time that someone has turned their back on him. In our family he will be raised in the fear of the Lord, he will receive a good upbringing and education, he will receive a lot of love and he will take up his own special place amongst his own family, his grandparents, his uncles and aunts and his cousins and nieces. 

A new life awaits him.

If you are on my friend list and this development makes you uncomfortable and causes inner turmoil, here is a handy window period to draw a line through your name on my friend list and quietly disappear without prejudice.”

To all our family: We have been wonderfully blessed by the way you have supported us with Siya’s adoption story. In a country where race divides, you have been exceptional examples that those divides can be crossed by family love. Through this experience we have only come to appreciate you more deeply than before – we cannot thank you enough! 

Coming home to a family is the longing we all have – A place of rest, a place of safety, a place of belonging, a place of love. Earthly families can be a foretaste of that special joy. A reminder that there is an eternal family where the deepest most profound love binds people together for eternity – not by blood or race, but by the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of our God and Father.

Siya has been blessed with grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces who welcomed him and who love him. Our prayer is that in time he will come to know the Father from whom every family in heaven and earth gets its name (Eph 3:15) and his Son who paid the price to draw us into God’s eternal family.

Siya – the first few days

A snapshot diary of our first 3 days with Siya!

Thursday 10:30

Siya let loose into our care. A special thank you to New Beginningz Baby Haven for taking care of him for his first 9 weeks of life! This is a special place with special people taking care of special little people who have nowhere else to go. A big thank you also to our social worker, Letitia van den Berg, who facilitated the whole process so smoothly.

Thursday 16:00

Many welcome hello’s to Siya from family and friends!



Friday 09:00

Nina is loving up little brother Siya! Family day at home. Getting settled with each other.


Saturday 16:30

Van Zyl family day to welcome little Siya – thank you so much. It means more than words can say!


Sunday 15:30

Swanepoel family day to welcome little Siya –  thank you so much. It really means more than words can say!


It’s been 3 days since Siya came home and so far so good! He is a relaxed baby and is getting used to the new home and new routine. Nina is super-excited about having a baby brother to look after. We are grateful for the way she is handling her new sibling. God has been gracious to us!

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