South Africa is a country with more than 2 million children who have been orphaned, abandoned or placed into child protection because their parents cannot care for them.
For an estimated 500 000 of those children, adoption is their only option for long-term family care, and to avoid growing up in institutions. But there are only about 1 200 adoptions in South Africa every year. And now new legislation could make those numbers drop even further. What should the response of the Church be to this ongoing crisis?
God is: “a father to the fatherless”, who “sets the lonely in families.” — Psalm 68: 5-6.
Jesus said that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” — Matthew 25: 40 NIVUK version.
One of the greatest tragedies in South Africa is how many children cannot be raised in their families. Some are orphaned, others abandoned and for others, factors like poverty, the breakdown of extended family support structures, absent fathers, and the ongoing legacy of apartheid mean that their mothers are unable to parent.
So what happens to these children? Traditionally they were raised by extended families and communities, and many still are.
But in some cases, family cannot be found or cannot assist. These children face an uncertain future spending their childhoods in child and youth care centres (CYCCs) or in temporary foster care.
Ongoing studies show that institutional care affects children’s emotional and intellectual development, prevents them from forming healthy attachments and leaves them without support when they “age out” of care at the age of 18 (a critical time for making major life choices).
But more than that, research shows that children thrive best in family care. For these children, the only hope of growing up in a permanent family is adoption.
However, due to factors including bureaucratic and administrative problems, adoption numbers in South Africa keep dropping. But while numbers have declined, the need for adoption has not. And now a proposed change to the Children’s Act could make adoption numbers plummet even further.
The Children’s Amendment Bill plans to scrap all adoption fees (this would include fees for social workers, medical practitioners who perform adoption medicals, therapists and attorneys).
If passed, the amendment would result in private adoption social workers closing their doors. The adoption process would also be seriously compromised because essential adoption processes like adoption medicals would be impossible.
Child protection organisations, who also do adoptions, would be reliant on inconsistent government subsidies to survive. It would be left to overworked and under-resourced government social workers to provide all future adoptions.
For more information about the impact of the Bill, watch this short video:
However, the Bill, which was gazetted more than a year ago, hasn’t been tabled yet, and it may need to be returned to cabinet before it can be debated by the Portfolio Committee for Social Development. If this happens, it is a very real opportunity for cabinet to rethink the Bill, and given its many flaws (which don’t just relate to adoption but also to foster care, early childhood development and guardianship), ask for it to be revised.
What can we do?
Christians can pray that the Bill is sent back to cabinet and for the cabinet to direct the Department of Social Development to change it before it is tabled. We also need to pray for wisdom for the portfolio committee who will be responsible for approving the Bill when it is finally tabled. The committee has shown a real concern about the children whose lives it will impact and can help ensure that their voices are heard.
Prayerfully and carefully consider adoption. For more information about how to adopt, see http://www.becomingamom.co.za/
Join those who are advocating for vulnerable children. South Africa’s needs policymakers and those applying the law to make decisions that are in the best interests of children. But the voices of children are seldom heard on critical life-changing issues.
This is an opportunity to lobby government on their behalf. For more information or to sign the petition opposing the Children’s Amendment Bill, visit: www.childrenmattersa.org
To learn more about the Bill and its probable impact on adoption and other areas of child protection, see:
“Robyn is a mom of four and a dedicated wordsmith with a background in social sciences, learning and strategic consulting. In 2012, after adopting her beautiful daughter, she opted out of corporate life, and now works as a children’s rights advocate with a special interest in adoption. She uses her many words to educate about children’s issues and motivate for changes in policy. You can find her at www.becomingamom.co.za”.