The research, undertaken by Dee Blackie, a consultant to the National Adoption Coalition of SA (NACSA), is the result of an intensive, 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.
Statistics on child abandonment in South Africa:
â?¢ Child Welfare SA estimated that more than 3 500 babies were abandoned in SA in 2010.
â?¢ There are no current statistics detailing the number of children who are abandoned in South Africa on an annual basis, but most child protection organizations believe that the numbers have increased significantly over the past decade.
Why African ancestral beliefs do not support adoption
Research findings revealed the following beliefs expressed by African mothers:
A review of African ancestral beliefs indicates that the ‘Western’ practice of adoption, where unrelated children are incorporated into families in a form of ‘created kinship’ is viewed as problematic in this social environment.
â??It would take years before there was a flexibility of mind about adoption among most South Africans. We would have to have a big indaba [meeting] before it could be accepted.
Ancestral spirits look after their relatives and no-one else. In our religion, in our culture, this thing is ring-fencedâ? (Jabulani Mphalal, KZN Commissioner for Traditional Leadership Disputes and Crimes, IOL 21/02/2014)
â??Adoption is not an option as it is believed that the child is born spiritually linked to rituals peculiar to that ancestry, and a cross-pollination of rituals will anger the childâ??s ancestors and cause all sorts of misfortunes for the child, including sickness and diseaseâ? (The Times 20/01/2012)
â?¢ Some mothers and community members believed that, in the eyes of their ancestors, to abandon a child was in fact better than formally relinquishing their rights to it, so that it can be adopted.
â?¢ Formally relinquishing oneâ??s rights to a child is seen as a conscious act and in the eyes of their ancestors: this would amount to rejecting a gift that they have given to them.
â?¢ They believed that the punishment for doing this could be extreme suffering and bad luck and in some cases a woman may even be rendered infertile – a major blow when you consider how important fertility is in determining a womenâ??s value at marriage through the process of lebola or the paying of bride price, which is still a common practice in SA.
â?¢ If a woman abandons a child, however, she can always say that she was not herself at the time, that she was suffering from high levels of stress, possibly due to how the child was conceived (i.e. through rape) or that she had been abandoned herself by the father of the child and or her parents (which is often the case).
â?¢ In this instance, the mother can then sacrifice something to call her ancestors, and then when they appear, to apologise to them at which point they could choose to forgive her.
â?¢ Abortion and adoption were both viewed with a great deal of mistrust, and both amounted to rejecting a gift that God or your ancestors have given you.
â?¢ Foster care was seen as a far better solution as it allowed a mother to leave her children with someone until she felt ready to take care of them.
â?¢ The abandoning mothers, in this study, had all been subjected to many years of poverty and abuse, most of them had been raped at some point in their lives.
â?¢ None could tell me why they had abandoned their children, but all appeared extremely disconnected from their child at the time of the abandonment, and believed themselves and their children to be at the mercy of fate.
â?¢ None saw themselves as perpetrators of child abandonment, but rather as victims of their particular situation, making them feel disempowered, angry and depressed.
There is much coverage of the declining rates of adoption in South Africa, sometimes associated with the implementation of the new Childrenâ??s Act, but most frequently with â??cultural barriersâ??.
Cross race adoption is a contentious issue
Cross race adoption is also stated as being a contentious issue, with many adoptive parents sharing experiences of judgement and discrimination from social workers, the Department of Social Development, and from society at large.
International adoption is treated with a great deal of mistrust, with most concerns stemming from a belief that the adopted child will experience a â??loss of cultural rootsâ? and that their welfare will not be a priority in the receiving country (Pretoria News 09/12/2011).
The notion of Ubuntu is conflicted in its reference to adoption in the media, Government and NACSA both refer to it as a means to deal with the rising crisis of orphaned and abandoned children, however, it is also stated as a reason for black parents rejecting adoption as an option, due to the child being from a different and unknown bloodline.
How the law makes adoption a complicated option for mothers
Abandonment and adoption are governed by the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, one of the largest pieces of legislation to be created under our new constitution in SA.
â?¢ Illegal immigrants are unable to legally place their children in the formal child protection system in South Africa, and face deportation should they try.
â?¢ Relinquishing one’s parental rights so that a child can be adopted, can only be done without a legal guardianâ??s consent from the age of 18 years, making this option inaccessible to teenage mothers. However, a child of any age can request an abortion in South Africa sending mixed messages about the option of adoption.
â?¢ Anonymous child abandonment has been criminalised, with mothers facing a range of charges such as concealment of birth and attempted murder.
â?¢ Baby safes are considered illegal in terms of the Children’s Act: however, these are being opened up more frequently given the increase in abandonment.
â?¢ Child protection experts voiced concerns that the Act is being used as a tool to prevent adoption rather than to facilitate it by both the Courts and the Department of Social Development.
â?¢ Many abandoned children are believed to not even make it into the formal child protection system, as they are absorbed into communities through ‘informal adoption’, raising concerns around issues such as child trafficking.
No statistics exist, but a review of reported abandonments indicates that:
65% are new born.
90% are younger than a year.
70% of abandonment sites cited are unsafe.
The number one mentioned site of abandonment is toilets, drains, sewers and gutters
The majority of abandoned children are thought to die, however, again no formal statistics exist:
â??These babies in dustbins, gutters, dumpsâ?¦ who are aborted or miscarried new-borns being disposed ofâ?¦ are becoming a large part of â?¦undetermined deaths [of young children] in Gautengâ?, and abortions are â??the leading external cause of death in 2009 for children aged zero to fourâ? (Professor Jeanine Vellema, Gauteng Forensic Pathology Service, Pretoria News 05/11/2010).
Of the 200 abandoned babies found in Johannesburg and Soweto monthly, only 60 are found alive (The Star 02/05/2012).