The resemblance is disarming – uncanny; same cheeky brown eyes; same full cheeks; a smile that arrests. Though just a baby, there is absolutely no doubting who her mother is; they are in for a lifetime of fun and mischief these two live-wire ladies.

Their life – their family – is complete. For years they had battled to conceive and then – boom! The phone rings. It is a beautiful baby boy. The extended family gathers to celebrate; their ranks have been swollen by one very handsome young chap.

He dotes on his little princess completely. “Daddy’s girl” does not come close to describing the love the two of them have for one other. She follows him wherever he goes; trailing him like a shadow. He would die for her.

These stories of children and their families have two things in common; they are all true and they are all adoption stories. They speak of the miracle of children who begin life unwanted and unloved – figuratively and sometimes literally relegated to the scrap-heap of life – and who go from zero to hero in the space of just a few months.

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Adoption – whilst being the miracle that it is – is one of those things that, as a society, we are just not talking enough about

Yesterday was World Adoption Day but who would have known – or cared. Adoption – whilst being the miracle that it is – is one of those things that as a society we are just not talking enough about. The upshot is that just 1 400 adoptions happen nationally in South Africa each year. Why? Why when it transforms young lives to this extent; when it transforms whole families? Why do we not see more of our nation’s most vulnerable children adopted into loving families?

There are two main reasons for this: Firstly, adoption is still viewed by many as ‘plan b’ for those who cannot conceive biological children. Actually it is usually not even viewed as ‘plan b’ but an absolute last resort after an array of very costly medical procedures.

But fertility issues are extremely complex and it is critical that we do not negate the complexity of these when discussing adoption.

Adoption may not be for everyone, but everyone should consider adoption

We have come to advocate through our NGO and the work of The Baby House that, whilst adoption may not be for everyone, everyone should consider adoption. The questions we ask ourselves and our partners at some point in our relationships: Do I want children? How many children would I like? How many children would you like? To these questions should be adde: if we can’t have biological children, will we adopt? If we can have biological children will we grow our family through adoption? Will we have one and adopt one? Will we adopt first or have a biological child first? This broadens the issue of adoption and places it into our collective consciousness.

Adopt to parent, not to save

Yet it must also be added that adoption is not so much an act of salvation as an act of love; we adopt to parent not to save. When we begin to see all children as “ours” rather than as yours and mine, we begin to care a little less about how/through whom they came into the world. They are here and they need love; they need care; they need families. When they do not have these things we – as members of humanity rather than those who can or cannot conceive – must give that to them. This requires a big shift in our collective mind-set.

The second reason why more children are not adopted is that those who are responsible for facilitating adoptions do very little to promote adoption – either through advocacy or even through making adoption a user friendly experience. Virtually every adoption case we assist with as an NGO involves a fight; a fight with the social worker; a fight with the Child and Youth Care Centre where the child is being cared for; a fight with the Department of Social Development; a fight with the courts. Literally every time a child is adopted – one of the approximately 2,5 million kids who would benefit from adoption in South Africa – we celebrate because it was never a dead cert that the story would end well for that child.

And the frustrations experienced by prospective adoptive parents, as well as the crisis facilities caring for the children, can often be enormous. It was out of this frustration – being approached by literally dozens of prospective adoptive parents who had been let down by the system – that as an NGO we established a division called The Adoption Companion. This is a free service that tackles the issues raised above. The service is a knowledge bank providing people with information about adoption and ‘holds their hand’ through the process making it a joyful experience rather than a dreadful one.

So, if you would like to know more about adoption or you would like to get involved in the orphan crisis please be in touch on info@peaceagency.org.za

This piece was first published in The Mercury.