Originally appeared in the Sunday Times on 8th March 2015
Written by Redi Tlhabi
I AM so angry and broken. I look at my little girl, who is 16 months old. I watch her lurch forward, unaware of the dangers below or ahead, but confident that someone will be there to catch her and protect her from harm.
I hear her when she cries; often, it is not a real cry, it is just a loud pronouncement: "I need you." She cries because she is sure someone will respond.
It pains me that so many children will not experience this undivided devotion and nurturing.
A few days ago, The Times reported that adoptions declined by about 50% in South Africa over the past decade, from 2 840 in 2004 to 1 448 last year. The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa, formed in partnership with the Department of Social Development, attributes this sharp decline to several factors, including legislative challenges, red tape, documents going missing and cultural beliefs.
In a country where child abandonment, rape, abuse and neglect are high, these figures are disturbing. It is particularly frustrating when there are parents who are desperate to take care of these children. But they very often cannot, because of artificial obstacles.
The department will dutifully argue that the process of adoption is cumbersome precisely because it is designed to protect children and ensure an exhaustive vetting process. We should all support a methodical system that ensures vulnerable children are matched with parents who will love and nurture them.
But I don't believe the department is doing this for the children. It claims there are faults on adoption documents and that there is a shortage of prospective adoptive parents. Even the meticulous would-be adoptive parents who have ticked every box are frustrated.
The department's spokeswoman, Lumka Oliphant, inadvertently let slip the real reason why the adoption process is frustrating: paranoia and politics.
She said the adoption of babies should not be commercialized. "Our babies are not up for sale."
Our babies? The same ones who are neglected and molested? The same ones who roam the streets begging for food? The same ones who write to radio stations, desperate for The department cannot get away with untested assertions funds to pursue their studies? The same babies who are in orphanages and homes that constantly make desperate appeals for funds, food and educational material?
How well is the government doing in taking care of "our babies"? When "our babies" get clumped in dustbins and drains, it is the NGOs and private citizens who roll up their sleeves and get involved.
This is a gift — to have citizens who care enough to do something.
Instead of treating them with suspicion, the government should be welcoming this generosity and activism.
The department's statement about the "commercialization" of adoption is reckless. It stigmatizes loving and sincere adoptive parents who are desperate to have a child. It also locates them in the same category as child traffickers — a very serious crime.
For this accusation to be afforded any merit, the department would have to advance empirical evidence that a major percentage of the victims of child trafficking are adopted children. It would have to show us figures that there is a causal link between adoption and commercial gain.
This is a serious allegation and the department cannot get away with innuendo and untested assertions.
It must go further and prove that adoptive parents have made money from adopting these children. I suspect that if it bothered to follow up on the outcomes of adoption, it would find the majority of children thriving, safe and sound, in loving homes.
Unless there is concrete proof that the majority of children who are victims of abuse, rape, child labour and trafficking were adopted for that purpose, then the department's allegations must be seen as scurrilous and defamatory.
A real pity in a country so desperate for model citizens, raised by loving and caring parents.