Cape Town - A French couple who fought for nine years to be able to start a family through adoption may be forced to leave South Africa without their adopted sons.
David, 42, and Vincent, 40, arrived in the country on March 21 to finalise the adoptions of two boys, aged 2 and 14 months, and on April 2 became their parents.
Their full names are being withheld to protect the identities of the boys.
Delays by the Department of Home Affairs, in noting the adoption orders and in issuing unabridged birth certificates for the children, with their new names, identity numbers and adoptive surname, mean that the family cannot return to their home near Paris and are in limbo in South Africa. The documents are required for travel to France.
South Africa’s new immigration regulations, which came into effect on May 26, have made the couple’s case more pressing.
Their attorney, Debbie Wybrow, said David and Vincent’s visitor visas would expire on June 19.
If they didn’t have the boys’ new birth certificates before then, they would have to leave the country without the boys or stay illegally and, under the new regulations, risk being declared “undesirable persons”.
“Home Affairs offices are no longer accepting applications for extensions of visitor visas. The new visa processing offices will be opening in Cape Town on June 20, but that does not help us because their visas run out on the 19th,” said Wybrow.
She said she had been in frequent communication with the French consulate and ministry of international affairs, which were sympathetic to the plight of the boys.
On Friday, she said the Department of Home Affairs had been given written notice that an urgent court application would be brought against it on Tuesday if, by noon on Monday, it had not not confirmed in writing that the birth certificates for the children as well as for a child adopted by a family from the US would be issued and available by noon tomorrow.
The application for the birth certificates for the two boys was made on April 11 and while the younger boy’s application was a bit more complicated because his birth mother was not born in South Africa, Wybrow said the application should have been processed by now.
She said more than 100 calls had been made to Home Affairs.
She had applied for unabridged birth certificates for her own children at the same time and these had been received within days.
“There is a great deal of opposition to adoption. It is inconceivable that the department refuses to note orders of adoption properly obtained in court in full compliance with the Children’s Act and The Hague Convention.
“These children have gone through so much. They have the incredible opportunity to grow up within the permanency of family, but – despite their rights in terms of the constitution of South Africa and international law – they are being denied the documents necessary to prove their identity after adoption. In consequence, these children are being denied their right to family life.
“Adoption has created this new family unit. Unless the Home Affairs documentation is issued, this family may be separated, with devastating consequences for all and most important these two little boys.”
David said that Vincent, a psychologist, should have been back at work at the beginning of June.
“Our families are waiting to meet the children and haven’t seen us in months. We have prepared their bedrooms and they have a playroom waiting for them.”
David said it was difficult for a same-sex couple to adopt in France. They had begun the process nine years ago.
“In France if you want to adopt from a foreign country your only choices are Brazil and South Africa.
“We have a very special feeling for South Africa. We had a civil union here and we were here twice after that.
“It took a long time, but once we saw the boys all those years were just forgotten. It was just magic.”
Wybrow said the American couple, in respect of whom a notice was also issued on Friday to Home Affairs, were in a similar situation.
The couple have three of their own children.
They had been to South Africa on honeymoon and had fallen in love with the country. It was then that they decided to adopt a South African child and had started the process three years ago.
The father – who chose to be anonymous because he was “worried that there would be punishment from Home Affairs for speaking to the press” – his wife and three children have been in South Africa for more than two months. Their visas expire at the end of the month.
The father has been forced to take his paternity leave as well as his leave days.
He said the Department of Home Affairs had been “not very helpful at all” and believed it was “violating his son’s Constitutional rights”.
“This is more than highly objectionable, I think it’s illegal to do this to a child, to a four-year-old former orphan,” he said, adding he was also waiting for the adoption to be sorted out.
“He’s 4 years old, he can’t do anything alone because he’s a child. This is happening in real time for us. We’re trying to work on it, but it’s apparently not a high priority for government officials… this is a huge problem. It’s not just a delay.”
The US consulate is aware of the family’s difficulties.
The father said that if the high court application didn’t succeed, they would approach the US embassy, citing extreme hardship and human rights violations.
“If they say yes, we’ll pack up and go home. If they say no, then I don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “I’m not going to leave a child of mine all alone in another country.”
Home Affairs didn’t respond to requests for comment.
New rules make life tough for foreigners
By Anne Steele
Section 46, which dealt with Immigration Practitioners, has been repealed and all visa applicants will now have to apply in person from their home country. Only renewals or extensions can be made in South Africa.
All permits (visitor, work, study) will be called “visas”, except for the permanent resident “permit”.
According to Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, this is meant to distinguish between short and long stays in the country.
Children must now have their own passports.
Foreigners on a visitor or medical treatment visa must leave the country to change their status.
Study visas will last the duration of the study or course.
A critical skills work visa has replaced the quota work permit and exceptional skills work permits.
Foreigners who intend to establish or invest in an “undesirable” business undertaking will not be issued business visas.
In order to be issued a business visa, a foreigner must employ 60 percent South African citizens or permanent residents. (The previous requirement was five persons.)
Foreigners who overstay a “prescribed” number of times will no longer be fined, but will be declared “undesirable”.