While the number of orphans has increased by more than 30 percent in the past decade, the number of adoptions in South Africa is decreasing annually.
This means an increase in orphaned and vulnerable children without permanent and loving homes. Some reasons include the complexity of the adoption process, which is putting prospective parents off, the high cost involved in applying through a private adoption agency, and resistance from black communities where “stranger” adoption is not the cultural norm.
Katinka Pieterse from Abba Adoptions said estimates showed there were more than two million children who may benefit from adoption. This number reflected those at risk and who are already in the system.
However, she said, the number of adoptions was about 2 000 annually, with adoptions registered per year in the country on the decline. “During 2013/14 there was a decline of 250 adoptions compared with the previous year. This includes the number of intercountry adoptions facilitated in South Africa, which is about 150 cases a year.”
- Of the 18.5 million children, 4.5 million lived with neither parent.
- 150 000 children live in 79 000 child-headed households.
- More than 13 000 live in residential facilities.
- About 10 000 live on the street.
- Around 600 000 children are in foster care.
- Last year, more than 11 million children registered for child support grants and more than 500 000 for foster grants.
Pieterse said according to the register of adoptable children and adoptive parents, there are 300 parents for 450 children. She said the majority of adoptive parents were white while most of the adoptable children were black.
However, this is starting to change. “We have seen a gradual increase in the number of black South Africans interested in adopting, which is very positive. We have been working hard to raise awareness and recruit more adoptive families across the races. There are many children who will enjoy the right of being part of a family through adoptions.”
Pieterse said the many pregnant girls and women in crisis, who have no support or income, would benefit from considering the adoption option.
Ruth dos Santos is programme manager at The Peace Agency, which runs the Adoption Company. It works in crisis care as well as with orphans and vulnerable children. She said it provided information and resources to families wanting to adopt, guiding them in the process.
“Last year we helped more than 50 families and have reached more than 300 people through our adoption 101 workshops. Adoption 101 is held every three months to reach communities to consider adoption as part of plan A and not plan B. We want to educate the public on adoption and normalise it to the point where families consider having one biological child and adopting one.”
She said applicants must be over the age of 18, fit and able to be entrusted with full parental rights and responsibilities. People can adopt jointly as husband and wife, life-partners or as a single parent.
“There are many children who should be made eligible for adoption but are not because of complicated circumstances that stem from cultural differences. The majority of the adoptable children are black, with fewer coloured children, even fewer Indian children with white children a rarity in adoption circles.
“But cross-racial adoption is a reality in South Africa which needs to be dealt with sensitively but also realistically.”
Dos Santos said adoption was a wonderful opportunity for prospective adoptive parents and potential adoptees to benefit and she urged prospective parents to adopt because of this, and not to “save” a child.
“We adopt to be a parent, not to save a child, like a superhero, from a potentially bad life. No matter the race, gender or background of the child, the needs are the same, to be loved and give love. Through adoption people receive as many, if not more, rewards through parenting an adopted child as the child receives through being made a member of a new, loving family.
“It is up to us to be the change we wish to see. Adoption is one way in which we as citizens can have the biggest impact on our future, one child at a time.”
High school sweethearts Brent and Zeldy Grimsley moved from Bloemfontein to Durban nine years ago. Though they admit it was strange for an Afrikaner couple from the Free State to adopt a black child, they believe that it is a sign that South Africans are changing.
Brent, a chiropractor and Zeldy, a quality and technical manager, said their 17-month-old daughter Amber Rose has changed their lives. She is their first child although they hope to adopt a brother for her in the next few years.
Brent said: “We always had a calling to adopt; we had a heart for orphans. It was a bit of a shock for our families when we told them we were adopting. But once they met her, their hearts melted.”
Zeldy said Amber was their child even though she looked different from them.
“She was abandoned with a street vendor in the Berea when she was two days old. Her birth has not been registered and we have no history of her family.
“We set a new record in KZN, 47 days after applying to child welfare to adopt, Amber came home to us. We had to speed-shop to get our home ready for a one-year-old,” she laughed.
“She has taught us so much. It is no longer about us but all about her. She is the priority in our lives.”
Zeldy said while people stared and others asked questions, they have had no nasty experiences.
“Some black elders have come up to us and said that they want to honour us for helping raise children with no parents. If she wants to know about her culture when she is older, we will support that. For now, her culture is our culture, our faith is very important to us. We are teaching her Afrikaans and English while her carers speak isiZulu to her.”
Brent said that they hoped to adopt a brother for Amber in a few years’ time, which would complete their family.
“The love was instant, from the first time we saw her we knew she was our little girl. It was a special moment the first time she called us mom and dad.”
Kirsten and Matt Shearer from Hillcrest believe God destined that their family would look a bit different from others with the addition of their four-year-old adopted son, Seth.
The couple have two biological children, Angus, 5, and |6-month-old Camilla. They adopted Seth when he was 17 months old.
“We decided before we had kids that we wanted to adopt. We waited until Angus was 2, so that he would be old enough to understand what we were doing.
“We are a Christian family, which puts everything into perspective about opening our hearts to love another child. We believe God planned for our family to look like this. We told our family we intended to adopt, but there was no discussion around it – it was our |decision.”
Kirsten Shearer said that, while their families had been initially fearful, their minds were changed a few days after meeting Seth.
“Some people even say that he is lucky because we are giving him a good life. But we believe we are the lucky ones.”
Glenwood, Durban. Toby and Ruanda Rochat cannot imagine life without their four children – Declan, 20, studying law, daughters Tannah, 15, and Mignon, 14, in high school and adopted son Jordan, 6.
They say adopting Jordan, when he was two-and-a-half years old, has given them a new lease of life.
“We were volunteering at a children’s home and our eyes were opened to the plight of vulnerable children. We consulted our children before we started the adoption process. The day we went to fetch him he was waiting at the gate of the children’s home and said, ‘Daddy, are you coming to take me home?’ I just broke down. He has been my son from that moment,” said Toby, a director at an auditing company.
That Jordan adores his parents was obvious. During the interview he climbed on to their laps, lovingly stroked their faces and hair before planting kisses on their cheeks.
The couple admit there are still prejudices against cross- cultural adoption.
Ruanda, who owns Berea’s Moms and Tots, said it was important to love your adopted child as much as your biological children.
“Jordan was abandoned when he was two days old in a dustbin in the bush. Thankfully he survived and was saved when someone heard his cries.” Ruanda said Jordan has fitted right into their family and has a close bond with the other children.
- To find out more about the adoption process contact www.peaceagency.org.za
- Sunday Argus