Red tape slowing down adoptions
Durban - KwaZulu-Natal has the highest number of orphaned children in the country, and agencies and child shelters are urging the government to tackle red tape and cultural beliefs to help speed up adoptions.
In the most recent statistics released by the national Department of Social Services – in response to a parliamentary question by DA social development spokesman Mike Waters – KZN had more than 280 000 orphaned children.
The Eastern Cape was next with 171 000, while the Northern and Western Cape had the least at 15 000 and 21 000 respectively.
Also, the statistics show, the KZN provincial department is understaffed, with only 2 707 registered social workers employed. This was slowing progress of the finalisation of adoption applications, experts said.
Waters said implementation of the Children’s Act was failing “dismally” owing to a lack of funding.
“The detailed costing of the bill states that to implement the Act properly, we would need 66 000 social workers.
South Africa has about 16 000 social workers, resulting in many being swamped with caseloads and many children not receiving the services they need,” he said.
The executive head of the Durban and District Child Welfare, Mariza Kitching, said that HIV and Aids-related deaths meant that the province led in the number of children orphaned each year.
“We have the highest number of HIV and Aids infections in the world. That is reflected in the number of children orphaned here. I am not sure how they arrived at that figure (total number of orphans in KZN). But, yes, they are high here,” she said.
However, adoption agencies, academics and social workers say the statistics are correct and represent a growing crisis in the province.
Justin Foxton, the founder of The Baby House in Durban, said: “We have an ever-increasing tide of children growing into adulthood who have never had a social or moral compass. It is a crisis. We have to change the conversation. We should all actively back adoption.”
He said that each year, up to 3 500 babies were abandoned countrywide and at least 2 million children, already in the system, could benefit from adoption.
But Jabulani Maphalala, the KZN Commissioner for Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims, said 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-fenced,” he said.
Debbie Wybrow, who heads Wandisa, an adoption agency accredited nationwide to facilitate adoptions, said that as important as cultural beliefs were in terms of identity and heritage, those same beliefs could discourage adoption.
“Often right from the beginning, birth parents are not properly counselled on the options available, and specifically, on adoption. Where a birth mom chooses adoption, she may be intimidated to turn away from ‘outside help’ so as not to offend the family ancestors. This is not the best outcome for children who cannot be cared for within their birth families; for a child, the toll of neglect and repeated abandonment is inestimable, let alone the cost to the government of institutionalisation,” she said.
But, said Kitching, the matter was not simple.
“We cannot just ignore culture and race. Particularly if the adoption is cross-cultural. Yes, the child may go to relatives who are not rich, but there is a sense of belonging.
“We have to be thorough and it can take two to three years,” she said.
Foxton said that after a year the window of opportunity for a child to be successfully adopted started to close “rapidly”.
“We insist that a child brought to The Baby House must be adopted within a one-year period,” he said.