Durban - The National Adoption Coalition of South Africa's (NACSA) KZN branch claims that the province has largely “failed” orphaned and vulnerable children.
KwaZulu-Natal has the third highest proportion of births under the age of 20 according to the 2016 Community Survey undertaken by Statistics South Africa.
The survey also reveals that 19.88% of the total national population lives in KwaZulu-Natal, second only to Gauteng which has 24.08% of the nation’s population. 22.51% of the national population under the age of 20 years lives in KwaZulu-Natal.
“There are tremendous delays in every part of the child protection process and all of this whilst children have a need to have a home and to belong in a family, and knowing that institutionalizing children is scientifically known to be harmful to them.” said Marietjie Strydom, chair of NACSA’s KZN Branch
In KwaZulu-Natal, one of the most populated provinces, the number of adoptions is disproportionately low.
Data from the Department of Social Development (DSD) shared during a presentation in November 2016 shows a total of 174 adoptions took place in the province over a seven year period.
“The minuscule number of adoptions bears no correlation with the orphan statistics in KwaZulu-Natal, and confirm a severe problem in the care of orphaned children in our province,” Strydom said.
Strydom believes that irreparable harm is done by trauma caused to a child especially in the first 1000 days of life.
“Despite popularly held beliefs that children are resilient, the lack of care or broken bonds in early life, leads to trauma that alters the physical brain and its functions permanently and leads to a lifetime of negative consequences.”
Challenges facing children across South Africa:
Child Abandonment continues to be a major challenge in South Africa:
- It is estimated that around 3500 children are abandoned annually in SA, approximately 300 per month.
- However, this figure only includes survivors, the total number of abandonments is far higher.
- Figures compiled in Gauteng show that for every abandoned child found alive, two are found dead.
- A recent Medical Research Council study on child homicide reveals that children in South Africa are at the highest risk of unnatural death in the first six days of life.
- Research shows that 65% of abandoned children are new-borns, and 90% are under the age of one.
- Many abandoned babies have already survived a late-term abortion. 52-58%of SA abortions are illegal (up to 150000 per annum).
- 70% of abandonments are unsafe and many babies are never found.
A number of legislative challenges serve to increase rather than decrease child abandonment in SA:
- Safe abandonment is illegal in South Africa so all of the country’s baby safes operate unlawfully.
- Girls under the age of 18 can consent to an abortion but cannot place a child for adoption without the consent of a parent or guardian.
- Foreigners fear deportation if they try to place a child for adoption. Others lack the formal documentation required to place their children into the child protection system.
- Abandonment is no longer listed as a violent crime in South Africa or included in crime statistics. Nor is it listed as a cause of death in South African mortuaries. There is therefore no accurate tally of how many children die as a result of abandonment.
- To date, no formal research has been completed by the government to track abandonment, and no measures put in place to counter it.
- Desperation due to poverty and unemployment.
- A breakdown of the family often due to mass urbanisation.
- Cultural beliefs and concerns around the formal practice of adoption.
- Gender abuse in the form of rape, incest and “blessers or sugar daddies”.
- Women themselves being abandoned by the child’s father or their family due to falling pregnant.
- Government policy is also a huge contributing factor, as is anti-adoption sentiment on the part of many state officials.
- Endemic problems like poverty and abuse are hard to address, so child abandonment is likely to continue long-term.
What can be done?
Changes to government policy:
- Lowering the age of consent for adoption placement.
- Facilitating safe abandonment through implementing safe haven laws.
- Revising xenophobic policies regarding foreigners and barriers to adoption.
- Policing of illegal abortion practitioners.