File photo: Mark Blinch

Durban - Diplomatic officials in Canada reacted swiftly to allegations that South African babies were being “trafficked” to that country by putting a hold on all visa applications, effectively stopping all adoptions in November 2010.

The moratorium lasted for almost three years before the provincial director of public prosecutions declined to prosecute.

In the meantime the lives of 50 children were in limbo, as were their prospective adoptive parents in Canada.

In a report to the Durban High Court - which has not been made public before - advocate Sarah Jane Linscott, who was appointed by the Centre for Child Law to protect the legal interests of six of the children, said they met the requirements for inter-country adoption and blamed the delay in their going to their new homes on “a perpetuation of a gross myth”.

“The only thing standing in their way is this spurious investigation initiated three years ago which has yet to be finalised. They are being denied the chance of a family life ... they have connected with their prospective adoptive families,” she said.

Of the children she represented, four had been abandoned at birth and the mothers of two had agreed to their adoptions, one because the child was conceived as a result of incestuous rape. They were living in two homes in the Durban area.

At the time of her appointment, all were legally suitable for inter-country adoption, all had been introduced to their new families via Skype and all, except one, had been given photo albums depicting their families, homes, rooms and even pets.

Linscott said those who were old enough to be interviewed all expressed enthusiasm about their new families.

She said the Canadians shut the visa door in 2010 after being informed about an investigation into alleged child trafficking in the Richmond Children’s Court.

Linscott, who was appointed at the end of 2012, said she met NPA and police officials in 2013, who confirmed a docket had been opened in 2010 following a complaint by magistrates Vallaraman Kathuravaloo and (first name unknown) Mnyeni of the Richmond Magistrate’s Court.

“They were concerned at the number of inter-country adoptions, and the links another magistrate had with an organisation accredited to facilitate adoptions between South Africa and Canada.

“A meeting had taken place in November 2010, where the Department of Justice was requested to arrange for a magistrate to peruse the files and provide them with a report.

“But despite repeated requests this was never done, and they made it clear that still, at that stage, they did not know if any offence had been committed. In the meantime, worryingly, certain birth mothers have been interviewed by the police and told their children had been sold to rich white foreigners.”

After analysing the law and interviewing key players, Linscot said it was “highly unlikely” that correct adoption procedures were not followed, because the files were reviewed at least five times by authorities in both countries to ensure compliance with the Hague Convention and Children’s Act.

When she reported back to the court in 2013, Linscott said “the investigation had not even left the starting blocks”, and although she had been assured that the six children were not the subject of the investigation, the Canadian authorities would not open the visa door until the probe was over.

The high cost of inter-country adoptions

A lawyer involved with adoptions, who did not wish to named, said inter-country adoptions were expensive.

However, if you have regard to sections 249-251 of the Children’s Act you will see how carefully controlled this is. Professionals involved in the process are entitled to charge professional fees for services rendered, the lawyer said.

Only specifically accredited organisations may engage in adoptions and there is a further layer of accreditation required to facilitate inter-country adoptions.

While the cost may be high, one has to account for the amount of work that goes into these adoptions. It is administratively intensive, and the social worker is obliged to regularly visit the children and also be involved in the post-adoption process.

All the time - every step - is carefully analysed by the Canadian and South African authorities and Children’s Court.

Latest adoption statistics

The most recent adoption statistics available from the Department of Social Development reflect that in 2013, a total of 1 696 children were adopted and of these 174 were inter-country adoptions.

A total of 508 children and 237 prospective parents were placed on the computerised Register of Adoptable Children and Prospective Adoptive Parents. Fifty-two service providers were accredited for national adoptions, and two for inter-country adoptions.

Stakeholders - including at least 50 social workers per province - were trained in inter-country adoptions in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, and 539 inter-country adoptions were dealt with.

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The Mercury