Increasing numbers of South African babies are leaving the country with foreigners who are being allowed to adopt them because of the growing numbers who need homes, partly due to being orphaned by Aids.
The number of foreigners wanting to adopt children outnumbers South Africans, especially when adoption across race is involved, according to the department of social development, welfare organisations and independent adoption agencies which fall under the South African Association for Social Workers in Private Practice.
These organisations say there are many children, especially black, who need good homes. If no homes can be found here, they are willing to place them with families in other countries.
There were very few white and even fewer coloured and Indian children available for adoption.
Inter-country adoptions take place only when South African organisations have working agreements with accredited foreign organisations in countries ratified by the Hague Convention. Currently these are only in Europe.
The organisations welcomed the Children's Bill, currently before parliament, which modernises the Child Care Act of 1983 and deals with adoption, putting in place guidelines for inter-country adoptions.
One of the bill's most advanced provisions is the creation of an online register listing the children's names on a national database. The names of couples, including same-sex partners, wanting to adopt will be listed.
Agencies said this would make it easier to establish how many children were up for adoption and how many suitable parents in the country were available to adopt.
Other additions to the adoption procedures include the removal of financial barriers enabling, say, a grandmother without financial means to adopt a child and get a childcare grant to pay for the child's basic needs. Also, mothers under 18 must obtain the consent of a parent or guardian before their babies can be adopted.
The department of social development is responsible for adoption between family members while organisations and independent agencies handle private adoptions.
According to the department, the first option is to place the child within his or her family, then the community of origin and heterosexual South African couples. If these fail, the child can then be placed in another country.
Department spokesperson Kgati Sathekge said South Africa joined the Hague Convention, which set the guiding principles for inter-country adoptions, in 2003. A regulatory body, the Central Authority, was established.
"We need a recruitment programme for local adoptive parents," he said.
There were 626 inter-country adoptions registered between 2002 and 2004. Since April last year, 2 539 adoptions were registered and of those only 466 were cross-cultural including local and overseas adoptions.
The registrar also handled inquiries from adopted people wanting to trace biological parents and parents who wanted to trace their children.
Pam Wilson, supervisor of Child Welfare's adoption department in Johannesburg, said 160 children would ultimately be available for adoption from their branch this year. Of these only 10 percent would be local inter-race adoptions. At least 80 are expected to be inter-country adoptions because there was more of a demand.
"We have (overseas agencies) with Finland, Belgium and Botswana. South Africans do not seem too keen to adopt across the colour line. Maybe they are not ready for it yet." She said there was no shortage of white families wanting to adopt. In recent years, a few black middle-class couples were also adopting children.
Wilson said couples or single people wanting to adopt had to go through a screening process which included an introduction to the process, full medical and psychological tests, a marriage assessment for married couples and same-sex couples who had been allowed to adopt since 2001.
The South African Association for Social Workers in private practice spokesperson Ronelle Sartor said they worked with overseas agencies which ensured that couples were thoroughly screened. It was difficult to find homes for HIV-positive babies, who were mostly placed in homes or with non-government organisations.
A private agency, K&S Adoptions, running the website Adoption South Africa said they had placed 26 children in overseas homes this year. The agency is run by social workers Sue Krawitz and Sheri Shenker, specialists in adoption and related services.
Krawitz said they had agencies in Austria, Germany and Denmark. But children were placed with couples overseas only as a last resort. She said their fee for local adoption work, and legal work generally, was R300 an hour.
This included direct screening, interviews, counselling, appointments with relevant professionals, court appearances and birth registration. She said there were also South African couples overseas who wanted to adopt which was done through agencies in Eastern Europe.