Babies for sale - at a cool R50 000

By Adrian Hadland Time of article published Sep 16, 1999

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Childless couples are paying private agents up to R50 000 in desperate, sometimes futile bids to adopt children.

A chronic shortage of white babies for adoption has left some South African couples still childless and substantially out of pocket.

The Government does not involve itself in adoptions, other than where the applicants are step-parents, and hopeful couples must go either to welfare agencies or to private practitioners to find babies and arrange for their adoption.

Black and coloured babies are more easily available, say social workers, because of the high rate of abandonment.

But even these adoptions can prove expensive.

The white-baby shortage is the unexpected consequence of the new abortion laws, together with the recently enacted "first option" right of adoption by biological, unmarried fathers, social workers say.

A recent change to the Child Care Act, which permits a biological mother 60 days' grace to decide whether to put her child up for adoption, has contributed to the shortage.

According to one Child Welfare social worker, about 50% of biological mothers decide not to adopt after counselling.

Before the new law, once agreement had been reached it was considered legally binding and final.

A further factor is that single parenting carries less of a stigma these days.

Waiting lists of hopeful parents are long in most parts of the country and, in the Western Cape, some agencies have closed their books.

In Gauteng, a two-year wait is standard.

"There are just no babies," said one welfare department social worker. "Especially if you are after the perfect white child."

At Child Welfare in Cape Town, the waiting list for white babies has been closed for two years.

"I don't know what to say to them when they call," Child Welfare social worker Melanie van Emmenes said.

"My heart goes out to them. I know they are desperate and they must be devastated when we tell them. It must be very, very hard."

Van Emmenes said in the Cape, there were still many coloured and black babies who needed homes.

The cost of adopting a child could range from R10 to as much as R6 000.

But desperate would-be parents were falling victim to unscrupulous private agents who charged anything up to R50 000, said one agent.

One new parent said she had been quoted R60 000 but had negotiated a lower fee.

Social workers, who facilitate adoptions, must be registered with either the SA Council for Social Service Professions or with the SA Association for Social Workers in Private Practice.

Fee scales have been set at a maximum of R275 an hour plus additional fees of between R1 500 to R4 500 for the completion of legal forms and documents.

Some hopeful parents agree to pay for treatment of the biological mother by specialists and for the birth to take place in a private ward or hospital.

This can add tens of thousands of rands to the price tag for an adopted child. Many of the private agents are employed by the welfare department but carry out their work out of office hours and with the department's permission.

When considering adoption, bear in mind:

- Social workers or adoption agents should be registered with either the South African Council for Social Service Professions or with the South African Association for Social Workers in Private Practice.

- Be prepared for a thorough evaluation of your personal and professional life, income, resources and cultural norms.

- If you want a healthy white child, be prepared for a long wait.

- The process may prove to be expensive.

- Gay couples are no longer excluded from adopting children.

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