In the recent weeks, the media has been awash with stories of children in need of alternative care. The common solution many people have pointed to has been adoption. Adoption is a very good initiative for children in need of alternative care, but this is possible only if the adopters have done it with good intentions.
A report by the Africa Child Policy Forum shows that adoption from Uganda to the United States rose from 62 children in 2010 to 207 children in 2011, with at least 95 per cent of these adoptions finalised in the United States. The same report adds that the issuance to foreign adopters of legal guardianship orders instead of final adoption papers could be used to circumvent proper adoption procedures in Uganda.
Most of the reasons given for adopting or gaining guardianship for children from Uganda are to improve the child’s welfare, while some parents see it as an avenue for having their children abroad, yet there is no mechanism of tracking their wellbeing once they leave the country.
Inter-country adoptions are partially attributed to poverty, child neglect and, of course, the financial gains that accrue from adoption procedures. According to the African Child Policy Forum, approximately $9,050 is charged as adoption fees, but often disguised as passport, humanitarian and administrative costs. It also appears that there are at least 28 adoption agencies in Uganda recruiting children to be adopted mostly by foreign families. There is no problem with this, of course, only that adequate government supervision of these adoption agencies is lacking.
The adoption industry in Uganda today is a multimillion-dollar industry. This is a huge incentive to many poverty- stricken families who see this as their passport to wealth. Adopting parents prefer Uganda because it is easier and faster to adopt a child here, but also because the adoptions are easily facilitated by profit oriented adoption agencies.
Although some may believe that the northern insurgency contributed to the rise in adoption over the years, research by ANPPCAN in 2007 shows that children from the Acholi sub region only contributed 9.6 per cent of the adoption total between 2002 and 2007. The breakdown in the traditional family structure has led to more cases of child neglect and, inevitably, child adoption. All things considered, the essential motivating factor behind foreign adoptions seems to be money.
The Children’s Act, which regulates local and international adoptions, gives clear guidelines that are, unfortunately, not always followed. For a foreigner to adopt a child in Uganda, they must have stayed in Uganda for at least three years and must have fostered the child for at least 36 months. However, this is not always the case.
A policy conference on the African child that sat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May came up with possible solutions. There is need for governments to ratify and operationalise the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption, put in place safeguards for proper inter-country adoption, establish a central database for children in need of adoption, and set proper guidelines for legal guardianship.
There is need for a concerted effort by the government, civil society organisations, embassies and the general public. Civic groups can raise public awareness on illegal adoption. Children’s interests should be put into consideration before any adoption takes place.
The government must enact laws to regulate legal guardianship and establish a central body to handle adoptions, as well as create strong institutions for alternative care. Inter-country adoption, if it must happen, should be a last resort and should be in the best interest of the child.
Mr Agaba works with ANPPCAN Uganda Chapter.