Draft Adoption Policy: Ministerial & Departmental briefing; Committee Report on Brazil Study Tour

Social Development

25 October 2010
Chairperson: Ms Y Botha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Minister and Department of Social Development briefed the Committee on the draft policy framework and strategy for adoption. The policies were intended as a means of simplifying the process of adoption to make it easier and more affordable for people who wanted to adopt children, as also to try to have more adoptions formally registered, rather than people fostering children, or merely looking after them without a formal process, which could result in the child being deprived of the rights of inheritance when the caregiver died. There were some cultural obstacles that made African, Indian and Coloured communities reluctant to consider adoption, whilst other practices by certain communities meant that a child would simply be taken in by family. There were fewer cross-racial adoptions, and some communities were particularly reluctant to consider these, preferring to adopt foreign children. Some adoptive agencies were charging high fees. The Department would be regulating the prices and was proposing the introduction of an adoptive grant, similar to the foster grant. The Department was aware of bogus NGO seeking grants, while legitimate NGO’s often battled to make ends meet. Members concerns included the need to address the shortage of social workers, particularly the need to encourage older and more settled people to enter this line of work, and the need for the Department to communicate more effectively with the population about the need to adopt orphaned children. They also discussed the possible abuses of the current foster care grant system, as also the other grants. They sought clarity on the different types of adoption and the rights of the biological father of the child.

The Committee then considered, and adopted, its report on the Brazil Study Tour Report, with minor amendments. The Members were concerned that some errors should have been corrected by the drafters before the Report was presented. Members discussed the problem of children who were abandoned in foreign countries when their mothers were jailed for drug offences, or who were born in prisons there. The Minister noted the Department’s efforts in anti-drug campaigns, and noted the concerns of Members that more needed to be done to take these to the rural areas, and to publicise the Department’s successes. Members noted that the Brazilian model of employing people to work on government buildings was under consideration also in South Africa, to address problems in the local construction industry, and noted that despite the economic inequalities in Brazil, its government was  working wonders in addressing poverty. The Report would also include the role of sport in dealing with youth at risk.

Meeting report

Adoption Policy: Framework and Strategy 2010: Minister of Social Development briefing
Hon Edna Molekwa, Minister of Social Development, presented the Department of Social Development (DSD) draft policy and strategy for adoptions. She informed Members that her Department, in conjunction with Department of Home Affairs, was in the process of ensuring that all birth certificates of newly born babies showed the identity numbers of both parents. She acknowledged that this could pose problems because some pregnancies resulted from rape and incest. She noted the worrying trend for more babies to be abandoned. She said that although there were some cultural hurdles to overcome in respect of adoption of babies by African, Indian and coloured families, their culture evolved over time and some aspects of human lives also had to adapt with time. Some African families perhaps felt that the family’s ancestors would not accept the adoption of a child who was not born in that family or clan. South Africans of Indian descent largely preferred to adopt Indian children, and would even go to the extent of going to India to seek orphans.

The Minister said that some male parents felt that the foster care grant encouraged strangers to take custody of a child because they would benefit from the money, despite the fact that the male parent or paternal relatives were capable of doing the same. Informal adoption, which was usually practiced in African families, had to be formalised by registering that adoption with the relevant Department. In Africa culture, the maternal aunt usually took care of her sister’s children if her sister had passed on. The Minister acknowledged that there was a criticism that formalising an adoption could be seen as discarding the African, Indian and Chinese culture that “my child is your child”.

Non Profit Organisations (NPOs) and Non Governmental organisations (NGOs) were legally obliged to register and submit reports three months after the financial year had ended. The DSD had to physically inspect their premises and books to combat the rampant fraud of bogus NGOs that only existed on paper yet sought funding from the Department. This then put a squeeze on the legitimate players. She said that the Department had come up with a proposal for an adoptive grant, which would help the adoptive parents financially. Some people felt that there would be no need to adopt, when they could get a foster care grant, so the child would never be formally adopted. She emphasised that the Government was obliged to take care of the vulnerable, aged, sick and frail in society. The old age grant was often abused, either by those taking care of the elderly, or by the elderly themselves who would use it for purposes other than their proper care, perhaps for purchase of alcohol. There was also a need to redefine the disability grant.

Draft Adoption Policy Framework and Strategy 2010: Departmental briefing
Dr Tebogo Mabe, Director, Adoption Services, DSD, said that the purpose of the adoption policy was to address the problem that adoption, as a placement option, was currently widely underutilised in South Africa, with most people preferring foster care. There were cultural obstacles, as well as those posed by service providers, and lack of financial support toward adoptive families and children. The draft Adoption Policy was shaped by research done by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), and some of the information was gathered from sources such as the National Adoptions Council.

In the policy context, he touched on the global and regional legislation that imposed commitments. He noted that there were an estimated 668 000 orphaned children in 2007, while those in foster care numbered 510 766. From 2005 to 2010, only 14 449 children were adopted. There was a clear need to place orphaned children in homes with families. Adoptions in recent years tended to take place within the same culture/racial group, although there were no legal barriers to trans-racial /cross cultural adoptions in terms of the Child Care Act. Adoptive parents tended to prefer young girl children because they tended to assimilate more easily and they were less likely to be rebellious.

African, Indian and Coloured children were more unlikely to be adopted than white children. There were four types of adoptive families. These covered adoption by a biological parent, by a man or woman adopting the natural child of his or her spouse, by a relative, or by a foster or step parent. The Act covered abandoned children, children born out of wedlock, and those born within marriages, and also the situation where parents later divorced or separated. He said that inter-country adoption had almost doubled in the last ten years, driven by changes in fertility in the developed countries. Inter-country adoption was mostly to Germany, Sweden and Netherlands. Adoptive parents were mostly single parents.

The Department was considering making the adoption process less bureaucratic and less rigid by involving government more, because at present adoption was mostly run by private concerns. The overall strategy was to promote adoption as the preferred form of permanent placement of children. That could be improved by allocation of resources and taking opportunities provided by the new framework.

Dr Mabe briefly touched on the policy recommendations, financial costs and the action plan (see attached presentation for details).

Discussion
Ms H Lamoela (DA) asked whether mature people could not be trained as social workers because they were stable and unlikely change to subjects halfway through, as the younger people might.

The Chairperson replied that Huguenot College offered courses in auxiliary social work to train people towards the Social Workers qualification.

Ms J Masilo (ANC) asked whether the Department had awareness programmes to inform people about adoption services.

Dr Mabe said that the Department would be embarking on imbizos and workshops with NGOs to try to popularise its services on adoption.

Ms N Gcume (COPE) felt that adoption was a better option than foster care because some people would mistreat and neglect their foster children, while earning money from them. She then enquired about the amount of the proposed adoptive grant.

Dr Mabe replied that it would be equal to the amount earmarked for the foster grant. He admitted that the adoption process was slow and expensive. The Department would regulate the prices charged by the adoptive agencies so that they were affordable. He added that the parents who raised the children of their deceased siblings were required, by law, to register them as adopted; otherwise they would be unable to benefit by inheritance when the person who raised them had died.

Ms Masilo asked for clarity on the rights of the biological adoptive parent.

Dr Mabe explained that the biological adoption had emphasised the need to reclassify the rights of the adoptive parents. A father who had not been married to the mother of the child had limited rights to that child in the past.

Ms W Nelson (ANC) asked whether the biological father had custodial rights over his child.

Dr Mabe said that fathers had rights, but they needed to formalise them by way of an adoption when they wanted custody of their child.   

Brazil Study Tour Report: Committee’s draft report
The Chairperson tabled the draft report of the Committee on the Brazil Study Tour. She mentioned that the ambassadors were not responsible for South Africans who were held in foreign jails for criminal activities. She said that the Department had made several trips to Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela to fetch children of convicted drug mules. These children were either born in prison, or had travelled with their mothers to these countries. Drug dealers targeted desperate women, including those who were pregnant, because they were vulnerable. She noted that Members had previously commented that the content of the report was acceptable, but noted several spelling mistakes that should have been corrected by the drafters.

The Chairperson asked Members to comment, page by page, on the Report.

The Minister said that the children mentioned by the Chairperson were innocent but there was very little that the Department could do to save convicted mothers. She mentioned that the Department was involved in an anti-drug campaign.

The Chairperson said that the Department should be working jointly with the South African Police Service and the Department of Home Affairs on the anti-drug campaign.

Ms V Mafolo (ANC) suggested that the excellent work done by the Department should be clearly communicated to the general public.

The Minister explained that the Department was working with thirteen other Departments on substance abuse campaign. It had been doing ground work, teaching people about the dangers of substance abuse in the North West and the Northern Cape provinces. In November 2010 the campaign would be started in the Western Cape.

Ms Lamoela asked about the follow up activity done to sustain the momentum of the substance abuse campaign.

The Minister explained that Local and Provincial Drug Committees would do follow up work and embark on a door-to-door effort to explain about alternatives to substance abuse. In Khayelitsha, Cape Town, the Drug Committee was working with rehabilitated addicts, to help them not to lapse.

The Chairperson said that the Committee should have a separate briefing around substance abuse.

Ms Lamoela said that rural towns were not even touched by the substance abuse campaign.

The Minister replied that the problem was mainly in urban areas. This meant that if there was a choice to build a rehabilitation centre in an urban or rural area, the urban area would see the most benefits because of large numbers of addicts there. In rural areas, Local Drug Committees had not been set up as yet but the Department would make sure that they were set up.

Ms Lamoela mentioned that the building industry was not treating its workers very well. They were often sick, and every year the workers in that industry were expected to start afresh with their pension contributions. Most of them could not access the retirement grant because they were laid off due to heath problems.

The Minister replied that the DSD was unable to help the unemployed, but it was looking at the Brazilian Model, where people were employed to maintain government buildings. She said that another problem was double-dipping, where people might, for instance, claim from both the Road Accident Fund and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act Fund, in respect of the same injury.

The Chairperson thanked the South African Ambassador to Brazil for organising the logistical arrangements in Brazil for the South African delegation. She said that the Brazilian visit was really an eye-opener because Brazil had one of the most unequal societies in the world, but the government was successfully addressing the poverty. She applauded the Brazilian welfare approach.  She suggested that the recommendations in the Report should also include the role of sport in dealing with youth at risk.

Members then adopted the Report, with minor technical amendments.

The meeting was adjourned.  


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