Oct 2022 1st edition

The process of legally adopting a child in South Africa

Written by Phakama Mbonambi

Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of children in South Africa who are orphaned and vulnerable due to abandonment, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Each one of them would dearly like to have a loving home to grow up in. 

At the same time, there are many would-be parents who yearn to have children they can raise as their own, even if they are not their biological offspring.

The answer to this great challenge is adoption, an act of parenting someone else’s biological children and raising them as your own.

According to the Department of Social Development (DSD), many South African children find themselves vulnerable and in foster homes due to a variety of socio-economic challenges.

The department says the challenges may be attributed to the high level of poverty, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, gender-based violence and the death of parents or caregivers. As a result, some of the child care and protection services are overburdened by the high number of children who become wards of the State.

As South Africa celebrates the annual Social Development Month in October – to mark our nation’s commitment to caring for the most vulnerable in society – the spotlight falls on the thousands of children in various orphanages who face dismal prospects in life.

The process of adopting a child

No matter how well-meaning you are, there’s a process you need to follow if you wish to adopt a child. Every legal step must be followed.

Adoption is open to married or unmarried couples; single individuals such as widowers, widows, divorced or unmarried persons; foster parents; people whose permanent domestic life partner is the parent of the child; the biological father of a child born out of marriage and people in a same-sex relationship.

A person may not be disqualified from adopting a child by virtue of his or her financial status.

If you want to adopt a child, start with a registered adoption agency or visit your local DSD office. You will be screened and if you meet the requirements for adoption, you will be put on the Register of Adoptable Children and Adoptive Parents.

The period of the adoption process differs from case to case depending on the type of adoption and the circumstances of the child, his or her biological parents, as well as the prospective adoptive parent/s.

For consented and family related adoptions the process may take a period of six months or less as compared to unrelated adoptions, particularly cases of child abandonment where the child’s family must first be traced before a child may be found to be adoptable.

If a suitable child becomes available, a meeting will be set up between you and the child. If you want the adoption to proceed, and the DSD or agency is satisfied that everything is in order, your report will be sent to the Children’s Court to finalise the adoption and issue an adoption order.

The length of each adoption case varies, so expect to be on a waiting list if a child not suited to you is not available or if other glitches are being sorted out.

Benefits of adopting a child

There’s no substitute for offering love and solid nurturing to a needy child. The department says adoption is the most cost-effective long-term option for caring for children who cannot be returned to their families or have been deprived of parental and family care. It also improves their stages of development and provides them with a sense of belonging and security, which brings stability and love to their lives.

The Children’s Act 2005 in Regulation 107 prescribes fees payable to accredited child protection organisations or adoption social workers in private practice. The number of hours involved in each case determines the cost, but there are no fees involved when adoption services are provided by government social workers.

A crisis that can be averted

The DSD says there is an insufficient number of prospective adoptive parents coming forward. In partnership with accredited adoption service providers and stakeholders, the department is promoting adoption services through media and community awareness campaigns to educate people about adoption and to encourage and recruit prospective adoptive parents.

However, be careful of scams. The department says people who are interested in adopting children should avoid using websites and social media platforms because many are illegal and could be involved in child trafficking.

Prospective adoptive parents should rather contact the department ‘so they can be assisted with the adoption process for free or they can use other adoption service providers accredited by the department’.

Did you know?

There are no fees involved when adoption services are provided by government social workers.

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