Is adoption the answer to Kenya’s abandoned children?

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Mark, a four-year boy, has just found a new home in Kajiado County where he now lives with his new parents, Dr & Mrs. Olesuuda. It has only been 3 months since Mark joined the Olesuuda family but it is hard to tell considering the bond created between the parents and the child.

Mark was abandoned as infant by his mother by the road side where a Samaritan took him to a police station. The police tried to trace the mother but the search was unsuccessful and that’s when they handed Mark to a children’s home where he had stayed until the Olesuuda’s expressed interest to adopt him. Mark is just one of the many abandoned children who find themselves in children’s homes across the country.

While adoption was the last option for childless couples in the past, the practice is increasingly becoming common in Kenya, according to Susan Utuoma, Associate Director at the Little Angels Network. Little Angels Network is one of only other four agencies in Kenya authorized by the government to facilitate and conduct adoption procedures.

“The stigma that was previously associated with adoption is slowly fading. We used to see couples come (at the centre) in secret…not willing to allow their relatives or friends to find out that they are adopting a child. But that has now changed,” says Susan.

It is evident the cultural stigma has waned as Mark was picked at the Little Angels Network offices by the Olesuuda’s and the clan who packed two Matatus, holding a goat eating celebration to welcome the newest member to the family.

From a practice that was widely shunned, adopting children has now evolved to a celebrity status as more Hollywood stars choose to raise adopted children along with their own biological kids. Brad Pitt and Angela Jolie have three adopted children from Namibia, Ethiopia and Cambodia. Superstar Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi. Closer home, radio host Caroline Mutoko adopted an eight-month girl two years ago.

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“We have seen a gradual change in the past few years. Adoption used to be primarily for couples unable to have children of their own. But we now have couples and singles who are choosing to adopt children even when they have their own children,” says Susan.

This trend, Susan explains, may be a result of changing lifestyles and a greater financial independence.

“We have received applications that specify a HIV positive child or a specific gender to balance the gender of their children. Maybe they want a boy because the couple only has girls or vice versa.”

But Kenya’s adoption law is stringent compared to other countries in Africa such as Ethiopia, South Africa and Malawi. In 2011, Ethiopia had processed over 4,000 adoptions. Nearly all the adoptions were international. Kenya, in contrast, had between 30 – 40 international adoptions in the same year, constituting 20 percent of all adoptions. This is according to the Adoption committee secretariat, created by the Adoption regulation of 2005.

A senior Assistant Director Children services Judy Ndungu confirmed adoption is on the rise saying there were 300 adoptions in 2010, 200 of which were in Nairobi.

“The time it takes to process the adoption in Kenya is quite long. This discourages foreigners as they have to be in Kenya for at least six continuous months for an adoption to be considered,” Susan offers an explanation to the low comparative rates of international adoptions.

The rules governing adoption of children in Kenya are contained in the Children Act 2001 and Adoption regulation 2005. The National Adoption Committee is a creation of the Act and it is tasked with the regulation of adoption in Kenya. Members of the committee, who are drawn from the Ministry of Foreign affairs, children department, adoption agencies, the law society of Kenya, Kenyatta National Hospital and Gertrudes Hospital, review and renew annual licenses of adoption centres.

The law stipulates that a couple or an individual who intends to adopt a child must be between 25 – 65 years and that there must be a 21-year age difference between the applicant and the child. For married couples, they must show proof that they have been married for at least three years.

Single women and men are also allowed to adopt on condition the child’s gender is the same as that of the applicant unless under special circumstances where for instance the applicant has children of his/her own. Gay couples are not permitted to adopt children.

Once the minimum requirements are fulfilled, an adoption agency conducts interviews with the applicant and close family members to determine the psycho-social status of the applicant/s. Assessment includes two credible references, certificate of good conduct from the police, home visits by social workers to determine if the environment is conducive for the child.

Single women and men are also allowed to adopt on condition the child’s gender is the same as that of the applicant unless under special circumstances where for instance the applicant has children of his/her own. Gay couples are not permitted to adopt children.

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The adoption agency then matches the applicant with a child at many of the partner homes according to the qualities the applicant has indicated.

“Gender, age, health status of the child are some of the aspects applicants specify. But at all times we try to suite the child with the best applicant. The interest of the child comes first,” says Susan.

After a child has been identified, the adoptee signs the forms and makes at least three visits to see the child in his/her current home for bonding purposes. Thereafter, the applicant can take the child home for a period of three months where social workers will make monthly visits to check on the child.

The final procedure is the filing of adoption papers at the High Court. In Kenya, it is only the High court that has the right to grant adoption to the new guardian. The court process has essentially three hearings including presentation of investigative reports by the children’s department, adoption centre and an independent guardian appointed by the court.

The applicant must show proof that he/she can take care of the child. The applicant must prove he/she has a net salary of Sh15,000 or more at the High court. After the reports are submitted to the court, a judgment is given. Adoption costs for Kenyans range between Sh35,000 – 120,000 which include lawyers’ fee. For foreigners, the average cost is Sh250,000.

As adoption becomes more acceptable and a norm in Kenya, it is hoped more children like Mark will find permanent homes where they will get wholesome care from foster parents.

“Adoption is the next best thing after reintegration with biological parents. It provides permanence and stability for the child,” states Susan.

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