Children’s Act Amendment Bill

As was recently announced, the Parliament of Uganda passed a children’s act amendment bill on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016. This bill restricts legal guardianships to only nationals of Uganda, and changes the adoption fostering period from 36 months to 12 months.

The passing of this bill has been received with mixed feelings. Some people are glad that it has passed, others are disappointed, and others are just confused. As a social policy organization actively engaged in legislative work together with other child rights stakeholders in Uganda, we at Child Advocacy Africa would like to give our view of these developments.

What does this mean?

The children’s bill was proposed to amend the current children’s act to provide for more effective ways to protect children from exploitation among other things. (See here) Now that it has been passed by Parliament, it awaits assent of the President before it becomes law. There is a process that now begins: it must be gazetted, signed, and then finally implemented by having directives sent to legal entities and Courts of Law.  For other bills, the process takes about 5 months so. It is assumed that that is how long it will take for this bill to become law.

How does it affect inter-country legal guardianships now?

Obviously the situation is still very heated right now. It is highly unlikely that any current legal guardianships will go through because of all the buzz generated by this amendment. However we have to note that the High Court judges do act independently until advised to do otherwise. It is therefore at the High Court’s discretion.

How will this bill affect inter-country adoption in the future?

First, the law on legal guardianship has now been clarified – Legal guardianship is now strictly for Ugandan Nationals. PLEASE NOTE: This is not shown in the amendment bill because it was a consequential motion that was made in parliament yesterday that led to the restriction of legal guardianships.

Secondly, adoption can still happen but is subject to the adopting parents’ 12 months residence in Uganda. And of course, families will only be able to adopt children who have been approved for adoption by a Central Authority. There are no clear timescales at this time regarding when this will take effect.

Now that the bill is here, how will this law work?

Among other directives, first will come the creation of a Central Authority and the official implementation of the Continuum of Alternative Care. Next will be the ratification of The Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption. Uganda is going to ratify The Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption very soon indeed. We have dates, but I cannot share that now.  When Uganda is part of The Hague, it still will not qualify to carry out Hague adoptions until it has cleaned up and complied with the essential processes and procedures. As such, once Uganda joins The Hague, a moratorium on inter-country adoption will come into play until Uganda complies.

Once Hague standards are fully implemented, only children in genuine need of adoption will be available for adoption from Uganda. Children must pass through the Continuum of Alternative Care and reviewed by Children’s Authority before being deemed available for adoption.  A moratorium on inter-country adoption is necessary in order to sieve through the status of many children, because an alarming number of children being adopted at this time are not the ones in genuine need of it.

My thoughts:

African family structures have been broken down, yet we know that family must be the first line of defense for all children. Please – let us protect children while in their families. Once children lose their family, then the troubles begin.  We should stop encouraging families and communities to neglect their children by providing orphanages as solutions for poverty. A long time ago when a parent died and left children behind, the community sat down and decided what to do to raise the children. But today, directions are given to the nearest orphanage! Why?!

Foreigners may not understand this, but the word “adoption” does not exist in our culture. This is not because adoption doesn’t happen – it does, and always came as second nature to Africans! That is why people never thought they had to formalize anything. They just took on children in their families and communities and raised them as their own when the child was in need. No questions asked! Today, we are faced with the modern type of first world adoption that is making us believe that Ugandans do not adopt – oh no, they do!

As Ugandans, we created this problem of child exploitation that is currently out of control. We created the soft ground and continued to plough in it until, amongst other ills, we have harvested child trafficking, child marriages, illegal and unethical adoptions, etc.  So, let’s not create any scapegoats here. Let’s be brave enough to clean up our own house.

A few thought provoking challenges-

  • Let the people who are giving up their children know that they are giving them up for adoption in Uganda… I promise you that child abandonment and parental consents to adoption will be halved.
  • Strengthen judicial system…Let rapists face timely trials and victims get timely justice and you will see the rates of defilement  and underage parenthood down which equals less unwanted pregnancies.
  • Let every middle and upper class Ugandan take on at least one unrelated child and adopt them. You will see orphanages empty because orphanage directors have no motivation to “make more” children available for Ugandan adopters. This is because Ugandans will not give money and gifts to in order to adopt children.
  • Let all orphanages reapply for their status based on the new children’s act guidelines, and you will hardly have any orphanage that opened in the last 10 years qualify for a license. This is because most of the ones created in the recent years were mainly set up to benefit their owners and not because there was a genuine need to have them opened.
  • Orphanage schools!!! Orphanage schools… Orphanage schools!!! This is a topic for another day! But, please send those children back to their parents in good time and support them/sponsor from their family unit. Children’s villages!!! Taking children from their poverty stricken parents to be in funded pretend families…A topic for another day, too.

I think it is worth reiterating that inter-country adoption is and can be beautiful. I have seen SO MANY of the children that I met during my time working on adoptions go to loving, caring families. I mean this sincerely, because I have followed up on most of these families and the children are clearly flourishing in loving homes.

But, I also cannot lie about the ills I have witnessed. My eyes are wide open to some really horrible stuff in the adoption world as well. I have seen child laundering, fraud, and “dirty” money exchange hands. I have personally received threats by adopting Americans in whose way I tried to stand in order to stop what was unlawful adoption. Also, witnessed grieving birth parents who want their children back.  I have been personally threatened by orphanage directors, pastors, attorneys in high places, and probation officers involved in corrupt practices. I have even seen children being advertised!! (“Hey, there are triplets here, I only want two – who wants the third???”)  It is impossible for me to forget the parents and guardians begging orphanage directors to give them back their children but being refused. I have seen probation officers running their own orphanages and simultaneously working for American adoption agencies as well.

Conclusion:

In summary, I would just like to say that the processes involved in inter-country adoption in Uganda have led to a lot of evil in the name of good!  In this bittersweet moment we find ourselves in, with the passing of this bill, a halt in adoptions while Uganda cleans up its act is the way to go. If we truly are acting for the best of children, we have to receive this development with applause. There is much work ahead to not just “stop the bleeding” but to work toward the best care of children throughout Uganda as quickly as possible. At the end of the day, if we want to do what is best for these children we must embrace processes and procedures that come into play to protect them.

Written by Freda Luzinda, Director of Child Advocacy Africa

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