Stigma surrounds adoption of abandoned children

Published on 20 February 2014 in Culture
Amal Al-Yarisi (author)

Amal Al-Yarisi


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On her way to work one day, Najat Bahakim and her sister heard a faint cry. As they approached the direction of the noise, they found themselves near a garbage dump on Al-Qaesia Street in Sana’a. Instead of a kitten, as Bahakim expected, she found an abandoned newborn lying in the dump.

“I found the baby a year ago and he was in poor health…his body was still covered in blood and his umbilical cord wasn’t even cut,” said Bahakim.

She took the child to a hospital where he received treatment. The doctor told her that the baby’s health was deteriorating due to acute malnutrition and that he might not have long to live.

But, Bahakim did not give up on him. She sent the baby to Amran governorate, north of Sana’a, to be cared for by her married sister.

“My sister looked after the child for a month and his health improved,” she added.

She then informed the police about the child and her intention to adopt him.

“The Police registered the baby’s name at the Civil Registration Authority, issued a birth certificate for him under my father’s name, and then allowed me to adopt him. We told the neighbors that he is my nephew,” added Bahakim.

Foundlings are typically abandoned soon after birth because of poverty or fear of disgrace if the child is born out of wedlock.

Such children are usually left at a hospital, by a mosque or even on a doorstep—a place where they will be found quickly. Some foundlings are left near garbage dumps because cleaners visit the sites daily and people often rummage through the sites.

Families that decide to adopt abandoned children can encounter problems.

Although a year has passed, the neighbors still haven’t bought Bahakim’s story about the baby being her sister’s. “Everyone who visits our house asks us where the child ‘came from,’ because my sister and I are unmarried,” said Bahakim.

Finally, Bahakim and her family decided to tell the neighbors how they found the child, Abdulrahman, but the level of gossip surrounding the ordeal indicated that they were not believed by all.  

“They think he was born out of wedlock to one of us, and that we are covering up that fact.”  

In spite of all of the difficulties she encountered, Bahakim refused to abandon the child or send him to an orphanage in Sana’a because she thinks he would not receive appropriate care.

Ruqia Al-Hajri, head of the Al-Rahma Foundation for Human Development, said that she established the foundation in 2001 after a child died when she was unable to find anyone to take care of her.

“Originally, we were associated with the Charitable Society for Social Welfare and would receive orphans directly into our care. We didn’t have a separate building to house orphans or foundlings,” Al-Hajri said.

“However, I made up my mind to establish the foundation after I heard about the death of a child due to lack of care,” she said.

“A woman gave birth to a child in a public hospital in Sana’a and then ran away. There was no one to take care of her and eventually an Ethiopian nurse agreed to adopt her. She named the baby Mariam and raised her for four years, but then the nurse developed cancer [and was unable to care for her].”

Al-Hajri said that the incident prompted her to establish her non-governmental foundation for orphans and foundlings. Philanthropists donated buildings for the orphanage and others provided funding. Now there are over 400 male and female orphans at the foundation, but only two foundlings, because she said that the foundlings are always adopted by families.

Najla’a Bashaf’i, Public Relations Officer for the foundation, said that childless women visit them to adopt foundlings.

“People are only able to adopt abandoned babies because orphans have families that have put them in our care and we can’t allow people to adopt them,” she said.

Bashaf’i said that they conduct a field survey to investigate families that wants to adopt a foundling. They take into consideration factors including the family’s religion, income, and values in order to ensure, as much as possible, that the adopted child will have a safe and secure life.

“The family must bring the child in to our office for a visit once every three months so that we can see that he is in good shape,” she added.

Bashaf’i said that society still looks down upon foundlings.

“A male foundling came to the foundation to look for a wife among the female orphans, but when we asked him to marry a female foundling, he refused,” she said.

Because of society’s attitudes about foundlings, some adoptive families keep the matter secret and try to skirt the law by failing to inform the police [of the adoption].

Mohammed Ahmed, a private sector employee, found a newborn abandoned inside a cardboard box near a mosque in Taiz governorate. Ahmed took the baby home and he and his wife decided to adopt her because they only had sons.

“I felt that she was a gift from God. I brought my wife to Sana’a and we stayed for several months, then returned to Taiz [with the baby]. I told my neighbors that the girl was my daughter and I named her Donia,” said Ahmed.

Donia, now 11, lives with her four male siblings and has no idea that she was adopted.

“Donia is in seventh grade now…I decided to keep the whole issue secret because people don’t have any compassion and call them bastards,” said Ahmed.

Brigadier Mattash Mohammed Mattash, director of the media center in the Civil Registration Authority, said that once a foundling is discovered, he should be taken to the police to be registered and have his information sent to the Civil Registration Authority. “Based on this data, we issue a birth certificate for the foundling and name him, but without a surname,” he said.

Article 27 of the Civil Status Law stipulates that police stations and all institutions and shelters designed to house foundlings must inform the respective branch of the Civil Registration Authority about each foundling and provide information about her including the time she was found, gender and estimated age. The director of the authority should name the newborn and add it to the baby’s record without stating that she is a foundling.

Mattash said that presenting oneself as the biological parents of a foundling is deceptive.

“If the foundling doesn’t know the truth early on, he may encounter several problems in the future.”

According to hadiths by the Prophet Mohammed, foundlings are not entitled to inheritances. Accordingly, some families that have hidden the truth about a family member who is a foundling later decide to reveal this secret when distributing inheritances.

“Some foundlings suffer from great psychological distress when they [suddenly] find out that they are foundlings and that their family has kept the truth hidden for [years],” Mattash said.

Many have pushed for the government to establish public foundations that would be responsible for caring for foundlings and following up with adoptive families to ensure they are well cared for.

Mohammed Mutahar, a taxi driver, said that the existence of public foundations to take care of foundlings would ensure that they will live a good life.

The protection of foundlings is the duty of the society as a whole, Mutahar said.