“Why would you want to buy a baby?” That was Jane’s (not her real name) aunt’s response when she first shared her desire to adopt.
Such bias the society has against adoption, mostly out of ignorance, is perhaps one of the reasons Jane told me, “I hope you are not going to share my name,” when I requested for an interview to share her experience going through the adoption process.
It’s been almost a year since three-year-old Maria came into Jane’s life, and she says she cannot imagine her life any other way.
But before delving into the present joy, we flash back to the time Jane, now 50, decided to adopt.
“I actually delayed. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but I kept putting it off,” she says. That was until a colleague, who had gone through the adoption process, ambushed her one day, made a call to an adoption agency staff, put him on speaker phone and told her to set up a meeting to start the process.
PRIVATE OR PUBLIC?
In Kenya, one has the option of adopting using a private agency or using the government one — Child Welfare Society of Kenya. The state doesn’t charge, but private agencies do.
Jane had initially planned to adopt using a private agency, but it did not work out because the time she started her quest to adopt — late 2014 — was the period the government issued a moratorium against all resident and inter-country adoptions (adoption of a Kenyan child by adopters who are non-Kenyans and those who live outside Kenya). The state also cancelled licences for inter-country adoptions.
This slowed down the process even for citizens.
Jane’s friend advised her to pursue the government option, though her perception was it would drag. Nonetheless, she made an application without any exceptions and was pleasantly surprised when she got a call not long after, telling her a match had been found.
Once an individual or couple meets the legal requirements for adoption, they give a photo of themselves to the agency, which is then used to find a child with features as close to those of the adoptive parents. Once a match is gotten, the potential adoptive parent is given a photo of the prospective child to accept or decline.
An adoptive parent is allowed to give some preferences for the child they want, but being picky could make one be pushed to the bottom of the waiting list.
“This is especially true for the government agency because there’s a long waiting list of about 500 people who want to adopt, and some of them don’t have checklists,” Jane says.
Vanity is not a word a potential adoptive parent wants an agency to associate them with because this could lead to rejection of one’s application.
“There are some people who want light-skinned children or even biracial ones, and such factors make one appear to be adopting for the wrong reasons,” Jane says.
Jane only had two preferences: an older child (about 18 months old) and from her rural home of Nyanza.
Many people prefer toddlers because they can begin to form a bond from as tender an age as possible, but for Jane, she felt a baby would be too demanding, given her age.
Jane got her wish for an 18-month old baby, and although she was not from Nyanza, the one she got was from Western, which she said was “close enough”. Jane says she wanted a child from her ethnic region because of the cultural aspect; she wanted to bring her child up with that foundation.
Jane’s child was a case of a mother offer, which is when the parent voluntarily gives up her child. In such a case, the agency has to enquire three times that the biological mother has not changed her mind.
“In my case, it was more or less a done deal because the mother was 10 years old and we suspect it was a case of incest and, according to customs, the baby cannot be kept,” Jane says.
Once the biological mother confirmed she did not want the baby the final time, Jane went home with the baby and started her life as a mother.
A social worker makes an average of between three to four scheduled visits to the child’s new home before compiling a report, which either recommends the acceptance or rejection of the adoption application.
Then comes the court process, and that is where Jane currently is.
BIOLOGICAL CLOCK TICKING
As many reasons as there are as to how children end up in care homes, so are there motivations for adoption.
And in the case of Suzanne Bizer, a ticking biological clock was her reason.
“Growing up you have this whole plan for your life: You’ll graduate at 24, get a good job, meet Mr right, get married, have a big wedding and voila, come the kids.”
But then life happens and the fairy tale doesn’t always materialise. “When Mr right didn’t show up, I had the choice of marrying a frog and getting the babies and being resentful. I am not one of those people who can have a baby daddy around who’s not involved in the child’s life. So I told my mum I wanted to adopt and she told me to go for it,” Suzanne says.
She has first-hand experience of adoption because her sister was adopted.
“Adoption is not foreign to me and I don’t understand why people make a big deal out of it,” Suzanne says.
Suzanne used a private agency to adopt both her daughter and son. The agency charged approximately Sh40,000 and the court process cost around Sh200,000.
The process from the time she made the application to when her daughter legally become hers was about one-and-a-half years.
Suzanne says a single person without any other children is not allowed to adopt a child of a different sex, that is, a single woman with no other children can only adopt a girl. In the case of a man, whether or not he has another child, he can only adopt a boy.
Suzanne says girls are in high demand, adding there is a boy child crisis.
“We are going to continue complaining there are no good men if no one adopts these boys and they grow up in children’s homes. A child was never meant to grow up in a children’s home,” she says.
BIAS FOR GIRLS
Jane says inheritance and children turning against their adoptive parents could be some of the reasons some choose not to adopt boys. There is a perception that girls may not be as violent as boys. She points to the prominent case involving former assistant minister Betty Tett’s adopted son, who was found guilty of robbing his adoptive father at gunpoint.
Some adoptive parents have also been said not to want their adopted children to go after their wealth. But Suzanne says, “That to me is silly. Why would you adopt, only to discriminate between your biological and adopted children?”
Suzanne has experienced adopting both a toddler and an older child.
Her daughter was adopted at six months, while her son was three.
“It’s better to adopt a younger baby because they have undergone less psychological trauma and have fewer emotional scars,” Suzanne says.
“You can tell with my son, he is very possessive and appreciates whenever I buy something for him. He even asks whether it was bought specifically for him. That’s because in a home, children have to fight for the few resources available.
“My daughter on the other hand has a sense of entitlement. When I bring something for her, she receives it like she expects it. My son will also ask if I’m going to come back when I go away.”
Suzanne goes to care homes with her children every now and then so that she can slowly start to explain to her children about being adopted.
“Whenever we go, my son holds on to me tightly because he is scared we might leave him there, but for my daughter, she’s more comfortable because she cannot remember being in a home,” she says.
Jane says staff at care homes are usually overstretched, so they cannot give personalised attention to each child, and they have to operate on a tight schedule.
“When it’s time to eat, they have about 30 minutes to do it, and if they are not fast enough, the food is taken away, they are told to go to the toilet, then to bed,” she says.
That is probably a reason why Suzanne’s son eats very quickly.
BREAKING THE NEWS
Suzanne plans to make regular visits to children’s homes as she gets her daughter to understand adoption.
“It’s important for a child to know they are adopted, but it has to be done slowly and gently.”
Suzanne urges people to open their minds up to adoption.
“If you want to be a mother and the husband is not coming, adopt and move on with life. When the man comes along, he will fit into your lives,” she says.
One of the requirements by agencies when applying to adopt is bank statements for several months to ensure one will be able to take care of the child.
But how much money does one need for an adoption agency to classify you as financially stable?
Suzanne says it’s not as much as one might think.
“I cannot give an exact figure because I don’t know, but I know all they want to see is that you have a source of income and you love children. During a seminar that brought adoptive parents together, I saw a couple from the rural area who were simple kindergarten teachers, and they were able to adopt.”
According to Kibati and Co Advocates, one must be between 25 and 65 years old to adopt a child, and should be at least 21 years older than the child.
Section 158 ( 2 ) of the Children’s Act provides that:
“An adoption order shall not be made in favour of the following persons unless the court is satisfied that there are special circumstances that justify the making of an adoption order:
a) Sole male applicant in respect of a female child
b) A sole female applicant in respect of a male child
c) An applicant or joint applicants who has or both have attained the age of 65 years
d) A sole foreign female applicant
Section 158 ( 3 ) of the Children’s Act stipulates that an applicant or joint applicant may be denied an adoption order by the court if one:
(a) Is not of sound mind within the meaning of the Mental Health Act
(b) Has been charged and convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction of offences against morality, offences involving bodily injury, and any other offences under the Children’s Act
(c) Is a homosexual
(d) In the case of joint applicants, if they are not married to each other
(e) Is a sole foreign male applicant
Some of the documents required:
a) The child’s birth certificate
b) A children officer’s report
c) Marriage certificate for couple wishing to adopt
d) Medical report of adoptive parent
e) Bank statements and payslips
f) Certificate of good conduct
List of adoption agencies:
1. Child Welfare Society of Kenya
3. Change Trust
4. KKPI Adoption Society
5. Little Angels Network