exposing the dark side of adoption
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Alternative Family Care


The Gambian has a closely-knit and extended family system. When for

some reason (orphaned, abandoned etc.) parents are unable to care for or

maintain their child, there are relatives to take up the responsibility. This is a

form of informal childcare or guardianship that is considered preferable to

institutional placement. ‘Illegitimate’ children are usually absorbed this way,

particularly into the maternal side of the family. The problem with this mode

of informal adoption in the country is that these customary practices are not

mentioned and are not necessarily carried out in the best interest of the

child. Some of the children or wards may be living under circumstances that

directly threaten their emotional and psychological development.

Like adoption, legal fosterage is not the norm in the Gambia.

Notwithstanding, the Department of Social Welfare and the SOS Children’s

Village in Barkoteh provide alternative institutional support for orphans and

abandoned children. Presently, however, fostering is taking place in the

village in the absence of precise structures and procedures for doing so,

particularly when there is no official monitoring of children once the SOS

Village adopts them. Issues related to child maintenance disputes represent

a significant percentage of cases brought before the Department of Social

Welfare. Several national legislations empower the courts to make orders

for custody and access of either or both parents with consideration of the

best interest of the child. However, it is generally accepted under

customary law in The Gambia that children ‘belong’ to the man and

therefore in the case of divorce, particularly if initiated by the women, she

must leave her children with her husband’s family. The obvious concerns in

these arrangements are that the best interest of the child is not necessarily

taken into consideration.

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