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Breakthrough in Baby R adoption


Breakthrough in Baby R adoption

    Karyn Maughan
    September 19 2007 at 02:21PM

When Baby R turns three years in just under two months, she should have the greatest gift of her young life - her own family.

The Constitutional Court was on Wednesday expected to order that the children's court fast-track the adoption hearing of an American couple who have spent the last two years battling for guardianship of Baby R.

The order, reached Tuesday between legal representatives for the African-American couple, Department of Social Development and Centre for Child Law, will compel the Johannesburg Children's Court to conduct the hearing, within 30 days, with no opposition from the department.

Meanwhile, Social Development is struggling to explain how a "policy" originating in its offices has been blocking would-be US parents from adopting local children - most of whom have no hope of being adopted in South Africa.

Expatriates in Australia and New Zealand were also told they could not adopt South African children.

Now the department insists the "policy" - referred to in numerous letters and e-mails from its officials and confirmed by a Children's Court commissioner - has no basis in law and was never intended to control Children's Court decisions.

It was largely this "policy" which prompted Baby R's prospective parents to try to gain custody of her through the High Court.

Their decision was slammed as trying to "jump the queue" but court-appointed adviser Melanie Feinstein on Tuesday said that in the light of what she had uncovered, she believed "they had no other choice".

Questioned about Social Development's "selective veto" on inter-country adoptions between the US and SA, counsel for the department Steven Budlender admitted "considerable difficulties and barriers" faced Americans who wanted to adopt South African children, because of "confusion".

In the past seven years, 54 of the over 1 300 inter-country adoptions involved Americans.

Authorities, however, are sending babies to Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Botswana for adoption - despite their stated commitment to find adoptive families as culturally similar to South Africans as possible.

Pointing out that at least one highly-placed Children's Court commissioner believed there was a bar on adoptions to the US, Justice Zak Yacoob said such apparently entrenched beliefs were "cause for concern".

"One wonders what effect (such beliefs) might have on persons," he said.

Responding to the request to dismiss the US couple's legal action, Justice Johann van der Westhuizen said he was "not sure if a formal stamp of winner or loser is appropriate ... we're not talking about World Cup bonus points here".

2007 Sep 19