ABU DHABI // Expatriates may be allowed to foster children in rare cases, under a policy change being discussed by Sharjah Social Services.
Under federal law, abandoned children are given UAE nationality and can only be cared for by Emirati families or government centres.
But Sharjah is looking at allowing expatriates to foster children who end up in their custody for other reasons, said Afaf Al Marri, chairman of Sharjah Social Services.
As well as abandoned youngsters, the agency's Social Care Home also looks after abused, neglected or orphaned children.
Expatriates would only be considered as foster families in very rare cases. For example, a Filipino child whose parents are dead might be able to go to a Filipino family.
"It is better for the children to be with a family than in our centre," said Ms Al Marri.
She added that the changes were only at the discussion stage.
Expatriates can legally adopt children from other countries but not those from the UAE.
Dozens of "children of unknown parentage" are found each year in the country, often abandoned outside mosques or left in parks.
Many pass through Sharjah Social Services, which matches them with families. Others are sent to Dar Zayed orphanage in Al Ain, which matches children with families until they reach the age of two. Older children live in family-style villas throughout Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.
Western-style adoption is prohibited by Sharia and an abandoned child cannot take on another family's name. But Emirati families can foster children in long-term guardianships that grow just as deep as adoption.
Only Emirati families can foster children from Dar Zayed and no policy change was being considered there, said Salem Al Kaabi, its general manager.
UAE law prohibits expatriates from fostering children because the Government cannot monitor or protect them if the family leaves the country, he added.
But in at least one case, an expatriate family was allowed to take in a child from a government hospital, a doctor in Sharjah said.
"One of my patients who was unable to have children got special permission from one of the Sheikhs and was able to adopt a child," he said.
* Additional reporting by Ola Salem