x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Open arms to foster orphan children

Rule changes that allow more children without parents to find loving homes will help build a happier, and healthier, society.

The Emirati woman volunteering at Al Wasl hospital in Dubai took one look at the 1-year-old baby and fell in love. Despite having children of her own, Hala Kazim decided to adopt the orphaned Asian child. Fourteen years on, he is her son in everything but name. And now the joys of adoption in the UAE are set to be open to a larger section of the population.

As reported in The National yesterday, the Federal National Council (FNC) has persuaded government officials to drop a plan by the Ministry of Social Affairs that would have prohibited people over the age of 50 from adopting children in need. The move paves the way for more children without parents to find loving homes were they can lead healthy lives.

The issue of adoption has not been a pressing one in Emirati society, thanks mainly to solid family structures. Traditionally, a child who loses both of his parents will be placed in the care of the closest relative, as would a widow and her children. If no relative is found, the child would be placed with another Emirati family.

Once other options are exhausted, an orphanage is the last choice. According to Sharia law, however, the placement of a child with a new family is considered fostering - not an "adoption" in the western sense of the word - and the child does not take the name of his or her new foster parents.

The situation, however, is markedly different for the UAE's expatriate population. Orphans, or children given up or abandoned by their parents, do not always have extended families that are willing to adopt them. And so they end up in orphanages. This is were the relaxation of the laws will be of the most benefit. The pool of parents eligible to adopt expatriate orphans will now be larger.

But with many parents preferring to adopt babies, other measures must be taken to ensure older orphans are looked after too. Social centres where children can be given specialised care would be one way. Providing a system of fostering in which families could house children - even teenagers - who are in trouble could also ease the burden.

The FNC has also called on officials to provide financial support to foster parents. This could encourage more couples to adopt. The results would be happier children and families and, ultimately, a healthier society.