x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Overhaul the laws to protect orphans

Despite the privileges afforded to abandoned children, the UAE's laws at present make it difficult for orphaned children to be placed with a family.

As The National reported yesterday, Sharjah is considering allowing expatriate families to foster children. Needless to say, it is a visionary idea to a serious social problem that will nonetheless be complicated by legal process.

Sharjah Social Services is looking at ways to allow expatriate families to care for children in specific cases. Federal law does not provide for legal adoption, and only Emirati families can foster children in the country. Moreover, abandoned children in the UAE are given nationality and social benefits.

Yet despite the privileges afforded to abandoned children, the country's laws at present make it difficult for orphaned children to be placed with a family. Many are raised in group homes, outside family structures that are critical to emotional well-being.

To be sure, the ban thus far on expatriate fostering is rooted in practical concerns. There are cases in which expatriate parents, even biological ones, leave for their home countries and abandon their financial and legal responsibilities towards their children. Such cases of abandonment are even more likely with fostered children. And it is logical that authorities would take measures to prevent that from happening.

But such cases can be addressed through more cooperation with foreign embassies, or better vetting of fostering candidates.

Under Islamic law, adoption in which a child is given the family's name is not allowed - to protect lineage - while guardianship is allowed. But in the UAE, guardianship does not mean the child enjoys the same legal and financial benefits as the guardian's biological children. Even if an adoptive expatriate parent is non-Muslim and moves to the UAE, the law does not require companies to provide the same benefits to their children. As a priority, such situations must be fixed by the law as it violates the spirit of the country's inclusive ways.

The UAE's caregiving centres for neglected, abused or orphaned children are ahead of other countries in the region. But the laws that govern adoption and fostering must be more flexible to accommodate the diversity of the country. The laws must be clear to allow expatriate families to foster children from inside the country, in specific cases. Clarifying such cases would help to avoid inconsistencies and confusion, and protect children.