x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

FNC agrees not to impose age cap on adoptive parents

Ministry wins changes to draft law in a move to ease adoption system.

ABU DHABI  // The FNC has persuaded officials to drop a plan limiting the age of parents who want to adopt - opening the way for more children in need to find families.

The council also won a guarantee of financial support for adoptive families who fall on hard times, and more post-adoption supervision.

A draft law drawn up by the Ministry of Social Affairs would have stopped couples adopting if either the husband or wife were over the age of 50.

The FNC's health, labour and social affairs committee consulted with experts in the field before calling for that limit to be removed during a review of a draft federal law on the care of orphans.

The measure was approved by ministry officials at the committee's last meeting on Tuesday.

The bill will now be considered by the Cabinet before being passed to Sheikh Khalifa, the President, for final approval. Only then will it become law.

The legislation is intended to replace a patchwork of procedures that vary between emirates and even between institutions. The bill covers permanent fostering, which is the only type of adoption allowed under Islamic law. The law prohibits adopted children taking the name of their new family.

The committee secretary Sultan Al Sammahi (elected, Fujairah) said the age cap would have made adoption impossible for some families.

"In some cases, the husband might be 51 and the wife might be 41," Mr Al Sammahi said. "If the law stayed as it was then they would not be able to adopt. So we recommended that [the lower limit] should stay at 25, which is a reasonable age, but with no upper limit."

At a previous meeting the committee heard evidence from a manager at the Dar Zayed care home, which is home to some 400 children, and Afaf Al Marri, the director of the Sharjah Social Services Department.

"They asked us what do you think, as we work directly with these children," said Ms Al Marri. "We thought maybe whoever drafted the law thought that an old women in her 50s or 60s would maybe be deceased when the child was 20.

"So we thought maybe that was the reason that cap was put in the bill - but removing it would make things easier."

Ms Al Marri and Mr Al Sammahi agreed that the goal was to help as many families as possible to adopt.

On the back of her testimony the committee put forward another amendment, which was also accepted by the ministry, requiring adoptive families to sign a care contract with the orphanage from which children came.

The committee also added a clause requiring that a social worker visit adoptive families three times a year, and that financial support is provided if necessary.

"There are not a lot of cases that need financial support but there are a few," Mr Al Sammahi said. "With regular visits, these families can then be helped."

Zahra Yousef, 22, has lived at Dar Zayed since she was a baby. She said the FNC's amendments would "make a big difference".

"It is better to live with a family but not all families are good, so making sure that [social workers] will check on the children is a good amendment," she said.

Hala Kazim, a 48-year-old Emirati mother who has a 15-year-old adopted son, said 50 was young. Removing the cap would help many families to adopt, she said.

"We don't want restriction, we want to give children more chances to be adopted," Mrs Kazim said. "For some couples 50 is a good age to adopt, once they have finished raising their own and want other children."

When she first adopted from Al Wasl Hospital, social workers phoned a few times but never visited. She said visits were essential to make sure families were coping.

"I was divorced for a while and I was struggling, then later I remarried," she said. "So something like this would have really benefited me.

"Anything they can do for adopted children is great. They need a normal home."