There have been stories in the news in the first half of 2010 about the care of orphans which lead to difficult questions. Recent cases in Haiti where the US-based New Life Children’s Refuge tried to take a group of 33 children across the border to the Dominican Republic and to the US showed that in circumstances such as disaster zones or third world economies, orphans are vulnerable. At the time, the Haitian Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin described the case as “abduction, not adoption.” In the Haitian case, many of the children were discovered not to be orphans, and that the people who asked on behalf of the orphans did so for financial gains.
A couple of years ago, a similar situation arose when the French agency Zoe’s Ark tried to take 103 orphans from Chad whom they claimed were victims of the war in Darfur (Sudan). A UN investigation found that the children were neither from Darfur or Sudan, nor were they orphans. Claims from these agencies that such children were “in need of God’s love and compassion” might harbour a genuine wish to offer them a better life and take them out of difficult circumstances, but beg the question of who was in the best position to decide about on the welfare of these children. More recently, the singer Madonna took her 4-year-old adopted son David back for a trip to his native Malawi where he visited his old orphanage ‘Home of Hope’, but was unable to meet his living father Yohane Banda.
Recent research suggests that there are now 143 million orphans worldwide. There are hundreds of thousands of parents in North America and Europe who have a burning desire to adopt children from deprived countries and to give them a bright and loving future.
However, the common thread in the previous stories presented here is that all parties seem to be acting in their own interests rather than directly in the interests of the orphans. Well-meaning people in richer countries have a desire to have children or to raise vulnerable children in the faith and cultural background of their own choice, and often existing parents or near relatives of the children seem very happy to part with the children for paltry sums of money. So the question is, what is in the best interests of the orphans (if indeed they are orphans) themselves?
Often, these children have a lone parent or extended family. They will have a strong cultural attachment to their roots. Surely, it would be better to improve facilities close to their homes. Ensuring that they are in a safe environment where they cannot easily be exploited, providing them with food and water, clothing, education and training are often possible where they live and could give them a much more stable start in life.
The Holy Qur’an says:
And prove the orphans until they attain the age of marriage; then, if you find in them sound judgement, deliver to them their property; and devour it not in extravagance and haste against their growing up. (Ch.4:V.7)
For those parents who feel worried about limited means, the Qur’an says:
…kill not your children for fear of poverty – it is We Who provide for you and for them… (Ch.6:V.152)
These verses remind parents and near relatives that the source of their income and their ability to provide for the children is from God and, therefore, they should never compromise the welfare of their children for fear of poverty, nor should they avoid having children for the same fears. At the same time, the trust of orphaned children be discharged honourably until they reach maturity and can handle their estate themselves.
Through a wider philosophical argument, it could be argued that ‘their property’ not only includes any wealth passed down from their parents, but also the priceless extended family and social ties and cultural associations that they inherit.
Returning to the original stories from Haiti, Chad and Malawi, if this guidance is followed, neither should the families have allowed their children to be bartered for paltry sums, nor should agencies have assumed that exporting the children to a more developed country is necessarily better for their future. Sometimes, adopted children go through years of agony to try to discover their origins and recover their cultural heritage.
At the same time, there are many cases of orphans and non-orphans being adopted by families abroad and being given a wonderful start in life. Such parents also help those children to recover their roots once they are older, however this is not always the case.
The most important point is that it is the duty of carers to ensure that the best interests of the children are being upheld irrespective of other financial or personal considerations. We must not be naive and ignore the dangers of trafficking and commercial enterprise.
Caring for orphans is a desire that people of all faiths share, but how and where to care for them is a sensitive issue that cannot be considered lightly, but must always be done with the interests of the children at heart.