Uganda revises international adoption laws

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 3/08/16, 01:25 pm

Ugandan lawmakers have passed a bill that could limit the number of foreign adoptions in an attempt to close loopholes in a fractured system rife with abuse.

The Children’s Amendment 2015, approved on March 2, will offer legal guardianship only to Ugandan citizens and extend the adoption process duration to a year. The bill mandates background checks for foreigners and only allows inter-country adoption if a child lacks a legal guardian.

In the past, adoption policies allowed foreigners to apply for and receive legal guardianship within days of their arrival in the country. Lawmaker Bernard Atiku said the bill, once it becomes law, will ensure adoption “is in the best interest of the child, not the person intending to adopt.”

According to UNICEF, Uganda is home to more than 2 million orphans. But the country’s international adoption process is marred by abuse.

“Someone would come here and apply for legal guardianship on Monday and by Wednesday they would have it,” said Marlon Agaba, a children’s rights activist. “Actually the foreigner did not even need to be physically in Uganda to apply.”

Reports revealed some Ugandan families signed away the legal guardianship of their children, thinking they were going to study abroad. The Thomson Reuters Foundation investigated Uganda’s inter-country adoption process in May and came up with similar findings.

“Ugandan families have been bribed, tricked, or coerced into giving up their children to U.S. citizens and other foreigners for adoption,” according to the report.

The interest in adopting from developing countries, coupled with the high financial benefits, creates prime conditions for trafficking. David Smolin, director of the Center of Children’s Law and Ethics at Samford University, said in some cases, children who could be reunited with extended family are not, due to the financial incentives international adoption offers.

“Children don’t have to be literally trafficked for it to be improper,” Smolin said. “It can be improper if international adoption jumps the queue and becomes the first option because of the monetary [incentive]. Family preservation is supposed to be the first option.”

The U.S. State Department shows American adoptions from Uganda more than tripled between 2012 and 2013, but declined to just 200 in 2014. Ugandan President Yoweri Musuveni is expected to sign the bill into law in a few weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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  • Amy Medina
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:32 pm

    The bill has been signed!  Great news for Uganda....hoping it will happen in many more African countries as well.