ALLEGED homophobia and pro-Christian bias by South African adoption agencies have sparked an international investigation by the SA Human Rights Commission. Complaints by families and adoption organisations in South Africa, the US, Europe and elsewhere have led to the inquiry.
A well-placed source within the commission revealed that several South African adoption agencies and the Social Development Department were being investigated.
Human Rights Commission spokesman Isaac Mangena said the commission was investigating allegations of discrimination by adoption agencies in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
"The complaints received by the commission are that the criteria used by the South African agencies are discriminatory and, prima facie, contravene the constitution and the Children's Act."
The Social Development Department – whose spokesman, Lumka Oliphant, failed to respond to questions put to her – is the only entity that can accredit South African adoption agencies to undertake South African and foreign adoptions. The department is accused of accrediting adoption agencies while being aware of their discriminatory policies.
According to the 2011 census, 3.3 million South African children are orphans – more than half of them because of HIV/Aids.
The National Adoption Coalition estimates there are between 1.5 million and 2 million children who would benefit from adoption.
But only one in 500 is adopted.
Prospective adoptive parents from overseas allege that most agencies overseeing inter-country adoptions discriminate against homosexuals, non-Christians and single individuals.
South Africa has 10 countries with which it has adoption agreements, and seven agencies that oversee such adoptions.
ABBA Adoption Agency – which facilitates adoptions with at least seven countries and is being investigated by the commission – was required to change in November when the Social Development Department's Central Authority (SACA) found it had discriminatory criteria.
The authority's adoption norms and standards do not allow discrimination in respect of race, gender, language, religion, disability or financial means.
Two western European couples, who have been trying to adopt in South Africa for more than three years, have slammed ABBA.
They claim their sexual orientation and religion have delayed the process.
One of them, a homosexual couple who have been married for 10 years, want to adopt a pair of siblings.
ABBA is the only South African adoption agency approved by the Social Development Department to facilitate the adoption of South African orphans by residents of the home country of the two couples.
ABBA requires prospective parents to be:
ıChristian (proved by a letter from a church);
ıHeterosexual (mixed-sex couples); and
ıMarried for at least five years.
The couple only meet the last criterion.
"Adoptive parents are in a very vulnerable position ... they fully depend on the organisation involved on whether they will be allowed to start a family," one of the couples said.
South African-born entrepreneur Michelle Delport, who now lives in the Netherlands, is heartbroken and frustrated by her six-year adoption struggle.
Though willing to adopt three children she will, in two years, be too old to qualify. The cut-off age for South African inter-country adoptions is 46.
"On many occasions, it was made clear that my single and non-Christian status put me at the end of the list," she said.
ABBA Adoptions executive head Katinka Pieterse refused to comment on the allegations.
"The process needs to be followed ... it might make more sense to report on it after all the facts have been explored and presented," she said.
Childline's Joan van Niekerk said: "Adoptive agencies are required to act within the law as it is there to protect the child, biological parent [and] prospective parent."