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An evolving culture of adoption in Lebanon?Religion, civil war history affect families

By Jessy Chahine Daily Star Wednesday, September 08, 2004

In some areas of the country where adopting is still looked down upon, 'fostering' is a more palatable option


 BEIRUT: Twenty-four years ago, Nadia and Kamal decided to adopt a child while on a visit to lebanon. "I still remember it as if it were yesterday," said Nadia, who has lived in the U.S. since the 1960's. At the time, the couple was contacted by a friend who was a doctor, as he looking someone to adopt a newborn. The couple decided to adopt the little boy despite the fact that they already had a two-year old daughter, Aya.

"The doctor told me that the father of the child was killed in the war, that his mother had died in labor and that he was going to be placed in an orphanage since no one in his family wanted to look after him," Nadia added.

"I don't know what came over me, but it was a spur of the moment decision and I instantly knew that I wanted this child."

While the couple's decision to adopt Nabil was prompted by compassion, for other couples desperate for a child, adoption is the only option. Either way, experts argue, Lebanese law does not make the prospect easy since all family matters are dealt with by religious courts, which differ according to the community.

While adoption is prohibited in Islam, couples have the option of being legal guardians of a child who they raise as their own, but who does not take their name. Ibrahim Traboulsi, a lawyer and professor of family law at Saint Joseph University, said that children can be adopted from an orphanage, the hospital in which they are born or directly from the biological parents - who must in turn sign a release for the child. "Once a child has been found, the prospective parents must then approach the courts with all the necessary documents," Traboulsi said.

Among the Lebanese christian community, full adoption is permitted and, except for minor details, all churches follow the same rules. In the Roman Catholic Church, adoption is also possible for single parents.

According to Habib Badr, a pastor at the Evangelical Church, petitioners should be at least 18 years older than the child, who must also belong to the same community. "The (above) couple was able to adopt Nabil despite having another child because authorities were less able to exercise control during the war," the pastor said, adding that the church insists that adoptive parents should not have any other children.

"The couple must also present medical proof that they are unable to have babies of their own," Badr said, "and if a woman becomes pregnant after adoption, which is a very common occurrence, the couple may keep both children."

According to legal expert Abdo Abou Jaoude, biological parents lose all custody rights as soon as they sign the release. "They may, however, obtain permission to see the child if the adoptive parents agree," Abou Jaoude said, adding that there is no official authority that follows up on the welfare of a child after it is adopted. "It's up to the Ministry of Social Affairs to undertake this responsibility."

In Western countries, Traboulsi said, conditions for adoption are very tough - and for justifiable reasons.

"In those countries, if a child's rights are violated, he or she can be removed from the home," Traboulsi said. "This would apply for both biological and adopted children."

Unfortunately, he added, by allowing religious authorities in this country to deal with such sensitive family matters without guarantees of state protection, "the government is forfeiting its responsibility."

Ugarit Unan, anthropologist and pedagogist, argued that previous attempts by the ministry to prevent child abuse have proven insufficient.

"We are always one step too late," Unan said, "and while adoption is relatively common in Lebanon, very few statistics on it are available. This could be, Unan said, because most adoptions are shrouded in secrecy since society tends to frown upon them.

"One thing that really bothered me while I was in Lebanon was people's initial reaction when we decided to adopt Nabil," Nadia said. "They kept asking us how we could even think of adopting a child, when we didn't even know if he was Christian or Muslim."

According to Unan, one reason why adoption is perceived negatively in this country is that, unlike Western societies where birth records are available for adopted children, in Lebanon, most children put up for adoption are officially regarded as "illegitimate" and in many instances have been abandoned by their parents.

"All children born out of wedlock are illegitimate in the eyes of the law," Unan said, "Adoptive parents are therefore often put in a position where they don't know what they are getting themselves into."



Because of the negative aura that surrounds adoption in Lebanon; many parents choose not to tell a child that he or she is adopted.

Unan said that it was not uncommon for children in this country to find out entirely by accident that they were adopted.

At a certain age, Unan said, children can become very inquisitive and may begin to ask questions about why they look different from their parents.

According to Unan, such a dramatic discovery about one's identity can lead to very different reactions depending, to a large extent, on the environment in which a child lives.

"On one hand, in villages and other closed societies, adoption is still seen as a very negative thing, and a child who is adopted is made to feel unacceptable," Unan said. "While in more urban and open societies on the other hand, adoptive parents raise a child with the idea that he is special and was chosen from many other children available for adoption."

Furthermore, Unan added, in an advanced stage of the adoption process, parents start telling their adopted children positive stories about their biological parents, and in that sense, erase any feeling of shame.

Telling the truth worked well for Nadia.

"From the very beginning, Nabil wasn't worried about being adopted," she said, "as far as he was concerned, there were a boy and girl, short and tall, and also adopted and biological."

Neither Nabil nor his parents have any regrets, she added: "If I had to do it over and over again, I wouldn't change a thing," Nadia said.

Nadim Feghali, another legal expert and religious court lawyer, defined adoption as a way of providing a new family and home for children who can no longer live with their ''birth'' family.

It is a legal process by which the adopted by which the adopted child becomes a full and permanent member of their new family.

"The adopted child will take on their new parents' surname, and will gain the rights of any natural children including inheritance rights," Feghali said, "and when they have adopted the child, the adoptive parents take on the responsibility to care for that child emotionally, economically and physically as if they were their own."

Currently, around five social services and adoption homes in Lebanon, have the responsibility of making sure that vulnerable children and toddlers are safe, cared for and grow up in a stable family environment with approved adoptive parents who are trained and dedicated to raising them.

"The decision to place a child for adoption is not taken lightly, and adoption will only be considered when it's not possible or suitable for a child to remain with their birth family," said Dalal Merhebi, a kindergarten teacher at a renowned Lebanese orphanage. "Choosing to adopt a child is not a decision that can be made easily."

However, with adoption in Lebanon being surrounded by many negative hues and difficulties, fostering is a bit more tolerated.

"Fostering is a way of providing an alternative family life for children and young people who cannot live at home with their own family," Unan said. "This may be because a parent is ill or needs short term support, or, more seriously, because the child is unable to return home and needs a long-term family."

Fostering, according to Unan, may involve looking after a child for a night or two, at weekends, for a few months, or for a number of years. "Fostering is another alternative for adoption," Unan said, "and it's working well in Lebanon, due to the numerous complications that the religious impose on the adoptive parents."

According to Samir Khalaf, sociologist, the majority of the children placed for adoption will have had an unsettled early life and may have physical, emotional and educational delay.

"Apart from their clearly identified individual needs, all the children placed for adoption will have a need for stability and will have experienced loss in their lives," Khalaf said. "Some may have been abused or neglected and may display challenging behavior."

Some of them, Khalaf also added, do not know how it feels to be part of a stable family or to have a meaningful relationship with an adult. "These children want to feel safe and secure and be looked after by parents who will love and protect them," Khalaf said.


Ecrit par laurencia le Mardi 7 Septembre 2004, 01:00 dans "ACTU 2017/2018" Lu 2402 fois. Version imprimable

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