Child trafficking fears, stringent adoption policies confine children to orphanages
Conflicts all over the world have resulted in innocent casualties—children—whose only mistake is being born in areas of conflict.
South Sudan, with its long history of armed struggle and clashes, is no exception. And, as a result of the wars, parents, whether conscripted or not, have been killed in the crossfires, leaving behind helpless children at a time when they need parental support the most.
Necessity is the mother of inventions, and with the influx of war orphans, individuals and no governmental organisations have started and run orphanages, which ideally are supported to provide the basic needs and psychosocial support to the unfortunate children who find themselves in such situations.
One such orphanage on the outskirts of Juba is the Straight Link Centre, which on the outside provides education all the way from nursery to secondary.
Here we find 18-year old Jean Achola Alfred. Like the majority here, she has a chilling story of how she found herself here; her father was shot during the civil war and her mother died shortly after. She was left to stay with her uncle, who wanted to marry her off at the age of 13, and she had to flee. She had a stint in the streets of Juba before a friend of her late father managed to bring her to the orphanage.
“For sure I lost hope. Imagine being on the streets at the age of 13. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. The orphanage is my home. It has taken care of me. I have experienced great change in my life to the extent that I cannot even look like this, I cannot believe that I am even sitting for senior four exams, “she says.
Another orphan, Mark Lokenno, says he is from Eastern Equatoria State and was taken to the orphanage by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare. He says he was left alone and did not know anyone by the time he was picked up.
“This is the only home I have known. If there was another one, then I do not have that one in my memories. I started primary education here in 2012 and I am happy that I am now sitting for my South Sudan Certificate of Secondary Education, “he says.
At least 90 orphans under the age of 18 are at the Straight Link Centre Orpahange, situated on the outskirts of Juba. But the number of minors in this orphanage has put a strain on resources, despite support from the government and donor communities.
According to Patrick Lapock, the director of the orphanage, basic requirements such as food, clothing, education, and housing are insufficient.
“Everyone wants to come here, and they want free education, food, and clothing. This is way beyond what we can give as an organization, “he says.
Feeding has been the most difficult problem at the orphanage, and Patrick says this is the single reason that makes the populations here fluctuate.
“Numbers change depending on the scenario on the ground,” he explained. “When we have enough food, the number rises; when we don’t have enough food, the number falls.” We currently have a little more than 90 children. “
The orphanages in South Sudan have also suffered as a result of the country’s famine. When these facilities run out of food, there is an exodus either into or out of the orphanage.
“Every now and then, we run out of food. We require the food urgently; sometimes the food provided is insufficient, and it is consumed within one to two weeks. When we receive food, the youngsters return to the orphanage centre, and I’m curious how they learned that food was available, “he says.
Giving up minors for adoption is one option for reducing the burden in orphanages like this one.
However, this has become a tall order. The government has temporarily limited child adoptions in response to accusations that certain unscrupulous individuals would take children from orphanages and traffic them.
Patrick agrees that the process of adopting a kid is time-consuming, which explains why certain orphanages have a large number of orphans who stay for an extended period of time. While the process and its strictness have hindered the adoption process, on one hand, Patrick is in agreement with the authorities that the same has made it impossible for unscrupulous individuals to engage in child trafficking.
The government and the Ministry of Gender have supported the adoption process, but the centre has not handed over any child for adoption due to child trafficking fears.
“I gave a child to a woman who was our own here, but the woman decided to mishandle the child. When the child came back we realised that the child did not want to see the woman, and up to now, we wonder what the woman did to the child.”
With accusations of child trafficking, giving up children for adoption has become a highly sensitive matter.
Patrick says, “If they remove the child, she may be abducted and traded for cows, and the child’s rights will be violated.” We cannot offer the child up for adoption unless the government gives us permission.”
The government requires anyone wanting to adopt a child from an orphanage to make a formal request. From there, the relevant ministry then makes an enquiry at the relevant orphanage to establish if they have a child they can give up for adoption.
The process is strenuous as one is required to acquaint themselves with the child for three months of continuous visits to the orphanage.
By the time the minor is handed over for adoption, there should be every indication that the child will be comfortable in the receiving household.
But Patrick must deal with more than just the food dilemma. The Orphanage Straight Link Centre also educates orphans and other vulnerable youngsters. However, the man who feels that children need better educational facilities has found it difficult to maintain a good educational facility.
“Even now, when you go to the classroom where the pupils are taking their examinations, you will see them seated on plastic chairs,” he says.
As the number of orphans and vulnerable youngsters grows, especially when food is plentiful, Patrick finds himself with a large number of children in need of proper housing. However, providing enough housing for a large number of children remains a concern.