Blocked adoptions in DR Congo: ‘It’s like our children are in prison’

More than a thousand legally adopted children from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have spent the past two years languishing in their orphanages, their arrivals at their new homes blocked by a diplomatic deadlock.


Florence and David (names have been changed) have wavered for two years between hope and disappointment. They have been repeatedly told that the arrival of their new son is imminent, only to have it postponed indefinitely. “What more do we have to do to show that we are ‘clean’?” they ask despairingly. “They have been announcing his arrival since May, only to have it blocked in the end.”

Now in their 40s, Florence and David live in Gironde in southwest France. They are just one of some 300 French families who have legally adopted Congolese children -- children who, nevertheless, remain in their orphanages because of a 2013 freeze on exit permits imposed by the authorities in Kinshasa.

An August 14 cabinet meeting, with President Joseph Kabila in attendance, was convened to look into the issue, but it failed to break the gridlock and the matter was adjourned. “They failed to achieve a quorum, since many ministers were on vacation,” Florence said. “And in matters such as this, all members of the cabinet must agree. Now we have to wait until September.”

Social workers, psychiatrists, medical tests

For the frustrated couple it’s another month of waiting for the boy who has shared their family name since June 2013. And another month in which Florence and David cannot talk to or see their child, who is now more than 6 years old. “The DRC prohibits all direct contact,” Florence explained. “For the past two years we have exchanged photos. We write him little notes, and he has sent us drawings and prints of his hands.”

This enforced separation is particularly hard to bear for a couple that has already done so much to prove that they are ready to welcome a child into their home. “Everything has been done legally,” said Florence. “We went through an OAA (authorised adoption authority) that is linked to the foreign ministry. After receiving approval in 2012, we were evaluated for more than a year. They came to our home, we had numerous interviews with a social worker, we were questioned by two psychiatrists, we submitted to medical tests, and then our application was passed to a committee. We were able to prove that we were parents who had carefully thought through our decision to adopt. We are not like some American families who, in the past, did abominable things.”

The United States, which accounts for most international adoptions, has been shaken in recent years by cases that border on child trafficking. In 2013, a Reuters journalist uncovered a network of parents who rid themselves of their adopted children by offering them to other families on Facebook or on Yahoo groups. According to the report, more than 260 children ̶̶  most between 9 and 12 years of age and predominantly female ̶̶   were exchanged that year just on Yahoo. Some of them were transferred, outside of any legal framework, to families that the social services knew had a history of mistreating or sexually abusing their biological children.

Opposing gay adoptions

High-profile cases such as these have prompted some countries to tighten their rules for international adoptions. Adding to the complications is the fierce opposition to gay adoption in some of the children’s countries of origin. In suspending exit permits in 2013, Kinshasa justified the move by claiming that some adopted Congolese children had been either mistreated or adopted by gay families.

In addition to the hundreds of French families who are still waiting, the Congolese blockade has affected a thousand more families, predominantly from Canada, America, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. “Some have been waiting for four years,” according to Adoption RDC, a parents advocacy group of which Florence and David are members.

At the beginning of August, US senators officially demanded that Congolese authorities speed up processing of the adoption dossiers now on hold. In 2014 French President François Hollande sent a letter to his Congolese counterpart that resulted in the eventual departures of eight adopted children. But the families accuse officials of doing nothing since then to end the deadlock. “If the Quai d’Orsay (France’s foreign ministry) does not raise the pressure and push for a resolution, nothing will happen,” Florence said. “The French authorities do not seem as invested in the issue as those of some other nations. Maybe they are working on it, but if so they are not communicating, so we do not know. It does not seem to be a priority.”

‘Trust issues’

Contacted by FRANCE 24, the French embassy in Kinshasa maintains that it is monitoring the situation closely. “In consultation with the representatives of other foreign nations concerned, we are in regular contact with the Congolese authorities. We have had positive feedback on the possible outcomes of some of the cases, but have had a problem with some foreign families who have tried to leave with the children via Zambia. It is a complicated issue and one that involves the highest Congolese authorities. The Congolese people have expressed concern about gay parents and want to be sure that Congolese laws are respected. There are also trust issues vis-à-vis the procedures involved, and we have to do a lot of explaining.”

Meanwhile, the waiting families grow a bit more worried every day. Many orphanages lack the necessary resources or have poor sanitary conditions. According to Adoption RDC, 10 children adopted by foreigners have died so far in 2015 with authorities exhibiting “almost total indifference”.

“We know where our son’s orphanage is located, and we exchange photos with other parents,” said Florence. “Life there is difficult; access to water is provided by a single tap. In some of the dormitories the beds have mattresses but not mosquito nets, increasing the risk of malaria. But the children are not abused, and the staff has done what it can with what is available.”

Like all of the children awaiting exit permits, the young Congolese boy adopted by Florence and David is not going to school. “We tried but were not successful,” Florence said. "It’s very complicated to send money and to be sure that it is being used wisely. The toys and books we sent over never reached the orphanage. We don't have much control over the process, and we don't know how to meet his needs. I am unhappy for our family, which remains incomplete, and for all of the children, who have so little. They are not sufficiently nourished physically, intellectually or with affection. It’s like they are in prison.”

This article was translated from the original in French.

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