Adoption in Guyana

By Arlene London

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Posted January 29th. 2000

It is common for some to view fostering and adoption as the same because both processes provide for the common good of disadvantaged children. However, while a person's good intentions are admirable it is important to note that the processes differ legally speaking.


Adoption is a permanent and legal procedure which transfers all the rights and responsibilities of parenting to the adoptive parent, while fostering is a temporary period of child care which still gives the natural parents the right to claim their child.

Adoption in Guyana is governed by the Adoption of Children Act, Chapter 46:06 and states that to adopt a child the applicant, or in the case of a joint application, one of the applicants, has attained the age of 25 and is at least 21 years older than the child or has attained the age 18 and is a relative of the child or is the mother or father of the child.

According to the Laws of Guyana an adoption order shall not be made in respect of a child who is a female in favour of a sole applicant who is a male unless the court is satisfied that there are special circumstances which justify it. The term child under the act refers to a person under the age of 18 years who has never been married. Babies should at least be six weeks old before they can be adopted.

Abandoned children up to age four are mostly kept at the Children's Convalescent Home in D'Urban Backlands. A period of fostering is arranged for persons desirous of adopting one of these children through the medical social worker at the Georgetown Hospital. The length of the fostering period depends on how quickly bonding takes place between the child and its prospective parent which can be immediate or gradual. In such cases the child is a ward of the Ministry of Health.

Amendment

An amendment to the act passed in the National Assembly on December 13, 1997 made provision for overseas based Guyanese and non-nationals to adopt children in Guyana, a procedure previously not allowed, upon presentation of a home study report from a reputable social service agency in their locality.

Although the report can provide details of the applicants' working and living conditions, according to Marva Williams, secretary of the Adoption Board, verifying the accuracy of the information presents a particular difficulty to the local adoption board. Williams called for more contact to be established with overseas agencies to make the procedure more transparent.

Steps

A person considering the adoption of a child should firstly apply to the Adoption Board, Ministry of Human Services and Social Security on specified applications and medical forms provided.

The medical form is very important because it outlines the medical history of the applicant. Married couples are asked to apply jointly.

A return date is then given for an office interview when the applicant(s), child and its parents have to appear jointly. In the event that the child's parents are dead, proof can be provided through a death certificate. At this interview the child's birth certificate and (if married) the applicant's marriage certificate must be presented. Other documents such as a death certificate (in case of the death of a spouse) as well as divorce papers may also be required depending on the circumstances of each particular case.

A court cannot make an adoption order without the consent of each parent or guardian of the child unless the parent or guardian has abandoned, neglected or persistently mistreated the child, cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent. In cases where the parent(s) cannot be found, efforts are made to contact them, requiring the applicant to advertise for three consecutive Saturdays in a daily newspaper advising the parent to turn up.

Because parental consent is very essential to the adoptive process an explanatory memorandum is furnished by the board to a parent or guardian. The memorandum makes known to the parents the implications of giving their child up for adoption. Time is allowed for questions and consideration in which a parent is allowed to withdraw or give their consent in writing.

Once consent is obtained, the applicants are advised via an enclosure letter from the Board to file two copies of their legal papers in the Supreme Court through a lawyer to appoint the board guardian ad litem of the child. This is a period in which the board acts as the guardian of the child or children so as to make the transition from parent to applicant uncomplicated once approval is given.

After the ad litem or first order as it is also called is granted, an officer of the board pays a visit to the home of the applicant to have further discussion with them and the child or children involved as a preview to writing a report. In cases where the child does not live with the applicant a probationary period is allowed for bonding between the two parties.

The Adoption Board meets on the last Wednesday of every month. All persons involved are asked to be present on a scheduled date at one of the meetings at which the findings of the report will be presented. Sheila George currently holds the chairmanship of the voluntary six-member board which can recommend, reject or defer an application for an adoption.

A decision in favour of the applicant would be followed by a recommendation of the case to the High Court for the making of a Final Order. The board can defer a case until it is fully convinced about the competence of the applicant or can reject it because there are no justifiable grounds for the adoption. At a later date the parties involved - once the board approves - the applicant, child or children and their natural parents (if alive) will be given notice to attend court before a judge in chambers for the making of the Final Order. It is at this point that the work of the secretary of the Adoption Board ends. A few weeks later the applicant should be able to buy the 'Adoptive Certificate' from the Registrar General.

Williams noted that adoption should not be for the sole purpose of taking a child abroad but should ensure the best interest of the child is served. Based on her three years as adoption secretary she indicated that the adoptive process should take between six to eight months but depended on the length of time the matter takes to be heard in the courts and the speed with which the lawyer expedites the matter. Such cases are heard once per week in the judges' chambers.

Since the amendment of the Act in 1997, the number of overseas applicants have increased but they, however, face a number of limitations. The presence of an overseas applicant is required at least for the start of the process and the making of the final order necessitating their presence in Guyana at times that may conflict with their jobs. It also has to be evidenced that there has been ample contact with the overseas applicant and the child(ren) to be adopted.

At times difficulties are experienced at embassies when proof of contact (letters or bills) and interest shown in the adoptees are required before overseas travel can be authorised.

The amendment of the Act to accommodate overseas applicants has also exposed the need for more training and exposure for adoption officers, which, according to Williams, is especially needed in dealing with overseas matters and adoption laws.

Randolph Gordon, an adoption officer since 1994, also emphasised the importance of parental consent which some applicants try to obtain by coercion and indicated the need for a records clerk in the department and the sensitizing of the public on the functions of the Adoption Board.

Gordon noted that the adoption secretary needed to be given a chance to concentrate on work that falls under her responsibility. At present apart from official duties the adoption secretary also has to man the records library and execute other clerical functions which detracts from a complete focus on the adoption process.

Legal proceedings

A lawyer becomes involved in the adoption process after parental consent is granted for the adoption, and has responsibility for filing the legal papers to have the Adoption Board appointed guardian ad litem of the child. This is in an effort to allow for a smooth transferral of the child from parent to the applicant.

Such papers would include information on the child's natural parents--name, age, address, consent and on the applicants--name, address, means, religious persuasion, whether they can properly contribute to the upkeep of the child among other things. If the court is not satisfied with the information presented, the probation officer who visited the applicant's home and attends court would be called upon to provide further information.

After the first order is granted the lawyer also has to be present for the granting of the final order. A Legal Aid source expressed satisfaction with the system in place to foster adoptions in Guyana, describing it as a safe mechanism in which the best interest of the child is looked after

The source favoured the smooth transition from natural parent to the adoptive parent, characterized as being structured in a way that no one gets hurt.

Lawyer Louise Blenman, a general practitioner who has dealt with adoption cases over 11 years, alluded to the adoption process as one of the smoothest in Guyana, compared with cases involving the division of property and matrimonial matters. She opined that the courts work well and had no major cause for complaint. For that reason adoptions are prevalent in Guyana, a lawyer on average handling ten to 20 cases per year. One small hitch, however, was the length of time it takes at times to schedule an appointment with the Adoption Board after the first order is granted, in order to get approval.

Blenman cited economic reasons as a major force behind adoptions in Guyana where it is more economical for a single mother to give one of her children up to a childless or affluent relative. In some cases applicants are only seeking to legalise their status as the guardians of the children after caring for them for a number of years.

The lawyer, however called from some for of action from the authorities in dealing with street and abandoned children. She pointed out that it was rare for anyone to adopt a child directly from the streets hence the need for more orphanages and social care for the abandoned as a method of reform to make them more fit for adoption.

Note: Address of Ministry of Human Service and Social Security: 1 Water and Cornhill Streets, Georgetown, Guyana. Phone: 592-2-68996, 592-2-56700; Fax: 592-2-71308

Stabroek News, November 7, 1999