Forty-one years into independence, Bangladesh still does not have legal provisions for traditional adoption as understood in many developed countries, such as the United States. In line with most of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries, Bangladeshi laws permit legal guardianship or sponsorship of an abandoned or orphan child. According to UNICEF (2008), an estimated 4.4 million children in Bangladesh have lost a mother, father, or both parents. Furthermore, Australian Aid reveals that around 2 million children in Bangladesh are homeless and live on streets.
After the Bangladesh Abandoned Children (Special Provisions) Order 1972 was repealed in 1982 following allegations of child trafficking in the name of adoption, foreigners have been banned from adoption or even legal guardianship of Bangladeshi children. However, a non-resident Bangladeshi or a Bangladeshi with dual citizenship may apply for a legal guardianship. Consequently, in 2012, only nineteen adoptions from Bangladesh were completed in the United States – although the number is much higher than in the last 13 years. The process of filing for guardianship, then immigration, and finally adoption of the child abroad is strenuous and time-consuming.
While some Islamic clerics, such as Imam Yusuf Badat of Islamic Foundation of Toronto, are embracing the concept of adoption that grants full parental rights to the adoptive parents, most Muslim nations practice ‘kafala,’ a system that only allows guardianship or sponsorship, but not adoption in its fullest essence. This affects the inheritance of property and as a result, the economic future of the adopted child remains bleak. The Hindu Law in Bangladesh is particularly discriminatory towards girls as it allows the adoption of boys only. In addition, while a Hindu man has the rights to adopt children irrespective of his marital status, a Hindu woman achieves such a privilege only if she is married or widowed and if she has the permission of her husband.
Furthermore, social stigma is attached to infertility in Bangladesh and adoption is usually viewed as a by-product of infertility or ‘illicit’ relationship out of marriage. Women face the most brunt of this distorted perception as they are primarily accused of being barren (even if the husband is sterile) and the husband is convinced to re-marry a “complete” woman. Women unable to conceive are labeled inauspicious and are generally forced to undergo “divine” medical treatment by religious quacks.
Women in Bangladesh, particularly those in the rural areas, have little knowledge and control of their sexual and reproductive rights. As of 2007, an astounding 44.2% of rural women were forced to bear their first child, in spite of the fact that about 28,000 women die each year in Bangladesh due to pregnancy and abortion related complications. According to UNICEF (2007), about 48% of Bangladeshi women say their husbands alone make decisions about their health, while 35% say their husbands alone make decisions regarding visits to family and friends.
Having over 2 years of experience in the non-profit sector, I have seen orphaned children being sponsored for basic amenities; being fed a wholesome meal for a day; or being socially-involved through children’s parties – none of which is bad. However, something which is hardly propagated by most development organizations is that these children are being deprived of a key ingredient necessary for their mental health: love. According to National Institute of Mental Health in Bangladesh, one-fourth of children in Bangladesh suffer from mental health problems. Some of the reasons identified are increasing family problems, violence, and poverty. With such a backdrop, it is important that women who are yearning to adopt children are matched with children who are craving love, without any cultural and legal complications associated with the process.
In a country where 41% of the population is under 18 and 84% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, adoption seems a viable solution for social and economic development – a door that must be open to women. A uniform law that recognizes adoption in and from Bangladesh and is not bogged down by bureaucracy or religious extremism is a prerequisite to that end.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
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