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Abandoned children in Syria, foster home or adoption?

Abandoned children in Syria, foster home or adoption?

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Life Homeless

Friday 28 April 202304:55 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

الأطفال مجهولو النسب في شمال سوريا... لا للتبنّي نعم للاحتضان

In the village of Qaminas, 5 kilometers southeast of Idlib city, Mohammed and his team headed to a landfill, where a baby girl was reportedly dumped there, and was heard crying.

"I didn't expect I'd see such a scene in my entire life, and I never thought that anyone could ever give up their own flesh and blood like that, but then I saw it with my own eyes. A baby girl wrapped in a white sheet crying as she shivered in the cold. She was lying next to the trash with cuts and scratches covering her little face. We transferred her to al-Sham Hospital in Sarmada, north of Idlib, for treatment, and then returned her four days later to the shelter section of the center," with these words, Mohammed Sweidan, the case management director at the Child House organization in northern Syria, which specializes in taking care of children of unknown parentage, sums up to Raseef22 the situation that Syria has reached.

The dilemma of children of unknown parentage and undocumented births has resurfaced as one of the most complex problems facing Syrian society, after Legislative Decree No. 2 of 2023, issued by the Damascus government in mid-January, which includes the establishment of an administratively and financially independent body under the name "Melody of Life Homes", under the pretext of organizing the affairs of, and caring for children of unknown parentage. This prompted us to discuss the issue of people of unknown parentage, how society deals with them and the extent to which they receive alternative care, especially in northwestern Syria, the most dangerous area there.

Accurate statistics on the number of children of unknown parentage in the areas under the control of the parties in the Syrian conflict (the regime, the opposition and SDF-controlled areas) are absent. However, data from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights indicate that since the beginning of 2020 to early 2022, 70 children who had been abandoned on the roadside or at the doors of mosques, homes, buildings, and humanitarian organizations, were found in regime-controlled areas. Meanwhile statistics from the Child House organization, the only organization in northwestern Syria that's concerned with children of unknown parentage, say that the number of children registered with it in the past two years reached 18 cases, and were all placed with foster or alternative families except for one case that is still in the shelter. 

Accurate statistics on the number of children of unknown parentage in Syria are lacking, and even non-existent in some areas, but estimates indicate that their numbers have risen significantly in recent years

A different perspective

Society's view of children of unknown parentage has changed after the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011. Previously they were viewed in a negative light and the child was not allowed to mingle with the rest of society, being the product of an extramarital relationship. But now, as a result of the repercussions of the revolution, there have been new developments in this issue, and children of unknown parentage are no longer just children born as a result of an illegal relationship, as there are children separated from their primary caregivers, i.e. their biological parents, for other reasons, such as poverty, destitution, poor living conditions, the inability of many to provide for their children, family disintegration, and the marriage of Syrian women to foreign fighters of unknown identity, who were killed or have disappeared.

Faisal al-Hammoud, director of Children's House, tells Raseef22 that "children of unknown parentage are divided into three categories: those who lost their parents/families in the war, those who were abandoned and left in hospitals immediately after birth, and there are those who were found in public places," adding that "the aim is not to look at how this child came into being or discuss the reasons that brought him to us, but rather deal with him as a child with requirements and rights that have nothing to do with the circumstances that led to his parents abandoning him, in addition to protecting him from persecution, exploitation and societal discrimination."

Religiously forbidden

Adoption is considered undesirable in Syrian society, since it is religiously forbidden in Islam, so as not to mix lineages and cause confusion and accidental inbreeding. Muslim clerics base this prohibition on the fifth verse of Surah Al-Ahzab, which says: "{Call your adopted sons after their true fathers; that is more equitable in the sight of Allah. But if you do not know their true fathers, then regard them as your brethren in faith and as allies. You will not be blamed if you make a mistake, only for what your hearts deliberately intend; God is most forgiving and merciful}."

Under this reality, the appropriate alternative to adoption is 'ihtidan' (fostering), foster care or alternative care, where the child lives with an alternative family under certain conditions until his or her real parents are found.

Al-Hammoud confirms that "the organization encourages cases of 'ihtidan' fostering, foster care and alternative care, which is why 18 cases have been united during the past two years with alternative or substitute families that do not have children," noting that "when handing over the child's guardianship to a foster family doing alternative care, we make all the necessary legal arrangements that indicate that this child does not belong to foster or alternative care, so that when his family is found, he must return to them. We also register the child in the civil registry under a separate category from that of foster care with a completely different name."

"I never expected I'd ever see such a scene in my entire life. We found a baby girl wrapped in a white sheet crying and shivering in the cold. She was lying next to the garbage dump, with cuts and scratches covering her little face"

For his part, Mahmoud Hadi, head of the Free Lawyers Association in northern Syria, tells Raseef22 that the law in the north views a person of unknown parentage as a vulnerable human being who deserves special care and attention to help him overcome the psychological and objective circumstances he has been placed in without his will. He says that "the issue of sponsoring, custody, and providing care in all its forms is the child's right, and it is the duty of society, its official and social institutions, and its civil organizations to protect this right."

Families wishing to foster

Many families seek to take in a child of unknown parentage, and usually, these families are unable to have children of their own, and have reasonable financial ability to raise and care for the child. "We have a large number of families who want to take in a child, and from these numbers, we select the family that is in the child's best interest, such as financially stable families with a good reputation," Sweidan says.

He adds, "The center's team follows up with the child for a full year after he is taken in by the alternative care provider, including eight follow-ups in the first month, four in the second month, two in the third month, and then intermittently, with the aim of reviewing the child's growth, development, health and nutritional care, and the new family is dealing with him."

"Anyone who sees the baby girl we found near the landfill and the way the alternative family treated her can only feel that she is their daughter and like she is from their own lineage, to the point that the life of the family that took the girl in changed for the better," Sweidan concludes.

For his part, the head of the Syrian Lawyers Association commented, "Syrian society is a kind, benevolent, compassionate, and caring society by nature, and I do not think that a foster or alternative family that seeks to take in and care for a child would mistreat, abuse, and expose him to risks, because it mainly aims to earn reward and emotional gratification from this, as well as satisfy its psychological need for a child, satisfy its desire to give him warmth, and compensate for his parents' missing affection."

Damascus laws, and the opposition

The United Nations classifies separated and unaccompanied children living with caregivers who are elderly or disabled, among the most vulnerable groups

The United Nations classifies separated and unaccompanied children residing with caregivers who are elderly or with disabilities, among the most vulnerable groups that need urgent assistance, because of the specific risks they face due to age, gender, disability and social perceptions of childhood. Whereas, Syrian law defines a child of unknown parentage as any child under the age of seven who is found without a proven parentage, whose parents are unknown, or who is lost and unable to find his way back to his or her parents due to his or her young age, mental incapacity, or because he or she is deaf or mute.

Article 24 of the decree issued by the Damascus government prohibits "melody of life homes", which are the social reference in everything related to children of unknown parentage throughout the territory of Syria, as well as the civil registry or any other legal body, from indicating or implying that the person is of unknown parentage in any of the official documents related to him/her. They'd be subject to accountability, as registering them in the register is carried out secretly, and access to this record is not allowed except upon a request from the competent court in the case of a paternity or proof of kinship lawsuit, and this raised many questions.

In addition, according to articles 20, 21 and 22 of the decree, a child is considered a Syrian Arab Muslim unless proven otherwise by a final court ruling, and the place where he is found is considered to be the place of his birth, unless proven otherwise, which opens the door for children who ] to foreign fathers to obtain the Syrian nationality and enjoy full civil rights as Syrians, and obtain identity papers.

Children of foreigners in Idlib

The data of foreigners is a major obstacle when it comes to registering their children in Idlib, as many of them hide their identity and prefer not to register their children in the civil registry, which puts them in the category of unknown parentage, in the event that the father is killed, disappears, or emigrates outside Syria.

In turn, the Syrian Salvation Government – the civilian wing of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham – established the "Foreign Immigrants Department" in mid-last year to register immigrants and their families. However, the question is: to what extent do foreigners interact with this issue?

Since Syrian society does not favor adoption for religious reasons, the appropriate alternative was 'ihtidan', a foster care system of sorts, i.e. the child lives with an alternative family under certain conditions until his/her real parents are found

Raseef22 contacted Abdullah Abdullah, Director General of the Civil Affairs Directorate at the Ministry of Interior of the Syrian Salvation Government, to ask about how the children of foreigners are dealt with in particular, in light of the refusal of many of them to disclose their identity. However, he declined to comment on this point, saying only that the documents required to register persons of unknown parentage include a police report from the relevant police station located where the child was found, a family statement from the sponsoring family including the names of all family members, a certificate of guardianship in the event that the handover is made to the guardian by the police station, a statement from the orphanage or the place where it was received, as well as a birth certificate that only mentions the name of the child, two witnesses, and the name of the guardian without mentioning the parents' names.

"When the registration is approved by the Civil Registry Department, and after the civil registrar makes a new record for the child, he shall be given the name of a father and mother and a lineage apart from the father's record," he said.

In the face of the dilemma of this group of children who bear the brunt of the problem, it seems that being taken in by capable families with a high degree of responsibility is the best solution for them, and a better place for them than the orphanages where they'd usually reside in otherwise, in light of circumstances that are leading to an increase in this category of children. There are many cases that are unregistered and no one has been able to access them, for a number of various reasons, the most important of which is: how sensitive this particular issue is and the reluctance of people to talk about it.

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