KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30 ― The process for adopting children in Malaysia is generally simple and straightforward, according to OrphanCARE and a woman trying to adopt a girl amid a baby-selling controversy.
The non-profit organisation said although the adoption process is not complicated, the wait for a baby can take up to a year.
“There's no difficulty with the adoption process,” OrphanCARE trustee Noraini Hashim told Malay Mail Online in an interview this week.
She said OrphanCARE receives an average of two to three babies a month and that the waiting list for prospective adoptive parents, which used to be longer, has about a few hundred names now.
OrphanCARE runs three baby hatches in the peninsula and collaborates with KPJ Healthcare Berhad that has eight.
“When a baby comes in, we will see who's next on the list and they'll be called for an interview. The process may take a while. Perhaps that's why some people get tired of waiting and they look for alternative ways of getting a baby,” said Noraini.
An Al Jazeera documentary released last Thursday showed a thriving trade in Malaysia where babies are sold for purportedly between US$1,500 (RM6,750) and US$2,500 (RM11,250), often with the help of doctors and corrupt National Registration Department (NRD) officials who falsify birth documents. The report by the Doha-based broadcaster said some parents who buy babies list themselves as the biological parents in the infant’s falsified birth certificate.
Noraini said OrphanCARE matches infants categorised as Muslims to Muslim parents and non-Muslim ones to non-Muslim parents. The non-profit group also tries to match adoptive parents with babies who have similar skin colour. The birth mother is consulted too.
“When they register with OrphanCARE, they go through a strict screening process, which involves a very detailed questionnaire, a face to face interview and a compulsory parenting course, a whole day course. After going through all that, they're put on a shortlist,” said Noraini, referring to prospective adoptive parents.
According to Noraini, out of the 151 adoptions at OrphanCARE, 29 had no documents and were stateless, but OrphanCARE had arranged birth certificates for all 151 babies. Those who want to adopt a stateless child will have to apply for citizenship for the infant with the NRD. Only one of OrphanCARE's stateless babies has received citizenship.
OrphanCARE has arranged 151 adoptions, besides convincing 90 mothers to keep their babies, said Noraini.
A 32-year-old filmmaker, who is in the midst of adopting a three-year-old girl as a single mother, also said the adoption process in Malaysia is straightforward.
Complications arise only if it’s unknown where the desired child came from, if the necessary paperwork is not available, if the child was not born in Malaysia, or if government officials ask for bribes, which is why the filmmaker hired a lawyer to act as her agent. Some of the papers needed are the child’s birth certificate and a statutory declaration from the birth parents or from the de facto guardian if the birth parents are unknown.
“Usually, it's a very straightforward and simple process if you fulfil the criteria,” the woman told Malay Mail Online in a phone interview, requesting anonymity as only her immediate family know of her decision to adopt a child.
“I felt some of the criteria was put in place with good intentions. There are measures in place to make sure when you adopt this kid, you can take care of the child,” she said, citing criteria such as requiring the adoptive parent to be at least 25 years old and not less than 21 years older than the child.
“The Welfare Department interviewed me, looked into my financial records, looked into my family history. They do quite a thorough background check and they do a home visit. There's also a couple of guarantees you need to be able to give them, like financial stability,” she added.
If the criteria are met, the adoptive parent can make the adoption application at the NRD office in the presence of the child. Once the papers are ready and the court permits the adoption, the adoptive parent gets de facto adoption for the first two years. Only after that period can the adoption be formalised.
The 32-year-old woman said it takes about six months to finalise the paperwork for adoption. She submitted the papers to NRD last June and the court date has been set tentatively next February. She has met some people who took just two to three months for a court date.
The woman said she found her prospective adoptive daughter while teaching a workshop at a halfway home for pregnant young girls, with the youngest aged 13.
She also gave an anecdote about her once childless old aunt and uncle who met a nurse who knew of a pregnant girl that wanted to give away her baby. When the girl gave birth, the elderly couple took the baby and managed to register as the infant’s biological parents despite being in their 60s.
“NRD just closed an eye to register you,” she said. “You look at the baby and parents, parents are 60-something. Impossible for the woman to have given birth. It's impossible but what do you want to do? Do you want to let the child be homeless, or do you register?”
The woman said one of the problems with the system was not allowing non-Muslim adoptive parents to adopt children categorised as Muslims.
“Even a baby with no natural parents that they know of, if you go to a home run by a Muslim carer, they treat the baby as Muslim. That decreases the chance of adopters. There are more Chinese couples adopters that are in the system looking for babies,” she said.
“A lot of Muslim families, their adoption process usually is adopting their sister's kids. An elder sibling would formally adopt the kid. If it's a sibling, adopting a kid from parents who is natural blood [sic] to you ― the process is simplified a lot more. Can go to the Registry Department, do paperwork and next day, go to court,” she added.
The 32-year-old woman also said many teenage mothers with unwanted pregnancies do not register the birth of their child at public hospitals as it could cause problems if they were Muslim and unmarried, given that the birth would be listed in their medical records which would be checked when they want to get married in future.
She said some parents chose to buy babies instead of legally adopting them because they want to look for a specific infant amid the stigma against adoption.
“If people learn to be a bit more accepting, then I don't think couples or anyone who wants to adopt would be as picky or would be as choosy,” she said.