• The Child Protection Week campaign highlights South Africa’s developed child protection system, emphasising fostering and adoption as alternatives for children who cannot be cared for by their parents. Despite these options, adoption remains underutilised, leaving many orphaned and vulnerable children at risk of institutionalisation.
  • The South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights mandates that every child has the right to parental or alternative care, with the government responsible for providing this care. The Children’s Act further supports this by stipulating the roles of guardians and alternative care placements, such as adoption and foster care.
  • Adoption is promoted as the best option for children without immediate family care, though cultural obstacles and lack of awareness hinder its uptake. The Department of Social Development continues to record national and inter-country adoptions and employs social workers to facilitate these services, aiming to increase the number of adoptive parents and enhance the child protection framework.

With the Child Protection Week campaign in full swing to raise awareness about upholding children’s rights and mobilising society to protect them against violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation, the Department of Social Development advises South Africans that they have alternative options when they cannot look after their children.

Since the dawn of democracy, South Africa has developed a child protection system to provide for children to be fostered or adopted, enabling them to remain within families. Adoption, viewed as the most permanent placement option for orphaned and vulnerable children, remains underutilised in South Africa. This leaves children without immediate alternative care within their extended families exceptionally vulnerable to the long-term effects of institutionalisation.

Section 28 of the Bill of Rights, which is Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, states: “Every child has the right to parental and family care or to appropriate alternative care when removed from family care.” According to this constitutional provision, the government has a duty to provide alternative care for children whose parents or families cannot exercise their duties of care. Section 233 of the Children’s Act also stipulates that if the parent is a child, that child must be assisted by a guardian.

Adoption is one of the alternative care placement options and forms part of the comprehensive child protection system. Currently, South Africa has children orphaned due to various reasons, including violent crime, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed many lives globally. Additionally, some children are abandoned due to the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, culminating in multiple social ills, including unwanted pregnancy.

Adoption, therefore, serves as the best possible option or alternative for these children, only if there are no prospects to reunite them with their parent(s) or families. Although adoption is a personal or family choice, it is important to promote adoption services and recruit prospective adoptive parents within the country. In South Africa, cultural obstacles also prevent people from adopting children, suggesting a need for increased awareness of this child protection tool.

South Africans are encouraged to consider adoption as one of the child protection measures to increase the number of prospective adoptive parents willing to adopt children in need of permanent and stable families. Between April 2010 and March 2024, the Department of Social Development recorded 16,593 national adoptions within South Africa. For inter-country adoptions, the register had 2,239, bringing the total of registered adoptions to 18,832.

The Department of Social Development has employed 412 social workers registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professionals, capacitated to provide adoption services. The Children’s Act also makes provision for foster care as an alternative form of care for children who cannot be cared for by their biological parents. Foster care is a court-ordered care of a child in need of care and protection, placing the child in a cluster foster care scheme or with a suitable person other than a biological parent or guardian.

As part of foster care, the Children’s Act introduced the concept of cluster foster care placement, aimed at maximising available resources and strengthening the provision of foster care services to children, including those with special needs, within a community-based setting. Children placed in foster care with a valid court order gain access to government services that include therapeutic services, psychosocial support, education, healthcare, and foster child grants.

The provision of psychosocial support and therapeutic services contributes to child protection by addressing the issues that render the children in need of care and protection, thus minimising the negative impact of these issues on the children’s lives. The purpose of foster care is to create an opportunity for children in need of care and protection to live in a protective, nurturing, stable, and secure family environment. It requires facilitating the reunification of the child with parents or other safe and nurturing family relationships that ensure stability in a child’s life.

In February 2008, there were 454,000 children in foster care (SOCPEN database). As of the end of March 2024, there were 306,683 children in foster placement receiving foster child grants. The introduction of a comprehensive legal solution to foster care, prompted by litigation on lapsed foster care orders, led to the Children’s Amendment Act of 2022, which provides a provision to prevent the lapsing of foster care orders by enabling presiding officers to issue interim orders. The Social Assistance Amendment Act increases access to social assistance for orphaned children in the care of relatives through the Child Support Grant-Top Up.


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