Puzzle Over Adoption Of Tanzanian Children By Foreigners

Tanzanian children are increasingly being spirited abroad in a manner likely to raise queries over the administration of the adoption system in the country.

Investigations by The Citizen newspaper reveal that different arms of the government may be breaking the law on adoptions or unscrupulous officials are deliberately circumventing it to profiteer from the practice.

Adoption statistics gathered from public agencies in and outside the country suggest that the demand for adoptions has shot up but many of the children are being taken abroad without following proper rules and channels.

The statistics are also telling, as they do not match from one agency to the other – a pointer to either poor record keeping or a possibility of collusion among individuals to defeat the law and allow the children be sent abroad at the expense of their own safety.

The Social Welfare Department shows that it approved 169 children for inter-country adoption between 2007 and 2012 in a period that also confirms that the number was growing fast over the same period.

Legal process

This number, however, differs with that given by the Registration, Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (Rita), showing that 176 cases were recorded over the same period. Rita is tasked with keeping a complete register of adoption records.

And according to records on the US state department’s website, its nationals adopted 18 children from Tanzania between 2007 and 2010, but the social welfare department has in its records puts a different figure of 12.

Further, of the total 125 cases from 2007 to 2010, only 44 are said to have undergone a complete and mandatory court process as required by the law.

It means that no one can for sure determine the status for the remaining 81 cases. It is possible therefore that these children may have already left the country and skipped the due legal process.

Yesterday, the deputy minister for Community Development Gender and Children, Ms Ummy Ally Mwalimu, admitted some loopholes may still exist but said the government would be open to review the regime to ensure the rights of the children and their safety were guaranteed.

The deputy minister said while safety was paramount, the law was silent on cases already in foreign countries. “We are however yet to get any cases of mistreatment abroad,” she said, adding that as a ministry they have always stood for the best interest of the Tanzanian children.

She said she was aware of the strict legal process that a prospective adopter is supposed to undergo before being approved. Ms Ummy added that the parental powers bestowed on the adopting parents meant that they stood punishable by their respective countries should they fall short of expectations.

But a top official in the social welfare department admitted the cost of making follow-ups for adopted children was too high for the department to afford.

“I admit the follow-up mechanism is not in place but we need to know that it is a very costly exercise. These children are in UK, US, Canada and other countries far apart,” said Mr Dunford Makala, Commissioner for Social Welfare.

He echoed the deputy minister: “Once you get an adoption order you automatically get all the legal rights over the child like biological children. He’s yours! Now why do I make a follow up?”


Foreign adopters, it emerged, prefer girls to boys when choosing the children. There were 93 girls and 76 boys out of the 169 approved adoptions since 2007. The Rita records had 107 girls and 69 boys.

The US tops the list of countries adopting Tanzanian children.

It adopted 12 children between 2007 and 2010 followed by Germany which adopted 3 children.

Other foreigners from United Kingdom, Canada, Norway and Italy were also adopting locally with over 80 per cent of the children sourced from orphanages, mostly in Dar es Salaam.

Calls to ensure Tanzanian children adopted abroad are closely supervised have been made since the 1990s, including by a report of the Law Reform Commission that suggested legal means to oblige inter-country adopters to file feedback on the whereabouts of the adopted children with Tanzanian embassies in their countries.

Legal practitioners who talked on condition they were not named also raised concern that only a particular law firm appeared to be pushing for almost all the adoption cases in the High Court.

But an official in the social welfare department who opted for anonymity said before the enactment of the new law on children, many Tanzanian children were illegally being adopted abroad, using loopholes in the scrapped Adoption Ordinance law of 1955.

Contrary to the current law which makes it mandatory for Commissioner of social welfare to investigate adopters and file report in support for application for adoption, the old law lacked that provision.

“Before the coming of the new law many adoption petitions were taken to the high court and consequently granted without any recommendation of the Social Welfare Department,” she says.

The officer says the department currently receives around 60 adoption applications annually.


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