Placing children with alternative families, what is the relationship between “Decree 2” and adoption?
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The Syrian Social Affairs and Labor Ministry issued on January 31 the executive instructions for Decree 2 of 2023 related to regulating affairs of children of unknown parentage.
The instructions included details about the mechanism of dealing with children and how to receive them in the “Lahn al-Hayat Homes” designated for this purpose.
It also made it possible for the child to join an “alternative family” after submitting a written request to the “Lahn al-Hayat,” accompanied by the required papers, and organizing the “placement” contract in two copies, one for the home and the other for the “alternative family.”
The executive instructions of Decree No. 2 came more than two weeks after its issuance on January 14.
The decree dealt with regulating the affairs of children of unknown parentage, targeting children of an unknown mother and father or of an unknown father and known mother, but their mothers abandoned them, and there was no one to take care of them.
It also provided for the establishment of a public body of an administrative nature called the “Lahn al-Hayat Homes.” It has legal personality and administrative and financial independence and is associated with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, and is based in the Damascus countryside.
These homes have a legal mandate for all matters relating to children of unknown parentage, with exemption from taxes, financial, customs, and municipal fees, and public costs of all kinds, and for the self-generated revenues mentioned in article 16 of Decree No. 2.
The decree considers the place where the child was found to be their place of birth unless established otherwise. The child is also considered a Syrian Arab national unless otherwise proven by a peremptory court ruling and a Muslim of religion unless also proven otherwise.
Moreover, the ways for the child to reach these homes were determined from the moment they were found, in addition to registering them according to the Civil Status Law and extracting a birth certificate for them. This is also detailed in the Ministry’s subsequent executive instructions, and the interpretation of the question of “placement” and its implementation mechanisms had a significant share of these instructions.
After transferring the child from a Lahn al-Hayat home to a “substitute family,” Social Affairs undertakes periodic visits to the “substitute family” to follow up on the child’s situation, with the period between visits determined according to the child’s age; Not less than three months for a child who has completed three years of life, six months for a child between 4 and 6 years of age and once a year for a child between 7 and 18 years of age.
There is a possibility for a child to be “placed” in a care institution regardless of their age, in case it was established that their stay in a Lahn al-Hayat home harms them, if they are disabled and in need of special rehabilitation, or if they return from “placement” and are unable to cope in the Lahn al-Hayat homes.
Is “placement” an adoption?
The decree, with its executive instructions, opens the question of “placement with a substitute family” and its distinction from adoption, given that “placement” occurs from the Lahn al-Hayat homes to the “substitute family,” which means that the child is pre-registered in accordance with the Civil Status Law (a birth certificate is attributed within 24 hours of receiving the child by a Lahn al-Hayat home).
Syrian lawyer and researcher Sahar Hawija explained to Enab Baladi that the fact of the decree is considered a refusal of adoption according to its articles and executive instructions. “Placement” means the upbringing of a child by the family without including them in the family tree or acknowledging them as part of the family lineage. The child retains their civil record as registered by the Lahn al-Hayat institution.
Among the 54 articles that make it up, the decree singled out 12 articles on “placement” that legally permitted it and defined its purpose without entailing a right to lineage or inheritance. It also required a child to be under seven years of age at the time of “placement” with a “substitute family,” with the possibility of “placement” in a care institution after the age of 7 and above, or irrespective of age.
At the same time, the decree prohibits the child from traveling outside Syria without the approval of the Shariah judge, based on a letter directed by the general director of the Lahn al-Hayat homes after the approval of its board of directors.
It is also clear that the substitute family must maintain the child’s registered name and descent, keeping them under its control and under the conditions it establishes. In addition, Lahn al-Hayat is the body that gives the child a name that can be changed by a judicial ruling if the child is proven to be related to a mother or a mother and father.
The lawyer has distinguished between adoption and “placement,” given that adoption in countries that follow this system gives the child the name and lineage of the family and equates them with their siblings (if the family already has children) in lineage, inheritance, and any other rights, without distinction between an adopted child or a biological child.
Meanwhile, “placement” is a sponsorship system that is based on the obligation to take care of the child, secure their needs, and ensure a proper upbringing until they are 18 years of age, without granting them the right to inherit or be attributed to the sponsoring family’s lineage, in addition to the supervision of the institution over the child and the existence of provisions that would cancel the “placement,” according to Hawija.
Article 38 of the Decree sets forth in its sections A and B nine cases in which the “placement” contract between Lahn al-Hayat and the “substitute family” may be terminated, namely the child turning 18 years old, the child’s death, the death of the couple, or a spouseless woman in the case of “placement with a substitute family.”
The “placement” is terminated with a decision of the director general of Lahn al-Hayat after the approval of the board of directors upon the request of the “substitute family” to terminate the contract and return the child, and if one of the spouses dies and the other does not wish to pursue the “placement,” the spouses separated without a request to continue the “placement,” or if one of the conditions for accepting the “placement” request is removed.
The “placement” can be terminated if one of the parents of the child of unknown parentage, whose lineage is established by a court ruling, appears and demands their return. In addition, a substitute family’s repeated violation of its obligations towards the child after warning would end the “placement”.
Children are victims
Children have been the hardest hit group in recent years by the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), the wars in the world, along with conditions in Syria, Ukraine, and other countries, and climate disasters, according to a Save the Children International statement on November 20, 2022, in conjunction with the International Children’s Day.
On the same day, a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) stated that at least 29,894 children had been killed in Syria since March 2011, including 182 children who had died under torture.
The number of children in need of assistance during 2022 in Syria has set a record that has not been recorded for more than 11 years, with some 6.5 million children, according to a statement issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in May of the same year.
The current situation also leaves psychological scars in Syrian children, with one-third of children in Syria showing signs of psychological disorder in 2021, including anxiety, sadness, fatigue, or recurrent sleep disorders, according to an UN-released report on March 15, 2022.
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