Moroccan adoption law change leaves foreigners in limbo

AFP , Sunday 21 Apr 2013

Foreigners living in Morocco fear government amendments to adoption law that ban foreigners from adopting due to identity concerns


For more than a year Yassamane and Eric have been waiting to adopt a child in Morocco. But a decision to tighten the adoption law has thrown the whole process into doubt, leaving dozens of hopeful foreign couples in limbo.

Kafala as it is known in Morocco, or "custody" in Arabic, allows Muslims -- including converts to Islam -- to assume the guardianship of orphans in the North African nation.

The same conditions apply in most Muslim countries, where religion is a determining factor in the adoption process.

But last September, Morocco's government amended the law and barred foreigners from adopting, in order to better protect the children's interests and identity, according to Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid.

Since then, foreign couples who had already begun the process fear it may retroactively be invalidated and their cherished hopes dashed.

"I was awarded my child in April 2012. It was the happiest day of my life," said Yassamane Montazami, who gave up her psychology practice in France and moved to Morocco to complete the kafala process.

"But since that date, the judicial procedure that usually lasts a few months has dragged on for more than a year."

Gabriel Pernau, a Spanish journalist who frequently travels between Madrid and Rabat, is also waiting nervously to see whether the goverment's ruling will affect his adoption of a 15-month-old boy.

"I'm afraid this decision will be applied retroactively," he said.

More than 100 families -- Spanish, French and Americans, as well as Moroccans living in Europe -- were awarded children before the adoption laws were changed and are still awaiting a final decision.

Around 40 of them are hoping to become the parents of children they found at an orphanage in Rabat, which they are allowed to visit for six hours a day.

Another orphanage, in the southern resort town of Agadir, limits visiting times to one hour a day.

Under Moroccan law, the kafala must be undertaken by "virtuous Muslim couples, both morally and socially responsible, who have sufficient means to support the needs of the child."

Islamic law also stipulates that the adopted children do not have the same inheritance rights as any biological offspring.

"We are not disputing any Moroccan law. We are simply asking that this new provision not be retroactive," said Montazami, whose husband, a French novelist, commutes between Paris and Rabat.

But Pernau's hopes are fading.

"We have the impression that since the amendment, the judges have pushed back the court hearings indefinitely."

On Monday, the family court in Rabat announced a new delay -- the sixth since last September -- to June 3.

"The judge is waiting for the police investigation, which has to be ordered by the public prosecutor. As long as that doesn't happen, we won't get the agreement of the judge," he said.

The justice minister denied seeking to impede the work of the judges, when contacted by AFP, saying he had "never interfered in the judicial process."

Speaking to parliament in November last year, Ramid said the changes to the law were designed to better protect the interests and identity of the child.

"We found that there were many foreigners who declare themselves Muslims, stay in a hotel and, when they get their child, they leave the country. How can we be sure that they will respect the law and protect the child?"

The countries of those affected are taking the issue seriously, with 40 couples saying in a statement last week that it was discussed during a high-level meeting in October between the Spanish and Moroccan governments.

The couples said they could not bear to be separated from their propective charges, "who call us 'mummy' and 'daddy' and cry every time we have to leave the orphanage."

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