French families press Mali to scrap ban on foreign adoption
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As French troops fight armed Islamists in northern Mali, a group of French families is to lobby for a change in the African country’s civil code, amended in 2012, so that only Malian families could adopt Malian children.
When the law changed about 80 French families, who had been approved by both countries to adopt, were told their applications were no longer valid.
Some of them now wonderif the French military intervention to push out Islamists from the north of Mali, could help their cause.
"When I saw [French President] François Hollande and [Malian] President [Amadou Toumani] Touré talking on TV, I said maybe now we can make known our situation," says Laurence Haziza, 47, whose bid to adopt a Malian child had been approved by France and by a Malian commission in 2012.
But in December 2012, under pressure from Islamist groups, the then Women, children and families minister changed the civil code to ban any non-Malian from adopting a Malian child. Many Muslims consider full adoption to be prohibited by Islamic law.
A few months after the French intervention against the Islamists in the north, Haziza wondered if Mali might reverse the law.
"People told us it's not the right time because people will think that you are doing this because there is the war and that Mali must give you back something," she says, but she insists that is not the case.
Mali does not owe her anything, and she does not want to France to put pressure on Mali, "but I thought that maybe now we can do something because they are talking with each other".
Haziza, who runs a music festival in Paris, says she has a strong connection with west Africa, which is what lead her to want to adopt a child from Mali.
"When I decided to adopt, it was very clear it would be from this part of Africa," she says. Then she had to find a country that would accept her.
"I'm not married, and many countries do not want to let single people adopt," she explains.
Mali was an exception. Plus, she liked the fact that Mali had ratified the 1993 Hague convention, which sets standards on international adoption.
In France adoption requires approval by the French Adoption Agency, which conducts a background check and a home visit. With that approval, potential parents can approach other countries, which each have different requirements. Mali accepted Haziza's application in 2012.
"When they said 'you are chosen', it was like I was pregnant," she says. So when a few months later she found out the law had change, she was heartbroken.
"It's like a miscarriage," she says. "You say maybe I'm dreaming, but you're not. It took me two and a half months to begin to react."
"We found out along with other families on 5 December 2012 that adoptions were just stopped," says Coco Amardeil Westover, a Canadian photographer who has been living in Paris for over 20 years.
She and her husband had also been waiting to adopt a child from Mali and the news came as a surprise: "We were just completely in shock. It was a very difficult moment for us."
Unlike Haziza, Amardeil already has a child, also adopted.
"I always could have children, but I just loved the idea of adopting because the kids are out there," she says. About a year after their daughter Zansiah, now six years old, arrived from Kazakhstan, Amardeil and her husband decided they wanted her to have a sibling.
"We have an affiliation with Mali. We belong to an association there that takes care of kids on the street and we went there for a project and realised that we were really attached to the country."
So they started another application, and were approved by France in 2009 and by Mali in 2012. And then the law changed.
She and Haziza are among about 80 French families in the same situation. Some of them have joined forces, creating a group called Enfant Adoption Mali (Child Adoption Mali).
For Haziza, who has no other children, this is about becoming a mother. But she's also worried about the children in Bamako's four orphanages that are not receiving as much aid as before.
"Money was coming from the people who were going to adopt from there, through NGOs and institutions," she explains. Over half of Malian orphans adopted abroad were adopted by French families - 117 in 2009. Others were adopted elsewhere and when the law changed, money slowed ... from everywhere.
"Not only French people, but Italian, Spanish, Canadian people - suddenly the money was not coming," says Haziza.
Amardeil says this is difficult for the orphanages, where children are not being adopted by Malians, despite the law.
I understand that Malians should have priority when adopting. But I don’t think they anticipated the problems that would arise
"Not many Malians can adopt. They don’t necessarily have the resources. That’s why they were open to international adoption before."
And she hopes that will again be the case. President François Hollande's partner, Valérie Treirweiler, had a meeting with the group, which also met the French foreign ministry's international adoption service.
Treirweiler told them she would try to bring their situation to the attention of the president, Haziza says, but the adoption service did not give her much hope.
"They told us that the time of diplomacy is not the time of the human life," she says. Diplomacy takes time - time, she says, they do not have.
Cécile Brunet-Ludet, the deputy ambassador to the French international adoption service, confirms this. She says the families should start looking at other countries.
"They must mourn Mali for the moment, and think of adopting from other geographic areas," she says. "It’s difficult to hear, I know."
From her perspective, the applications are no longer legal. Things could change, she admits, but that is impossible to anticipate.
We cannot leverage the French intervention to push through dossiers, which from a legal perspective no longer have a legal reason to exist.
"There is a fragile political situation [in Mali], and laws could change following a political change. But we cannot anticipate or instigate that," she says.
"We work on the fundamental principle of state sovereignty, and we cannot mix the French intervention in Mali with the situation of international adoption. These are two completely different areas."
Coco Amardeil agrees that respecting Mali's sovereignty is crucial.
"The decision has to come from Mali. It’s their country, it’s their kids, it’s their babies. But I think Mali is ready to change their opinion," she says, confidently.
"I think the one thing that’s going to make the balance tip is what’s going on in the orphanages."
Laurence Haziza points out that her group could help move things forward. She says the French international adoption service supported the idea of holding a seminar in Bamako on international adoption and that it could take place later this month.
"It is sure that the decision won't come from France; it will come from Mali," she says. But, "maybe the French organisation, the French government, can help Mali make a good decision."