Should skin color affect adoption?

Ethiopian Jewish mothers’ rights were grossly violated when their children were removed from their care.

July 14, 2013 23:19
4 minute read.
Ethiopian Jews arrive in Israel

Ethiopian Jews 370. (photo credit: Moshe Shai)

Should a child’s skin color be a factor when making decisions regarding adoption? For me, the answer is a clear “no.” Heaven forbid that we might think a dark-skinned child should only grow up with dark-skinned parents and vice versa. I believe that love is colorblind, as is the ability to lovingly raise children. Neither of these should be affected by a person’s skin color. A person’s heritage and culture are important issues that should be properly addressed in a separate discussion.

It is people’s primary right to live with the families into which they were born, to experience their family’s culture and heritage which originate from deep roots – except for specific cases in which it is necessary to remove children from their home.

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When I became a member of the Knesset, I promised myself that I would function as a mouthpiece for the weak. That I would make their voices heard.

As part of my role in handling public complaints, I was recently told an incredible story involving an Ethiopian officer in the IDF, an Israeli woman of Ethiopian descent, whose two-year-old nephew was taken from his family under unique – and I might even add baffling – circumstances.

The officer told me that even before the baby was born, her sister’s (the baby’s mother) mental state was unstable, which led to the baby being taken straight from the hospital to a state-sponsored orphanage.

This IDF officer is an impressive woman and an economist by training. She told me explicitly and clearly, “I want to be the legal guardian of my nephew.

I have wanted this since he was born. My sister is not well mentally,” she told me, “but it is in such situations that family is so important.”

She told me that she expressed this desire to Social Services from the beginning and was told, “You have nothing to worry about, we are taking care of everything,” but that’s not what happened. “After my nephew had been at the orphanage for six months, I received a letter from the social worker handling the case in which I was told I was being incredibly egotistical for continuing to insist that the baby be turned over to me.”

The mother visited with the baby every week or two, but despite her intense desire, she understood that she was not capable of raising the baby. In such cases, the law states that relatives are given priority in receiving custody of children. In this case, though, when the child turned one, he was officially adopted by a non- Ethiopian family that was extremely interested in adopting him. As you can imagine, a sensitive and painful struggle over the child began.

The officer told me, “They were sure that I would give in easily. They thought they were dealing with a weak family because we are Ethiopian.”

In the end, the court agreed that it would have been preferable for the boy to grow up with his own Ethiopian family and learn about his heritage. There was no doubt that his aunt would have properly cared for him. The district court, however, ruled in favor of social services, claiming that removing the boy from his new family, to which he had become accustomed, would be adding insult to injury.

Another important aspect of the story is the specialist’s opinion that the IDF officer would have been the most appropriate person to raise the child. The specialist claimed that social services had poorly handled the case since it neglected to check if there was a fitting family member to raise the boy in the first place, in which case this entire painful saga could have been avoided.

This story reminded me of another incident from a few years ago involving a different Ethiopian woman. This woman described to me sadly how her three children were taken away from her without a translator being present and without her knowing even what her basic rights were. This is just one heart-wrenching story among many others in which social services removed children from new immigrant families without providing the parents any information.

These stories are important to the public not only since each child is an entire world unto himself, but because we can learn from them that the cultural and mental gaps of new immigrants are a barrier when it comes to removing children from their homes.

I have no doubt that in these cases, these mothers’ rights were grossly violated when their children were removed from their care. To that end, I personally attended a recent Supreme Court session dealing with such a case in order to ensure that this injustice be corrected. I even asked to join the proceedings as a friend of the court so that my opinion could be heard publicly.

It is my hope that Israel and its representatives find a way to bridge the cultural gap correctly, with the proper tools and with an open heart. We need to learn how to listen and treat all members of society – the weak and the strong – equally.

I recently proposed bill that would improve the status of immigrant families. It is an amendment to the Youth Law (Care and Supervision), which would require social services to provide a translation of the process of removing a child from his or her home so that the guardian fully understands the reasoning behind the removal. In this way, misunderstandings and extremely painful situations can be avoided.

The writer is a member of Knesset from the Yesh Atid party and the deputy Knesset speaker.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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