Caring for UAE orphans a labour of love

Adoption in the UAE is complicated by religious issues surrounding lineage.

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DUBAI // Despite having sons of her own, Hala Kazim adopted a boy to change his life.

The Emirati was volunteering at Al Wasl Hospital when she fell in love with a 1-year-old Asian child and asked to adopt him 14 years ago.

"Adoption had been on my mind for a long time," said Mrs Kazim. "I always dreamt of being able to change somebody's life."

Her adopted son does not carry the family's last name, but that does not stop her treating him as her own.

"He doesn't have the family name because it's haram to pass it on in Islam," Mrs Kazim said."When we travel, people always question me about my sons because one of them is Asian. My son and I both laugh and I tell him to explain our story."

The concept of an "orphan" in the UAE differs from that of the West. While westerners think of an orphan as a child with no parents, in Islam a fatherless or motherless child is in the same category.

A widowed woman and her children should be placed under the patronage and care of her closest living male relative. A child who has lost both parents will also be placed in the care of the closest living relative.

If no relative can be found, the child is placed with an Emirati family or in an orphanage. But no legal adoption process takes place as Sharia law does not permit an orphan to take the surname of an adoptive father, as it could cause problems of lineage in the future.

"By making a non-biologically related child one's own, thus an inheritor, one undercuts the legitimate rights of others, which is unfair and unacceptable by both reason and religious commandment," said Dr Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz al Haddad, the Grand Mufti of Dubai.

The Sharjah Social Empowerment Foundation (SSEF) works to provide more than just monetary support to families of such children.

"It's not always the case that they need financial support, but psychological and social support is imperative," said Mona bin Hadah al Suwaidi, the manager of SSEF.

Judran, an SSEF project, ensures families with orphans have everything they need, including handymen for home repairs and gardeners.

KA, a 43-year-old mother from Pakistan who asked not be named, buried her husband six months after their wedding day. He never met his daughter. KA and her daughter are supported by the SSEF.

"The foundation have provided me with many necessities such as a refrigerator and computer," she said. "Honestly, I am very happy that my daughter is part of it because they keep my dignity in a way.

"They don't impose certain types of food on me, but rather provide me with a coupon to choose foods that suit our traditions.

"I have a low-paying job that hardly meets our basic needs. The organisation has helped look after my daughter since she was a child and they are now helping me pay her education fees."

The SSEF supports 2,060 orphans. Of these, 1,140 are Emirati and 920 are other UAE residents.

It receives support funding from the Government and from organisations such as the Red Crescent and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. The SSEF also holds fund-raising events and private sponsorship makes up most of its income.

Exact figures for orphans or orphanages in the UAE are hard to come by.

In Dubai, Ward 16 of Al Wasl Hospital offers specialised services for mothers and children. The ward is the first place many abandoned babies are taken.

Among other well-known organisations caring for the fatherless is the Zayed Higher Organisation.

Founded by Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the UAE, in 1988, the organisation provides for more than 380 children in need.

Of these: 53 are in the care of Emirati foster families; 103 are in the care of "house mothers" who provide small groups of children with long-term care under the same roof; 221 over the age of 12 live in youth centres; and three live at Dar Zayed Comprehensive Welfare Centre near Al Ain.

The Dar Zayed centre is also home to several hundred other children.

"The care they receive in a natural family environment helps them evolve emotionally and physically, as well as understand family values and embrace universal social ethics and Emirati traditions," said Mohammed al Hameli, the deputy chairman of the Zayed Higher Organisation.