The incidence of child abandonment has increased in South Africa over the past decade, whilst the solution of adoption continues to decline. A review of the Registry of Adoptable Children and Parents (RACAP) indicates that the majority of children registered have been abandoned into the child protection system, and a minority formally consented for adoption by their biological parents. This research explores the experience and representations of child abandonment in urban Johannesburg, South Africa. I suggest that child abandonment has been individualised and medicalised in South Africa. Individualised, in that it has been termed a problem that falls entirely within the domain of poor women, and frequently that these women are young teenagers. Medicalised in that a social behaviour that is not new, is increasingly being defined in medical terms through the portrayal and labelling of the abandoning mother as emotionally unstable and criminally insane. I argue that this has been done in an attempt to motivate for stricter surveillance and control over young women’s sexual reproductive health and to divert attention from the state’s role in addressing this growing social challenge.
Dee Blackie is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Wits University, her research focuses on the lived experience of learning disabilities and developmental disorders. Following a 15-year career in business/brand consulting and change management, Dee started working in the child protection and adoption community in 2010. She facilitated the creation of the National Adoption Coalition for South Africa in 2011, and since then her primary focus has been on creating awareness and engaging with communities around child protection challenges. Dee completed her MA in 2014, her research explored child abandonment and adoption in the context of African ancestral beliefs.