Alleged homophobia and pro-Christian bias by South African adoption agencies have sparked an investigation by the SA Human Rights Commission.
The Times can today reveal that complaints by families and adoption organisations in South Africa, the US, Europe and elsewhere have led to the inquiry.
A well-placed source within the commission revealed that several South African adoption agencies and the Social Development Department were being investigated .
Human Rights Commission spokesman Isaac Mangena said the commission was investigating allegations of discrimination by adoption agencies in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
"The complaints received are that the criteria used by South African agencies are discriminatory and contravene the constitution and the Children's Act."
The Social Development Department - whose spokesman, Lumka Oliphant, failed to respond to questions put to her by The Times - is the only entity that can accredit South African adoption agencies to undertake South African and foreign adoptions.
The commission told the department and the adoption agencies about the allegations against them three weeks ago.
The department is accused of accrediting adoption agencies even though its aware of their discriminatory policies.
According to the 2011 census, 3.3million South African children are orphans - more than half of them because of HIV/Aids.
The National Adoption Coalition estimates that there are between 1.5million and 2million children who would benefit from adoption.
Only one in 500, however, is adopted.
A report last year by parliament's portfolio committee on social development revealed a decrease in adoptions.
The report said: "In 2010-2011, there were 2236 nationally registered adoptions compared to 1426 in 2011-2012. There were 200 registered inter-country adoptions in 2010-2011, compared to 194 in 2011-2012.
"This is despite the department reporting that it achieved a 65% increase, which is a percentage against the annual baseline target of 2500."
Prospective adoptive parents from overseas allege that most agencies overseeing inter-country adoptions discriminate against homosexuals, non-Christians and single individuals.
South Africa has 10 countries with which it has adoption agreements, and seven agencies that oversee such adoptions.
ABBA Adoption Agency - which is being investigated by the commission and which facilitates adoptions with at least seven countries - was in November required to change its policy when the Social Development Department's Central Authority found it had discriminatory criteria.
The authority's adoption norms and standards do not allow discrimination in respect of race, gender, language, religion, disability or financial means .
A copy of ABBA's new policy was submitted to the authority.
It reads: "Until recently, South African adoption organisations could set their own policies and criteria . as long as they did not conflict with the law or directly infringe on anybody's constitutional rights.
"We can therefore not have discriminatory blanket policies that exclude any prospective applicants purely based on one of the above-mentioned factors."
Two western European couples, who have been trying to adopt in South Africa for over three years, have slammed ABBA. They claim their sexual orientation and religion have delayed the process.
One of them, a homosexual couple who have been married for 10 years,want to adopt a pair of siblings.
ABBA is the only South African agency approved by the department to facilitate the adoption of South African orphans by residents of the home country of the two couples.
ABBA requires prospective parents to be:
- Christian (proved by a letter from a church);
- Heterosexual (mixed-sex couples); and
- Married for at least five years.
"Adoptive parents are in a very vulnerable position ... they depend on the organisation involved on whether they will be allowed to start a family," one of the couples said.
South African-born entrepreneur Michelle Delport, who now lives in The Netherlands, is heartbroken and frustrated by her six-year adoption struggle.
Though willing to adopt three children she will, in two years, be too old to qualify. The cut-off age for inter-country adoptions is 46.
"On many occasions it was made clear that my single and non-Christian status put me at the end of the list."
ABBA Adoptions executive head Katinka Pieterse refused to comment on the allegations.
"The process needs to be followed ... it might make more sense to report on it after all the facts have been explored and presented," she said.
Childline's Joan van Niekerk said: "Adoptive agencies are required to act within the law and protect all parties."