TORONTO: Canada has stopped adoptions from Pakistan, citing a conflict with the Islamic law over adoption and guardianship.
The abrupt move, which took effect in July, has left Canadian adoptive parents heartsick and religious leaders baffled.
“I was shocked, upset and depressed,” says GTA resident Shafiq Rehman, who had been hoping with his wife to adopt a child from Pakistan.
At issue, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is the Islamic practice of kafala, or guardianship, which is common in most of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan.
Shafiq Rehman and his wife, Rehmat Jahan, started the adoption process in 2011. A week after they got an approval letter this June from the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services confirming them as suitable candidates, Ottawa announced that it had stop accepting adoptions from Pakistan, as of July 2.
Many other countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have raised no issue about kafala and are still open to adoptions from Pakistan.
Canada has, in some or all provinces, suspended adoptions from Cambodia, Georgia, Guatemala, Liberia, Nepal and Haiti for various reasons. However, Pakistan is the only country banned due to kafala.
Immigration spokesman Glenn Johnson said Canadian families seeking to adopt Pakistani children are required to obtain guardianship certificates from a Pakistani court and then subsequently formalize an adoption in Canadian courts.
“However, legal and procedural requirements to obtain a guardianship certificate under Pakistan’s Guardians and Wards Act do not allow for subsequent adoption in the guardian’s country of residence,” Johnson explained in an email.
“Pakistan applies the Islamic system of kafala, or guardianship, which neither terminates the birth parent-child relationship nor grants full parental rights to the new guardian. This means that there are further legal incompatibilities in accepting Canadian applications for adoption.”
Michael Blugerman, one of the three licensed adoption agents in Ontario specializing in Pakistani adoptions, said the sudden move has caught parents off guard, some of whom were already halfway through the long process.
“There are all kinds of families trapped along the path. Immigration’s explanation is inaccurate and misleading,” said Blugerman, who has been an adoption agent for 33 years and does about eight Pakistani cases a year.
“Some of these parents have given up jobs, taken leave of absence to start the process abroad. It’s not the money, but their emotional investment into the process.”
To qualify to adopt, a prospective parent must undergo a minimum 10-week home study, during which the applicant is assessed by a registered adoption practitioner if considered is a suitable candidate.
The parent must complete a training course called PRIDE (Parental Resources for Information Development and Education) before the provincial children and youth services can issue an approval letter to a foreign adoption authority.
With that letter in hand, a prospective parent must find a match, have it approved by the foreign authority and obtain a “letter of no objection” from the province of residence before Ottawa issues an immigration visa to the adopted child.
Blugerman said an adoption from Pakistan typically takes three years from start to finish.
Shafiq Rehman, 52, and his wife, Rehmat Jahan, 46, have tried to conceive for almost two decades and spent tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatment. The Mississauga couple initiated the adoption process in 2011. On June 24, 2013, they received an approval letter from the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
“I only found out they are no longer accepting adoptions from Pakistan when I got a call from my agent (on July 11). I was shocked, upset and depressed,” said Rehman, whose wife went to Karachi in November to start the search for a baby.
“We have not identified a baby yet, but we’ve already had all these emotions and expectations inside us. We had worked on it for so long. Why now?”
Imam Yusuf Badat of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto said adoption is not only allowed but encouraged, as reflected in Prophet Muhammad’s well-known adoption of Zayd, an orphan boy.
While kafala does create confusion in a few areas — such as inheritance and naming of the adopted child — Badat said those concerns can be easily addressed.
Adoptive parents, for example, can write a bequest for the adopted child, who would otherwise not have inheritance rights, unlike biological children. And Badat said an adopted child can certainly take the adoptive parents’ last name as long as they do not “falsify or lie” about the adoption.
“Adoption from Pakistan has been going on for decades. There has been no issue. I don’t see why it matters now. Why do they have to make it so complicated and deprive the children from the process?” asked Badat.
“All these guidelines are not written in stone. Canada should make it easier, not more difficult, to adopt.”