Every Child Deserves A Home: Zeina Al-Sultan Unveils The Truths Behind Adoption in Kuwait

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In Adoption Story, a mother who gives birth to a baby girl leaves her newborn child at the mosque. When prayer time ends, some of the women leaving the mosque hear the child’s wailing. One of them takes the abandoned child to the hospital. The child is then adopted by a nice couple who learn to appreciate the child’s special powers. Adoption Story was written by the same baby girl whose mother had left her at the mosque. Seven-year-old Noor Mohamed lives with two other adopted kids, Gala and Abdulwahab, as members of Zeina Al-Sultan’s affectionate family.

Albeit experiencing some complications during child bearing, Zeina Al-Sultan was happily married. Her life changed dramatically after receiving a phone call from one of her doctor friends who worked with Kuwait Association for the Care of Children in Hospital (KAACH). Her friend told her about a case that the hospital had received: a two-day-old baby girl who was abandoned at a mosque and was then lying in Jahra hospital. Zeina’s friend had asked, ‘Would you like to see her?’

Without telling any members of her family, Zeina drove off to the hospital to see the abandoned child. Afterward, Zeina returned regularly to check over the little girl. When a month had passed, and no one had claimed the girl, Zeina decided to adopt her herself. She called the girl ‘Noor’ for light, as a testament to the baby’s lustrous smile. Unfortunately, Noor’s temperature began to rise to an alarming level.She was diagnosed with meningitis. After spending nine more days in the hospital on a strict regimen of antibiotics, Noor finally felt better and was allowed to leave with her new mother.

Three months passed before Zeina organized a proper assembly for her daughter. Kuwaitis were curious. Adoption was a topic as strange as cricket, and as taboo as premarital relationships. Even women who had adopted usually kept it a secret and passed off the kids as their biological spawn. Not Zeina. She held a meet-and-greet for her adopted daughter; an assembly dedicated to embrace her adoption. Not only was Zeina unabashed about what she did, but when her child reached three years of age, Zeina had sat her down to narrate the truth about her past.

Talking about the causes of child abandonment in Kuwait, Zeina narrowed them down to three. The first results fromthe dissolution of a marriage due to an argument. When parents argue, one spouse might separate from his or her partner, leaving the kids behind as a constant and agonizing reminder of the spouse’s abandonment. Forsaken partners tend to seek independenceby foregoing all their parental duties to their children. The kids are transferred to governmental facilities when neither parent desires the responsibility of raising them, and when no other family members step in to embrace them (such as uncles, aunts, or grandparents). Zeina explains that these are the worst cases because the abandoned children own identification papers (ID cards, citizenships, passports), which makes it difficult for the government to issue the kids alternative identities. These identification papers restrict the children’s movement, preventing them from attending school or traveling; it even forbids them from seeking adoption, because the government assumes that once the parents resolve their argument, then either one might reclaim their parental rights.

The second cause is the birth of illegitimate children. If a married woman cheats on her husband, or if she ends up pregnant from a rape and her husband chose not to give her child his name, the child would be transferred to the governmental facilities. If the mother used her real identification papers to check into the hospital, the hospital would then file a law suit against the mother before the child is officially settled in the facility of abandoned children. In Kuwait, however, bribes and cover ups tend to absolve the mother from the scandal of illegitimacy. As a result, a newborn, with no fault of his own, ends up spending all his life within four walls sharing the tutelage of an abusive employee with a host of other forsaken kids. These children are barred from public life including the right to belong to a different family because the facility withholds the real identity of the mother.

In the third case, the child’s parents are not revealed to the authorities. This was Noor’s situation—a two day old baby left by the mosque to be rescued by random strangers. This constitutes the best case scenario for abandoned kids. Although they may never find out the identity of their real biological parents, and despite the threat of being picked up by a pervert or a mentally unstable individual, if an abandoned child manages to enter the facility with obscure origins, the government gains the right to issue new identification papers, enabling the child to enjoy the comfort of a new family, of traveling, and schooling.

When Zeina sat her daughter down to tell her the truth about her past, Noor decided she wanted a sister. Zeina’s next trip to the facility highlighted another agonizing truth about adoption in Kuwait. She walked into the room and found a plethora of boys. When Zeina asked the employee who was stationed at the ward for the purpose behind this ratio, the employee replied “Kuwaitis don’t adopt boys.”

Girls are cute. They dress up. They bond with their mothers even after they come of age. And for most of the women who adopt, it is the fantasy of raising a daughter that mitigates their shame with their own infertility. Instead of bringing home a sister, Zeina returned with a baby boy. Since Noor and Abdulwahab’s ages weren’t far apart, Zeina found a woman to breastfeed them both—making them brother and sister according to Islamic doctrine.

More years passed before Zeina desired to expand her family yet again. This time, Zeina wanted a girl. She contacted the facility and informed them of her preference. Then she waited until she received the call.

Zeina explains, “When a child is born, it needs to be touched and spoken to. That is how you can engage their senses. But if children are neglected; if no one talks to them, or holds them, then their senses cease to function.”

Gala was around two when Zeina decided she wanted to adopt her. Since her mother was known, the facility rejected Zeina’s pleas. Yet Gala was quickly devolving. She did not speak or communicate with the other children in the facility, and she rarely ate. She suffered bouts of all sorts of illnesses. Zeina persevered until the facility finally conceded to allow her “weekly visitation rights,” insisting that Gala be returned to the facility during weekends. This arrangement carried on for a while in case Gala’s mother decided to claim her. Zeina finally made the authorities sign a concession. When I asked her if this meant that one day, Gala’s mother might knock on Zeina’s door and ask for her biological child back Zeina shrugged. “She’s my daughter till then. She deserves a home.”

Gala’s illnesses continued and it took a while longer for her to settle into her new home, to talk, eat, and smile again. But the fright of her illness made Zeina contact the facility and demand Gala’s medical history. When the facility refused, Zeina came up with the idea to create Special Mothers—a group dedicated to parents of adopted kids.

One of Special Mothers’ primary aims is to encourage the government to provide the children’s medical histories to adopting families. It hopes to achieve this by amassing an influential number of people who could lobby for their aims. The group currently exists on Facebook, they also meet monthly to discuss various subjects, such as the proper age to disclose the truth about a child’s past, what happens when these adopted kids reach a marrying age, and what books to read.

There are still many complications in the adoption process that Special Mothers intend to resolve. For example, parents are prohibited from bequeathing their family names to their adopted children. Whereas DNA tests continue to enjoy rising levels of sophistication, the government invalidated their use in adoption arguing that these tests could potentially reveal many skeletons in the closets of Kuwaiti families. Another major concern arises when biological parents decide to claim their children from adoptive parents. Zeina recalls a case in one of their Special Mothers’ meetings in which a biological mother contacted the facility after decades of abandoning the child in order to inquire about the child’s whereabouts. The facility gave the mother the address for the child’s adopted parents – without their consent and without preparing them for the meeting. When the adopted parents refused to return “their child,” the matter went to court. The challenge then persists as the government issues a lawyer for the adopted parents of its own choosing, whereas the biological parent has the right to choose their own lawyer. Making matters worse, governmentally selected lawyers are often unconcerned with the results of a given case. These inequities tip the odds in the favor of the biological parents who are the primary cause of the child’s abandonment in the first place.

Special Mothers desires more tolerance and orientation in schools. Zeina explains, “Think what these boys would feel like, for example, if a school teacher asked them to draw a family portrait, when they had grown up in a facility without either parent?” Zeina believes that a school teacher should receive adequate orientation regarding an adopted child to help them deal with cases of a sensitive nature. In fact, education and orientation should begin with the employees at the facility who are themselves biased against these kids. One employee even had the audacity to exclaim to Zeina, “These are illegitimate kids. Why should I waste my time with them?”

Zeina Sultan is continually developing Special Mothers, hoping to offer a comforting environment for parents who are also experiencing the turmoil of adoption. Zeina knows that the road ahead of her is a complicated one. What will Noor’s teenage years be like? How can Zeina secure her daughter’s marital future? Special Mothers aspires to cut through society’s layers of prejudice and focuses on a single noble cause: committing every forsaken child to a loving family. By going to their Facebook page and communicating with them, you too can support the Special Mothers’ dream.

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