Children born to unknown parents in Saudi Arabia will now be considered citizens, the kingdom’s Human Rights Commission announced on Wednesday.
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Currently more than 12,000 Saudi families foster children born to unknown parents, according to Dr Sarah Al Abdulkarim, a member of the council of the Human Rights Commission.
The children are visited by specialists periodically to check on their development.
“I am so happy that these children will have a promising and bright future,” Jamila, a 45-year-old Saudi caretaker in Jeddah told The National.
“We had over 30 children under the age of 12 and now, we only have five. We usually have mothers coming in to inquire about sponsoring children, even though they have children of their own. It says a lot about our culture and society, especially because in Islam the act of kindness towards an orphan is greatly admired,” she added.
Saudi law stipulates if an abandoned child is found, the first step is to identify and locate the parents of the child. If unsuccessful, a foster family is assigned. The family is selected based on an agreement signed by the foundation with the Ministry of Labour and Social Development.
The Al Wedad Charity Foundation, an organisation that takes care of orphans and children with unknown parents, said more than 500 children are found abandoned in the Kingdom each year.
Rawan Alsharif, a 35-year-old Saudi volunteer at a Jeddah care-centre said the change in legislation represents progress for society and the nation at large.
“This is the first time we are seeing change of this magnitude, which embraces every section of society,” Mrs Alsharif said.
“This is a great act of kindness that shows our leadership cares about children who have been abandoned due to no fault of their own and now their future is secure. This gives them rights and a chance to be a part of this great nation,” she added.
Umm Omar, the adoptive mother of a child abandoned in the streets of Jeddah as a baby, said the changes made her feel proud to be Saudi.
“Maybe their parents had to leave the country due to financial reasons or are illegal immigrants who get caught and deported,” she said.
When authorities couldn’t find the baby’s family, Umm Omar, 50, and her husband were assessed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Development. Omar came to live with them at just a few months old. He is now 6.
“My heart broke for the other children but now, after I heard the news that the State will take responsibility for all those who were abandoned, my heart is overjoyed and I feel so much at peace as a mother and so proud to be a Saudi,” said Umm Omar.
Last year, Ahmed Al Rajhi, Minister of Labour and Social Development said the ministry planned to increase the number of foster families who can take care of orphaned children.
Ultimately, the plan was to shut down all orphan care centres.
Almost 8,700 families have adopted children in 2020. Officials reported a rise in the number of orphan care applications as 3,000 from all over the Kingdom.
The ministry launched the Family Foster Care Programme as part of Vision 2030.
Khalid Aba Al Khail, a ministry spokesman, said placing an orphan in a shelter house is a last option for the ministry, stressing that the new programme aims to place orphans with families that can provide them with suitable care and an environment is safe and conducive to psychological development.
The government further provides all foster families with full financial support such as monthly allowances for the child’s care.
Families wishing to adopt orphans can register online.
A family should take care of the orphan and treat them as their child in spending, charity, education and all affairs until they reach an appropriate stage of self-reliance, according to the government.
According to the Human Resources and Social Development website, a single, widowed or divorced woman can also apply to foster a child.
“These are phenomenal changes and progress. I admire our government who wish to see a country with no orphan care centres, instead welcome them into our homes, integrate into our families and culture, giving them equal rights as citizens and hope for a better future,” said Lujain Ahmed, a 30-year-old Saudi mother living in Riyadh.
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