Our Bodies, Our Sons: A Complicated Moroccan Parental Connection

By Lisa DiCarlo

I adopted two Moroccan boys, now two and five years old. In the month-long gap between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, I think about my two sons’ biological parents and how we share a bond that will forever remain. And one that they will never know.

As we sat in the visiting room of our youngest son’s orphanage in December of 2015, I heard some commotion in the hallway. Another newborn baby had been discovered abandoned in a box on the street.  A fireman brought the baby to the orphanage and the nurses took him in. They cradled him and held him close, singing to him as if to infuse the will to survive. The head nurse said that babies arrive in this way about every third day.

Until 2012, international adoptions accounted for fully half of all adoptions in Morocco. The majority of the 2,500–3,000 children adopted were placed with families in Spain and France. Three months after we brought our oldest son home from Morocco in 2012, Minister of Justice Mustapha Ramid put out a decree that effectively ended Moroccan international adoptions. His reason was not that children were being abused or trafficked. It did not stem from concerns about the physical, emotional, or psychological well-being of the children. He was reportedly motivated by a desire to keep foreign families from raising Moroccan children as Christians.

According to Ramid, as many as 30,000 Moroccan children had been converted to Christianity over the past 20 years. His circular would put an end to that trend.

It is unclear whether Ramid thought about what would happen in the wake of shutting down international adoptions. In the short term, adoptive families and their soon-to-be children were left in limbo. Orphanages gradually got more crowded as half of all potential adoptive families were suddenly deemed unviable.

Put another way, Moroccan society at large was neither equipped nor willing to step in and give abandoned children an opportunity to experience the stability and support of a loving family. In this sense, orphans are the victims of a national fight for religious purity as much as both women and children are victims of misogynistic notions of honor and shame at the societal level.

We adopted our youngest son in 2016. By then, the adoption process had acquired some additional hurdles, thanks to Ramid’s decree. The first was an interview at the Ministry of Religion to demonstrate our extensive understanding of Islam as well as our commitment to raising our son as a Muslim. The second was the prosecutor’s mandatory rejection of our application due to our foreignness. The third was the appeal. We are thankful that the final decision was the same in both adoption cases. There was no guarantee that it would be.

As an outsider, I have come to learn that Moroccans have a complicated relationship with the issues of women’s control over their bodies. In the case of rape, for example, if the violation is discovered, the family sometimes tries to mitigate the “shame” by having the girl marry the rapist. In a widely publicized case, one such girl committed suicide in 2013 to avoid having to marry the rapist.

Many Moroccans were angered recently when a documentary on attitudes towards sex aired on 2M TV in Morocco. I watched the documentary when a link was circulating among Moroccan friends on Facebook. The documentary describes a society where sex outside of marriage is a punishable crime, where young people do not have the freedom to date openly, and where women shoulder the burden of family honor by what they do or don’t do with their bodies. Viewers reported being uncomfortable that the taboo topic of sexual relationships had become part of a public dialogue. Others were embarrassed that Morocco was being shown in a negative light.

The producer, Nabil Ayouch, a French-Moroccan television and film director, producer and writer, also directed Much Loved, a film banned before its official release date as it dealt with prostitution in Morocco.

If a Moroccan woman gets pregnant out of wedlock — regardless if the child is born after a violation or through consensual sex — there is tremendous societal pressure for her to hide or change her predicament. A young pregnant girl might tell her parents that she is going to another city to work as a domestic servant while she carries the child to term and subsequently abandons her baby at a hospital, or worse, on the street.

Although the Moroccan Penal Code has been liberalized to allow for abortion in the case of rape, incest, or the malformation of the child, the cost of abortion is prohibitive for many women. According to the Moroccan Association for the Fight Against Clandestine Abortion (AMLAC), an abortion costs approximately $300. An estimated 600 to 800 abortions are performed daily in Morocco, most illegally and in unsafe conditions.

Lack of access to abortion, exacerbated by societal norms, leaves women, especially poor ones, with little choice but to give up their babies. Estimates suggest that 24 babies are abandoned daily in Morocco, with 153 babies per day being born out of wedlock. Many of these babies are adopted.

As orphans grow up and age out of institutions, they enter a society where lineage and family ties can determine success or failure in life. There is a common play on words in Moroccan Arabic that underscores this importance: “What is more important than a high school diploma (le bac)? Your father’s connections (bak sahbi).”

More than 80 percent of Morocco’s institutionalized children grow up to be criminal offenders and 10 percent commit suicideGod’s Horses, another film by Ayouch, explores how marginalized children from the streets of Casablanca get radicalized in the absence of economic resources, employment, or educational opportunities.

Elizabeth Bartholet, Director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard University, warns that shutting down international adoptions without a plan to create an effective foster system puts institutionalized children at great risk of being trafficked.

To be sure, there are Moroccan families assuming guardianship of abandoned children. There are Muslim families from abroad that have been granted guardianship of children from Morocco. There are also organizations in Morocco fighting for the rights of abandoned children and single mothers.

While these are positive developments, the problem is larger and growing more quickly than all of these interventions. Additionally, these interventions are focused on the victims and not the victimizers. Societal attitudes and economic duress victimize single women and children.

Fathers are held neither accountable for their actions nor responsible for their offspring. These are longer term, systemic issues that will take time to eradicate.

In the meantime, 6,000 children are living in institutions. Loving families, regardless of religion or nationality, can help to ease the pain of these innocent children and should be allowed to do so until Morocco comes to terms with this chronic problem.

I know. I frequently think of how two young women gave up their children under the pain of persecution or possible death. And this Father’s Day, as well as recently on Mother’s Day, my husband and I acknowledge the blessings reaped with both of our sons.

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