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Parenting and Voluntary Abandonment of Children in Haiti : Unthinkable Compatibility

Raynold Billy, Olivier Klein

Research Framework: The practice of voluntarily abandoning a child is most often appraised as reflecting a rejection of the child, viewed for his/her biological parents as the focus of hate and pain, as « unthinkable ». This practice, that Cohier-Rahban (2009) considers as the first step in the adoption process, is thereby considered as a refusal or a negation of parenthood, which facilitates the emergence of new forms of parenthood, including adoptive parenthood. From the perspective of this literature, child abandonment and parenthood thereby appear as two separate and incompatible processes. In this article, we question this incompatibility in view of the hostile social context of Haiti. In order to do so, we made the choice to find Haitian parents who abandoned their child in the perspective of an international adoption and invite them to share their experiences.

Objectives: Our purpose was to grasp the meaning, the causes and the social psychological consequences of their decision as well as to convey their representations of these abandoned children. The elucidation of the various aspects of this decision process could, moreover, help us understand the link between this social practice and parenthood in the Haitian social context.

Methodology: This study was implemented via a qualitative approach based on an ethical standpoint that considers human beings as speaking beings, capable of producing meaning, of articulating their experiences and to explicate their own situation (Giust-Desprairies, 2009; De Gaulejac et al.., 2013). The analyzed data include 15 comprehensive interviews implemented with Haitian parents who abandoned a child. We submitted this material to an iterative thematic content analysis (Paillé et Mucchielli, 2016; Glaser et Strauss, 2017).

Results: The analysis of the results reveals that the practice of voluntary abandonment of children (as an objective breakdown of the original parental ties) constitutes an escape route, a dramatic expression of an « unaccomplished » parenthood resulting from the deterioration of the living conditions of Haitian parents living in the country’s precarious social environments. Instead of being disinvested, the abandoned child is overinvested, s/he fulfills a rescue mission: to become the saviour of those who saved him. The account of the abandonment thus gives the child the same status as that of Moses, prophet and liberator of Israel according to the Bible. The reasons identified in the participants’ discourse point out that the decision to abandon is a parental project that takes the form of a confiage and not an abandonment. The practice of confiage (a form of fostering) is indeed a cultural mechanism of children transfer that does not cancel the primary ties woven around the child and that conceives the foster family or adoptive family as an « additional family ».

Conclusions: In view of these results, rather than being considering as a severing of the ties between the parents and their children, the decision to abandon can thus be interpreted as a request for international solidarity around the child, questioning the plenary dimension of international adoption.

Contribution: This study highlights a possible compatibility between parenthood and voluntary abandonment of children mediated by culturally grounded parental representations, and more specifically in the practice of confiage.