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MOUNT HAGEN, Papua New Guinea (October 29, 1998 - The National)---The Government has been urged to ban customary child adoption practices.

A welfare officer with the Department of Western Highlands, Elizabeth Pu, said this was because customary adoption had become a major cause of social problems, including crime, in the Highlands.

She said children adopted under traditional practices were victimized, leaving many homeless.

Many others suffered abuse from their foster or natural parents and relatives when disputes over their custody arose, she said.

Mrs. Pu said custody disputes had long-term effects on the children as studies into settlements in urban areas and communities showed. Children in such situations often became involved in criminal activities.

"Customary adoption is possible when there is trust, understanding and respect between the natural parents and the foster parents. In most cases in the Highlands we see that when there is an argument between the parents, the natural parents demand their children back," she said.

"This raises a lot of problems between those involved, sometimes affecting the whole community. It is one of the root causes of social problems in our communities."

Mrs. Pu added that in other cases, disputes over the custody of the children arose when the foster parents separated or divorced, leaving the children in a hopeless situation.

"This can get very nasty. The battles drags on and sometimes end up in court," she said.

Mrs. Pu estimated that provincial welfare offices dealt with 30 to 40 cases a month involving disputes over custody of children adopted under customary practices.

"This is very high. We must do something about it quickly before the situation gets out of control."

She said children who were given up for adoption fall into three categories: Children whose parents have died; children from large families; and children born from unwanted pregnancies.

"The Child Welfare Act covers two types of adoption; one covers adoption within Papua New Guinea and the other covers adoption of PNG children by outsiders," she said.

Mrs. Pu warned that in light of the growing problems with customary adoption, potential foster parents should seek advise from the welfare office and if necessary follow proper legal procedures on child adoption.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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