Adopted children in Cameroon compensate for male power

May 23, 2002

One in three children in East Cameroon do not live with their own mothers but with an adoptive aunt. As a result of this the adoptive aunt acquires a stronger position with respect to her husband and his family. This is the finding of Dr Catrien Notermans from the University of Nijmegen.

In the age group 10 to 14 years, at least 1 in 3 children in Eastern Cameroon do not live with their own mother at home. A child mostly goes to live with an uncle and aunt. That could be next door but equally on the other side of the country.

To find out why so many children went to live with other members of the family, the anthropologist studied various families in the village of Batouri. The adoptive family was shown to benefit the most. A woman who adopts the child of her brother brings her own blood into the family. By bringing the child into her home, the woman gains a better negotiating position with respect to her husband and his family.

Women generally have little difficulty in forming a bond with their brothers' children. Unlike their own biological children, the adoptive children cannot be lost in a divorce, whereas the biological children automatically go to the family of the father. Her brother's children who live with her remain with the woman. In Cameroon weddings have a temporary nature. On average a women has 2 to 3 marriages during the course of her life.

It is also quite common for a man to adopt the children of his sister. This is particularly the case if the sister is not married at that period in her life. In such a situation the biological father cannot then lay a claim to the children. Later, if she is married, the women can in turn request to adopt her brother's children.

Catrien Notermans also spoke with the adopted children. They often feel the victim of interfamily rivalry. A child only serves the interests of one half of the family. Children related to an adoptive uncle, occupy a far from pleasant position if an adoptive aunt opposes them, because after all she is in charge of the home. Children related to an adoptive aunt often feel disadvantaged. Furthermore, the adoptive uncle often spends more money on his own children. However, the adopted child always has the possibility of returning to its parents if it really wants to.
For further information please contact Dr Catrien Notermans (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nijmegen), tel. +31 (0)24 3616255 (work) or +31 (0)24 3555707 (home), e-mail Catrien Notermans is currently working on a number of publications.

The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

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