Most everyone has been to a carnival/amusement park/state or county fair. One staple of all those wonderful events is the Carnie that guesses age or weight. As our life in Africa progresses, I continue to be amazed at the things we learn. For instance, from time to time we get children at The Pines that don't have the necessary papers to identify them. Papers such as birth certificates, government ID's, proof of citizenship, etc... seem to disappear before we are given the children.
Just such an instance occurred recently. We have a boy, Tshidiso, that we have assumed to be about 5 years old, and he has been here since January 2008. He, along with his 2 brothers, are in the process of being transferred to Foster Care, which in South Africa means pretty much permanent placement. This is an exciting time for us, as we have really grown to love these boys. These three are the ones whose mother passed away in January.
Part of the process of transfer from Place of Safety to Foster Care status requires that specific ages and birth dates be assigned to children whose papers have been lost, or never existed to begin with. I was under the impression that one would just take said child to the local Carnie, who would then guess the age of the child, and that would be that. I think you will be as surprised as we were to learn the process is not quite so simple.
First, the child is taken to a physician in the area. We are lucky enough to have a doctor willing to see our children for free. At the doctors visit, the surgeon cuts either the child's leg or arm about halfway through, which allows them to see the growth rings in the muscle and bone tissue, basically just like a tree. They are then able to determine exactly how old the child is. It also lets them see which years in which the child was healthy and received good nutrition, and it shows the years that were difficult, again, just like trees where you can see which years were wet, dry, and various diseases or blights the tree experienced.
The doctors assure us that with the appropriate medication and technique, the child feels no pain. They are bandaged up and are not allowed to be too active for about 2 weeks afterward. Also, they are told not to swim for at least a month. Tshidiso was quite disappointed to learn this, since swimming season will be ended here by the time the doctor releases him to swim again.
After the operation, the doctor fills out a report and submits it to the local judge, who then makes the final decision as to the exact birthday that the child will be assigned. At this point new documents are provided to the child and the child's caregivers, which allow the child to receive government grants, obtain employment some day, and apply for additional documentation like passports, driver's licenses, etc... Although it seems like an inconvenience, I'm sure one day Tshidiso will be happy to have been through this procedure. Like I said, I never knew this was possible. If you are as surprised as I was to learn of this medical procedure, or if you already knew about it, send me an email. Our address is firstname.lastname@example.org.