Wednesday, November 15, 2006

International Adoption -- A Savior for Unfortunate Children or Racial Genocide?

International adoption is a spreading phenomenon. Thousands of children are adopted internationally each year -- largely by U.S. citizens. International adoption has become relatively trendy with famous celebrities adopting internationally. Madonna, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and even Tom Cruise have made headlines with their internationally adopted children.

Despite this more recent -- and headline worthy -- trend, international adoption remains controversial in legal spheres. Proponents of international adoption herald it as a way to give marginalized, neglected, and often times extremely disabled children a new start in life. These children would otherwise grow up in orphanages -- getting attention only once every few hours to re-prop up the bottle in their mouths that might deliver some nutrition. (This is an anecdote related in Elizabeth Bartholet's book -- Nobody's Children.)

Opponents of international adoption see it as a racial genocide. Rich -- and largely white -- countries raid poorer countries and steal their "most valuable resource." Many reputable organizations that champion children's rights are anti-international adoption. UNICEF, for example, urges extreme regulation to ensure that the horrors of baby-selling and racial exploitation are not facilitated through international adoption. (Read UNICEF's view on international adoption here.)

I wonder how international adoption robs countries of their precious "resources" if these children remain neglected and marginalized throughout their childhood. Are these kids really going to contribute to their country? Is the country doing themselves a disservice by allowing these children to be adopted internationally and raised by families who would go to the ends of the earth -- for moths at a time -- to get that child?

In some cultures adoption is not widely practiced. In South Korea for example, domestic adoptive homes were difficult -- if not impossible -- to locate. Therefore, for orphaned children, abandoned children, abused children, or simply children with no home, there would be no other opportunity for a permanent family without international adoption. Romania used to be a source of many international adoptions. After a "baby-buying" scandal, Romania closed its doors. I wonder who is served by keeping kids in impoverished orphanages?

I have to admit that I was shocked when I heard that UNICEF (and many other "pro-children" organizations) are anti-international adoption. I understand some of the cultural arguments -- but international adoptions are not fueled by children taken from happy families. These children aren't even taken from unhappy families. These children simply do not have families.

Granted, more regulation would be great. It would be ideal if screening could be monitored and all parties could feel totally comfortable that these children would be going to safe and wonderful families. In reality, however, why deny these children homes that are -- by all accounts -- undeniably superior?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two days before International Children's Day (commemorating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) I am saddened to read your comments:

'Are these kids really going to contribute to their country?'

'These children aren't even taken from unhappy families. These children simply do not have families'.

There's enough research out there to raise the serious question about whether 'these' children really are without families. Indeed, the Malawi boy has a father, yes? Lots of other children are in the same position. They have famlies; they just have poor families. I guess Amerikans and rich celebrities think they can do better. It's kinda racist, dare I say.

If Madonna, Tom Cruise, and the hundreds of thousands of UMC white families in the US *really* wanted to help the Childen of the World, imagine how far the usual baby-buying fee of $20,000 would go in an impoverished third world country? A typical US family could support the development and ongoing funding of a public school or health clinic. Do they do this? No, they hand-pick/save one child. (If removing a child from their culture is 'saving' them).

A researcher in int'l adoption put it best: int'l adoption used to be about finding families for children. Now, it's about finding children for families.

Allowing int'l adoption to continue without int'l oversight ensures that kids remain in orphanges, waiting for that one special family to come rescue them. China loves int'l adoption; they can continue their official one-child policy while unofficially warehousing and/or killing girl children.

The Hague Convention needs strengthening. Let Madonna fund that!

Put me done for racial genocide in your poll then.


5:26 PM  
Blogger eponcz said...

Thank you so much for your comment. I'd like to start by saying that I only referenced celebrity international adoption as an indication of the recent pop-culture references -- not as a model for international adoption.

Do you think that families eager to adopt children would contribute $20,000 to these countries without being able to adopt? There are poor/hungry/homeless children in these "rich" countries as well. These "baby-buying fees" actually go to the impoverished third world. It is a shame that the rich west does not do more to support these families outside of adoption -- but is it realistic to think that thousands of American families would voluntarily donate $20,000 to $30,000? Honestly, that money would go to another adoption resource.

I am by no means an expert on Madonna's situation, but from what I've read she adopted a child that had been in an orphanage since birth. In an ideal world the resources would be available to support every family and to keep children with their parents -- but this world is not ideal. Does this mean that children need to grow up in orphanages?

You mention hand-picking or saving one child as if it is a crime. Why is it bad to take a child out of an impoverished and neglectful childhood?

Yes -- more needs to be done.

Yes -- there are injustices throughout the world -- largely based in widespread poverty.

Yes -- many consider international adoption racist.

If we aren't going to fix these problems (and it doesn't seem like widespread poverty is getting fixed any time soon) -- why do these children -- the ones who are hand-picked -- the "one" child that is saved (which becomes thousands upon thousands) -- why do these kids have to remain in orphanages for their entire childhood?

I am clearly a proponent of international adoption. I'm glad to get your comment though, as it brings up many good points and illuminates some of the wider injustices.

In reality we're on the same side -- we both want what is best for children. We just have different views of what we can realistically accomplish.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for your post. i think you said it well in your response to the author of the first comment: really, the pro-adoption vs. anti-adoption sides aren't all that far apart. both support what is best for the child. it should always be what is best for THIS child. in madonna's case, yes, she could have done great things for many many kids in malawi. but she did the best thing she could for the one she adopted. and he deserved that. intercountry adoption will always be in a PR campaign against those who come up with all the reasons why it shouldn't be. and quite often they are good reasons. but tell that to those that have been adopted. tell them that more good could have been done if they hadn't been adopted.


1:39 AM  
Blogger bfoxy37 said...

As a mother of a child who was internationally adopted (I also have one biological daughter) I found your post interesting.

In reference to the notion that adoption used to be about finding a family for a child and now it is about finding a child for a family (I think I have that right) I can tell you from an "insiders point of view that often one or the other or both are true in this day and age). We adopted our daughter 6 years ago from Russia. We have friends from church who adopted several children from India. We have other friends who have adopted from Russia, China, and South America. While each of these families differs somewhat in their family make-up they all shared a desire to give a better home to a child. In fact, for us, that was the major reason that we adopted internationally. With young children (under a year) anyway, there is always a waiting list for domestic adoption.

I CAN tell with 100% accuracy that any child not adopted at birth (foreign or domestic or foster adopt) will have special challenges and so will his/her parents in parenting him or her.

There is a trend, especially in the Christian community to really "walk the talk" when it comes to this subject. This includes international adoptions and foster adoptions. Those of us who are pro-life need to be prepared to provide an alternative loving home for unwanted babies here and around the world.

In terms of helping other countries financially instead of spending the $20,000 towards individual adoptions...

This is so difficult to discuss really. I'm not an expert but let's just say hypothetically that the US actually gave as much money to the country of Russia as it was determined it would need to help it's children out of poverty... This would be millions of $$ at least. OK, now, we have to assume that the money will actually go to the children. (If you have never been to Russia don't judge this as a racist statement as even the Russian people themselves comment on the rampant dishonesty that goes on there...bribes and the like...)

OK, so the US gives the money and Russia actually uses it for its intended purpose of helping the children... how is the money best used to accomplish this? Well, in many cases, the mother of the child given up for adoption has poverty issues or alcoholism or both or more... Or, you could say that you could build better orphanages with nicer surroundings but I think we all understand that that would just be a bandaid.

In other words, what I am trying to say is that you would have to really look at giving billions of dollars to Russia to help not only it's thousands of orphans but all of it's people because it is a ripple effect.

Is it realistic that we could give however many billions of dollars and hope that they would use it in all the right ways? I know I must sound cynical but unless I was quite sure that money would be used in the best possibel way with honesty and integrity at the heart of every decision made then MAYBE it could make that difference...But, at this point I don't believe that would be the case.

In the case of Russia it is a beautiful country with a proud heritage but as someone who has been there and has family members who live there for periods of time, they have a ways to go before they straighten things out enough to focus on their helpless citizens.

And what about in the mean time? Even IF all of those factors fell into place it would take years for the positive ripple effect to occur. What of those children who are in the orhphanages RIGHT NOW? They need help NOW not in 10 years.
Sobering statistics:
When we adopted our daughter we read that in Russia the typical orphanage keeps the kids only until they are 16. After that they are on their own. And this is Russia...I don't think there are any programs like we would have in the US to help these kids get a job or learn a trade, not that there are many jobs to be had(although I have heard that we in the US are sorely lacking in programs for our 18 year olds coming out of the foster care system). At that time we read that the suicide rate for these 16 year old Russian children was very very high. It's difficult to make a living with a college degree in Russia much less as a child off the street.

What I really want to say is this: (I know...I've sure taken my time to say it then!)

If you have ever taken a Child development course or read an article talking about the importance of the first year of life for human development then please know that this is a fact that cannot be emphasized enough. It is vital. It is imparitive. The first year of life and the bonding that takes place is essential to a child's development. And while I am 100% for better environments for the orphans left behind, until they have a chance at real human love and bonding, they will not thrive. Not the majority anyway. This can not be underestimated and this I know from experience.

If every loving family around the world who wanted a child (and the majority of those pining for a child do make good parents) were helped with the financial burden of adoption or better yet, those countries who take much of the $$ for themselves and put it who knows where (often in their own pockets)decided not to make adoptions so costly and difficult, then all of these children could be adopted into loving homes.

Once adopted most of these children need special love, patience, and attention that most families with a desire to adopt are willing to give.

Thanks for blogging about this important topic. I'm glad you are thinking about this and I appreciate your conclusions.

recommended reading:
Adopting the Hurt Child
Parenting the Hurt Child

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forget Tom Cruise and all the other Hollywood whackos. These guys just have so much money to drop anywhere that noone can ever know the true motivation behind their adoptions. They could very well be as true as any other.

The crux of the matter is this. Noone is going to drop millions of dollars into any country to help anyone as we all know that this money will largely not find it's way to the people who most need it. Most of it will get syphoned off for "expenses" along the way. This is just like pissing it up against the wall. In my opinion most fostercare is a waste of time. Foster children often bounce around a number of families and never know who to call mum and dad.
For one who can speak with authority about Russia I can say the following. Many Russian children have no known parentage. Some especially those of Romany origin will never be adopted by anyone especially regular russians.
Orphange children will have very little chance of making anything of their lives other than becoming the best drug dealer or prostitute on the street. They will run the gauntlet of TB, Typhoid, Hepatitus, Syphilus, herpes and HIV and most probably suffer the discomfort of treatable complaints like headlice, giardia, tapeworm, pinworms and scabies for most of their young lives. Many will develop lazy eye, social problems and never properly develop emotionally. If they are lucky enough to get picked for fostercare or adoption by a russian family then they will get to live in a lovely grey multi-story apartment building with no backyard no pets and maybe share a room with someone for the rest of their lives because there is no room and costs are too high. If they live on the west coast in Moscow or St petersburg they might do OK, but if they live anywhere else and russia is a big place, then they probably wont. In Siberia it gets to -35 celsius in Winter. The Slum dwellers of Siberia gather water from hand pumps on the side of the road and have no electricty. They build houses from firewood and burn their houses when it is cold(est).
You may well ask how do I know this. My son and daughter were 10 months old when I met them in the baby hospital after they were admitted with pneumonia after being left in a freezing apartment with no electricity and no food for 3 days untill the police rescued them whereupon they spent the next year staring at a white wall from a cot in a 2metre square room because they could not get a placement in an orphanage due to lack of funding. When they did make it to the orphanage, Oh glory days they got to eat such delights as plain porridge or onion soup every single day. In the 3 weeks I spent there with them I never saw them eat meat. Even after having them back home for 2 months their skin was still translucent. They looked like POW's from Auchwitz. At 2 years of Age they could not Chew solid food. The boy could not stand on his feet and flopped around on the floor like a wet fish. They both suffered from "Institutional Rocking" and weighed a grand 7.0 kilos or about 15 pounds. They were riddled with stomach bugs and skin lice which took a month and several nasty drugs to get rid of. they had skin lesions and all manner of issues with their poor little bodies which required an array of treatments to correct. They were almost bald at 2 years of age due to malnutrition and always tired and without energy. At age 3.5 my daughter's hair is almost normal.
For the first two years of their life they had never seen the sun and suffered from vitamin and iodine deficiency. They had never had a Bath and were scared of water and had never been outside to feel the wind which scared them also.

My wife is Catholic and I am not a church goer, neither of us practice religion in the home or daily lives. We did not embark on our journey because of any "higher purpose" We just wanted to have children and were unable to do so ourselves. We decided that rather than line the pockets of the fertily clinics anymore that we would adopt. We decided to go to russia as it was one of the only countries open to us which supplied children who would look like us (we being white europeans).
After 1.5 years, a lot of money, many weeks in russia, and a lot of stress, we felt like we were the luckiest people of Earth to be able to bring our two back home to New Zealand. It is Summer here now and my children are outside playing in the sun with the garden hose and laughing. Yesterday after Kindergarten we went to the beach which is 5 minutes drive. They paddled in the water and made sandcastles on the foreshore. they ran and jumped and fell over and rolled like two young kittens. They are healthy and intelligent and loving children and they are our son and daughter (twins). We are a family !!

I have no doubt that being twins they would have not been adopted or would have been split up into different homes.

My wife and I always thought selfishly that we were the lucky ones for getting the children. It has recently become very evident to me that in fact it is the children who have been lucky to have a family. We have the children, but we could have had any other children. They have won the life lottery and I feel very excited for them and their future which I hope to remain a part of for a long time!!

So in a final note to those of you who ridicule International adoption or formulate an opinion from the social worker handbook!!
I say to you "Bollocks"

Lets find families for them all. Lets give them all what they deserve in life, what is their hearts desire, what is their only wish, the wish of every child and every man and every woman. TOO BE LOVED !!

What's better. What would you want? A family or a big wad of cash?????

p.s. These children will never contribute to their own home country. Rather they will be a burden on the welfare and medical system and will ultimately die at a young age from disease or alcoholism after creating more orphans for the next generation.
In a country where a bottle of Vodka is cheaper than a packet of condoms, you do the math!!

5:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi guys. I was busy sitting here and writing my PhD thesis until i bumped into your comments.... some interesting ones and others not so... Some of the coments especially questioning the capability of these children contributing to the future of the continent is a bit parochial...nonetheless we need to exchange ideas and one thing that is clearly reflected in some of the comments is the fact that things seem to be viewed differently when you are from the west... for those of us here in Africa, it is a day to day reality... and if intercountry adoption is to be viewed as a "one size fits all" panacea, then we are making a big mistake.... time is in short supply from my end at the moment... but hope to come back and explain my position in detail at a later stage and add an African flavour into it, if there ever is one:)!

5:37 PM  

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