Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Adoption and Religion

Consider this post from a law blog I frequently read:

"Muslim Converts 'Not Islamic Enough' for Their Adopted Son to Have a Brother"

That's a headline from a Times (London) story:

When Robert and Jo Garofalo decided they wanted to adopt a child in Morocco they knew it would not be easy. Although the law in the Muslim state had been changed to allow foreign adoptions, the couple were required to convert to Islam first[, which they did]....

So when, earlier this year, they approached Surrey [U.K.] social services for approval to adopt again from the same Moroccan orphanage, they were surprised to discover that they would have to go through the whole process again. The couple were particularly concerned that, in order to assess Samuel’s “attachment” to them, he would have to be monitored and even filmed while playing. Equally disconcerting was that even though social workers indicated in an initial report that they would be prepared to support the second application, the couple were left with the impression that they were being asked to do more to show they were living a Muslim lifestyle.

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A few thoughts:

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4. . . . . [T]he rationale seems to be that an Islamic upbringing is in the child's best interest, because Islam "is an aspect of Samuel's identity," "heritage," "legacy," "religion," and "culture." And this, I think, is wrong as a matter of morality and sound government policy (and would be wrong in the U.S. as a constitutional matter).

The trouble, I think, is that (a) small children (Samuel was only several months old when he was adopted) don't have "religion" or "culture" or preexisting religious or cultural component to their "identity," and (b) the government shouldn't take a stand on how valuable the children's "heritage" or "legacy" is. Religion and culture is something that children are taught. Identity is something that is formed by those teachings, by the child's innate biological makeup, and by the reactions of peers and the rest of the adoptive society -- not by the religion of the child's birth country.

And whether a child should be raised in the religion of his birth parents or birth country, or raised in a much less devout version of the religion, or in another religion, or raised in no religion at all is a matter on which different sets of reasonable parents can differ. I know of no empirical basis for a belief that the child will be deeply scarred by one decision or another. And in the absence of such an empirical basis, the government shouldn't take the view that one's life, whether adult or young, should be linked to the accident of the child's birth. . . .

One commenter, J Adams, posted:

This strikes me as more UK bull****. I adopted three kids from overseas - we baptized them here as Catholics. As far as I'm concerned the "birth parents" and their "culture" can go jump in the lake - given the abuse our kids suffered. Their culture now? American. If some agency told me I'd need to convert in order to adopt I'll tell them to go to hell and move on. When does this madness end?

Reaction, anyone? Look at those quote marks around identity, heritage, culture, indicating just how unimportant and silly it is to consider it. After all, culture is something that is taught, so there is no problem in teaching a child the a-parents' culture and ignoring any birth culture. No empirical evidence that a child will be "deeply scarred" by ignoring birth culture? And is that our standard --parents can do what they will so long as a child is not "deeply scarred?"

There's even more in the original post to talk about -- I'll post more later. But I thought I could first separate out this topic of religion-culture-identity.

Comments? And of course you should feel free to comment on the original post!


Wendy said...

The sending country ABSOLUTELY can make the requirement of conversion or "proof" of religion if they see fit. Where the hell does the responder, especially, get off? He is right that he does not have do deal with an agency/country that would tell him to convert; he can go somewhere else!

It is these ideas that I see in our country, the idea that ap's run the show and should feel offended if they are questioned or have to meet particular standards relating to race/religion/ethnicity. What really gets under my skin is Christian agencies that will not take on non-Christian applicants when in fact they are contracting and adopting with non-Christian countries/cultures. Huh? It makes it seem that they are on a mission from their god to "rescue" children and you are not fit to adopt if you will not guarantee you will "save" the child from their culture who does not worship the almighty.

Religion does not equate to goodness (no matter the religion), but if a sending country wants to determine the faith of the AP's they have that right; it cannot go the other way around--it is about the children and their culture, not the new AP's and the culture/religion they want to instill.

With the example given (Islam) I would worry that *some* Christians in this country (and those of other or non-religious backgrounds as well) would raise the child with extreme prejudice against their home country and their cultural religion--we see this hatred and prejudice daily from those who cannot distinguish radicals in religion (any religion) versus the faithful.

IMO if AP's are allowed to adopt from country X then they should educate themselves and make that country and culture a part of their lives--the child is and always will be a part of their birth country and their heritage and should be made to feel proud of who they are. Of course the child will take on new cultural attitudes and possibly a new religion (if the sending country allows), but their past should not be lost or disregarded.

Anonymous said...

Just because the kids were abused doesn't mean their heritage/culture is ANY less important.