Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Lie We Love

Finally! This article in Foreign Policy magazine is no longer behind the subscription wall. I read it on another blog last month, but didn't want to post an illicit copy here (problem with being a lawyer, I suppose!)

Anyway, here's a taste:

We all know the story of international adoption: Millions of infants and toddlers have been abandoned or orphaned—placed on the side of a road or on the doorstep of a church, or left parentless due to AIDS, destitution, or war. These little ones find themselves forgotten, living in crowded orphanages or ending up on the streets, facing an uncertain future of misery and neglect. But, if they are lucky, adoring new moms and dads from faraway lands whisk them away for a chance at a better life.

Unfortunately, this story is largely fiction.

* * *

In reality, there are very few young, healthy orphans available for adoption around
the world. Orphans are rarely healthy babies; healthy babies are rarely orphaned. “It’s not really true,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior advisor on child protection with UNICEF, “that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption.” That assertion runs counter to the story line that has long been marketed to Americans and other Westerners, who have been trained by images of destitution in developing countries and the seemingly endless flow of daughters from China to believe that millions of orphaned babies around the world desperately need homes.

UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption. The organization’s statistics on orphans and institutionalized children are widely quoted to justify the need for international adoption. In 2006, UNICEF reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But the organization’s definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Just 10 percent of the total—13 million children—have lost both parents, and most of these live with extended family. They are also older: By UNICEF’s own estimate, 95 percent of orphans are older than 5. In other words, UNICEF’s “millions of orphans” are not healthy babies doomed to institutional misery unless Westerners adopt and save them. Rather, they are mostly older children living with extended families who need financial support.

The exception is China, where the country’s three-decades-old one-child policy, now being loosened, has created an unprecedented number of girls available for adoption. But even this flow of daughters is finite; China has far more hopeful foreigners looking to adopt a child than it has orphans it is willing to send overseas.

Lots to think about in the article. Please read and comment!


Wendy said...

I think we have known this for awhile, the problem is the agencies and church groups that keep perpetuating the myth. Playing upon people's faith is unethical (imo) and I think if we continue to educate we may reach some--the others will choose to want to make the "feel good" choice or believe the profit machine--adoption agencies.

There are a number of children who need homes, some need to find them internationally, but overinflating numbers is not doing the children who do need homes any good. Those who do want to help, have children, whatever the reason they come to adopt need to have the facts. The children who are waiting need the most appropriate help, whether that be adoption in-country, financial assistance to stay with their birth families, or international adoption. Skewing figures only causes ignorance, a standstill in some places and suffering in others, all for the profit motive of a few agencies that are highly invested in one country or another or who have built clientele that want one country over another, one race over another, etc.
There has to be reform in international adoption--we as AP have to be the one's making it, surely the agencies are not stepping up to the plate and only after protest do govts get involved.

Anonymous said...

Just seeing that Unicef seems to be the primary source of information for that article makes me automatically discount 90% of what is said.

malinda said...

Anon, can you explain a little more why you discount UNICEF as a source?

And while it was liberally quoted in the small portion of the article I posted, it did not seem to appear prominantly in the entire article. Do you have some behind-the-story information that UNICEF served as an unidentified source for other parts of the article?


Anonymous said...

I cannot speak for Anonymous at 1:20 p.m., but many see UNICEF as being against international adoptions.

As for myself, I look with distrust at anything that comes from any organization associated with the United Nations.