Tuesday, February 8, 2011

If we pursue international adoption, how do we know for sure a child is a true orphan?

Interesting post, with a book recommendation, about adoption and child trafficking at All Things Mothering:
I’m reading Little Princes (William Morrow) by Conor Grennan. It’s about an American who volunteers at an orphanage in Nepal while embarking on an around-the-world trip. When a mother arrives at the gates of the house looking for her two sons, he realizes her children (along with the other kids at the orphanage) have been trafficked. Conor decides not only to dedicate his time to trying to stop child trafficking in Nepal, he establishes a non-profit to reverse the practice and return the kids to their birth parents.

I was captivated by the topic. Ron and I tried to adopt from Nepal last year. It wasn’t until after we began the paperwork that we first learned of child traffickers exploiting children for adoption. We’d heard of child trafficking with regard to sex or labor trade, but adoption? What about the millions of abandoned children in the world? Like the ones I’d seen in documentaries featuring Mother Teresa? Turns out, Ron and I had a lot to learn.

* * *

Ron and I are trying to wade through all this and figure out what it means–for us, for kids, for the future. If we pursue international adoption, how do we know for sure a child is a true orphan? And even if a child has a living mother–a mother who loves him or her–it doesn’t always mean the mother can parent the child (same for a father). But who makes that call? And is it right to take a child so far away from his or her culture and background?
Important questions to ask. How would you answer these questions for a prospective adoptive parent?


Molly said...

See, my first thing would be to get over the whole "orphan" idea.

In my more cynical moments (apparently, this post caught me at one of them ), I suspect the underlying appeal of the stereotypical orphan is twofold:

1) the absence of a potentially inconvenient birth family and

2) a romantic idea that a child with loving parents that died tragically won't have the same issues as a child who was abandoned because of poverty or removed because of substance or other abuse.

Lots of people conveniently forget that UNICEF's definition of an orphan (created, I assume, to highlight the toll of AIDS in Africa) includes children living with a surviving parent (not to mention other family members).

We adopted internationally, but it was clear to us from the beginning that our daughter was never an orphan in the traditional sense (though of course she met USCIS' definition). Her mom (whom we met) felt compelled to relinquish due to poverty; our daughter spent most of her first year in a loving foster home.

The thing is, we adopted from a country with a first-world economy and a mature legal system, so we could be reasonably confident that the information we received was accurate and above-board (as accurate as we might receive in a domestic adoptions, for whatever that's worth).

Unfortunately the neediest countries -- where "rescuing an orphan" might have the most impact -- also seem to offer the greatest potential for corruption (because US adoption dollars count for more).

Anonymous said...

after 2 international adoptions...and an emerging enlightened perspective...i would say either foster adopt from own country or take the thousands of dollars spent on adoption and help a mom and child stay together.....


Reena said...

I don’t think there is any way to be sure that a child adopted internationally is an orphan. I think in many cases, the child is not really an orphan—in terms of how most people would define an orphan: both parents deceased—no other relatives able to care for them.

A lot of factors went into our decision to adopt from China that I am not going to go into. One big factor was that the government policy in China basically forces families to abandon their children. One can argue finer points to this argument—but put simply-- this is our view of the situation. The family planning law was created before IA was allowed and was in place for a number of years before IA began and we truly believe that if IA from China were to stop, this government policy would remain in place—IA has no effect on this government policy.

So—does this mean that the children we adopted were not trafficked in the sense you are referring (several adoptees believe that all of adoption is child trafficking)—I cannot say for sure. I think it is much less likely to be the case than in some other countries—but nothing is ever completely safe.

Is it wrong to remove a child from their birth country/culture/language? This is a hard one—much of what I am going to say can easily be construed by some as “saving a child.” I didn’t adopt to save a child—I adopted a child for the selfish reason of wanting to become a parent. Knowing what I know about the lives of ‘people’ in China who do not know their family and how the societal norms typically work—no, I do not think it was wrong for us to adopt our children. Notice I am saying people—not just children, because these children do grow up and leave the institutions that care for them. I have friends who are Chinese and people who grow up and age out of these institutions do not have much to look forward to—a lot of how education, jobs, marriage, etc., works in China relies on one’s family ties.

I recommend doing a lot of research, reading different blogs of adopted parents, adoptees, and first moms to learn more.

Anonymous said...

My older child was relinquished by his mother. Given the info we have, I am as sure as I can be that his biological father never knew of the pregnancy. This has always bothered me.

The second time around, after a great deal of research, we pursued special needs adoption and adopted a child who was on a "waiting child" list. He has several birth "defects" and his parents relinquished him for adoption together. To me, this is a much more legitimate adoption: knowing that BOTH parents were involved. It doesn't make him any more an orphan than his brother is (I really wish that term were reserved for children whose parents have died.)

Anyway, to answer the question, adopting a child with visible physical differences from a country where such differences would cuase a hard life of discrimination, you can be as sure as possible that the adoption is legitimate and not the result of abduction, trafficking, or other unethical practices (such as not informing the birth father about his son before having him shipped across the planet).

Mirah Riben said...


- FACT: 90% of children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans but have at least one living parent and/or extended family to reunite their family as was the case with the two children Madonna adopted. These people have no concept of – or desire for – permanent adoption of their children.

- FACT: Many people all over the world are exploited for their ignorance, asked to sign papers they cannot read; told their children are going to the US Europe of an education.

-FACT: In nations that have ceased IA because of corruption, the number of allegedly “abandoned” babies dropped to almost zero. When adoptions were resumed, the number of said “abandoned” babies rose back up again to meet the demand!

-FACT: Many caring people wanting to adopt for purely altruistic reasons and chose reputable agencies have inadvertently adopted children who were stolen or kidnapped. Child traffickers label kidnapped children abandoned and it is virtually impossible to verify otherwise.

-FACT: Children ARE stolen, kidnapped and trafficked for adoption in China, India, Nepal, Vietnam and Guatemala.

-FACT: Children have been taken at gunpoint from loving mothers to meet a demand for babies to adopt!

-FACT: Children who might benefit from adoption are ignored in US foster care and orphanages around the world because they are older, disabled or sibling groups while children are sought and coerced or stolen to meet the demand!

-FACT: The tens of thousands of dollars paid by westerners to adopt prevent local residents from adopting within many nations because they cannot compete financially with fees set based on demand.

These are FACTS. Not facts to suit just me and thy were not created by me! Take off your rose-colored glasses and read the UN quotes at the top of this page and the additional quotes on the quote TAB. Also read:

Duped by Indian adoption agency, US family cautions couples


Read Julia Rollings story at: http://bittersweet-story.blogspot.com/

Read also: The Lie We Love by E.J.Graff

www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2008/10/.../the_lie_we_love -

The works of David Smolin on child trafficking: works.bepress.com/david_smolin/1/

Re China, read:




Re Ethiopia: http://familypreservation.blogspot.com/2010/05/must-see-video-news-report-about-child.html

Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

Reena said...

Thanks for the links!

Anonymous said...

Mirah Riben's "facts" are extrapolations from individual cases, making them no more factual than the idea that because some adoptions are proven legitimate, they all are.

I adopted three older children ages 3,4 and 5 at placement, two from Ethiopia and one from India. Two are siblings. I don't give out the details of their personal stories, but I will say that I know from my own experience that children become true orphans every day, and children are indeed abandoned every day. All three were old enough to share information about their histories that was consistent with what was presented by the adoption agency; in the case of the two younger ones, they also acted out their history through play -- nobody coached them on their stories. We've had relatively few adjustment issues so far because I think because of their independent memories, the children have some understanding of why they needed new families, and were THRILLED to get out of the orphanage. The difficulties we have are from the history of trauma experienced prior to adoption.

We must keep adoptions transparent and ethical and support programs that keep original families intact. However, in my opinion, to claim that the number of children who indeed need the permanency of a new home is small is misguided at best.

Anonymous said...

The term "orphan" as it pertains to children entering adoption is something that is not subject to the subjectives or the whimsy of people such as Mirah here.

Orphan is a legal determination made by the state, prior to placement for adoption. Different nations or states may have differing critiera for what constitutes the legal definition of "orphan". However, what is consistent across state and nations is that a child must be legally declared an orphan by the state prior to placement for adoption.

Give it a rest Mirah. Clearly you are anti-adoption. We get that. And you have plenty of annecdotal ammunition to draw upon to make your case. However it does not empower you to speak for any state or nation as to what is or is not legal declaration as "orphan".