Days after the earth heaved and waves pummeled northern Japan, Western comment boards and blogs lit up over the fate of the tsunami's most vulnerable victims: the newly orphaned. "I want to take 1 or 2 of these kids [home] with me," wrote a commenter on The Imperfect Parent. "I'm rich and I can afford it," another person posted on Yahoo! Answers. A prospective parent on CNN.com gushed that their "little orphan baby" would be brought up "with lots of love!" Even formal organizations, from the Kyrgyzstan government to the National Association of Japanese Canadians, explored the idea of temporary shelters, adding to a now familiar chapter in stories of war and natural carnage.
"The motif is in place," says Karen Dubinsky, author of the book Babies Without Borders, a study of child-lift operations in the Americas. "Oh, a disaster. We know what to do: go get the babies."
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Foreigners hoping to adopt one of these youngsters, however, shouldn't count on success. "Japan isn't Haiti," says Adam Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, referring to the Caribbean earthquake of 2010, when more than a thousand orphans were sent to America. He might have added that Japan is also not India--which shipped nearly 500 kids off to the States after a tsunami in 2004--or, for that matter, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Romania, Russia, Guatemala, or any of the nations where so-called disaster adoptions have spiked at some point since World War II.
One difference is economic: Japan is a wealthy, modern country with the resources to shelter its needy. But perhaps the biggest reason is cultural. Japan is among the most adoption-averse nations on earth, with extended families usually stepping in as surrogate parents when there is need.
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"I believe we'll see very few [new] orphans," says Tazuru Ogawa, director of the Across Japan adoption agency near Tokyo, because "we consider orphans as those with no other family at all." The water and rubble were deadly, in other words, but no match for the whole family tree.
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