Thursday, June 16, 2011

Children trapped between supply and demand

From the Nepali Times:
Kathmandu Valley has dozens of children's homes and orphanages, Thamel is plastered with fliers looking for volunteers and donations to help parentless children. Foreigners can often be seen holding their newly adopted Nepali babies as they dine in hotels.

It is clear that the business of adopting orphans has taken off in Nepal. Below the surface, however, lies complicated political and social conditions that affect the lives of thousands of Nepali children.

Since international adoption from Nepal became legal in 1976, there was a huge increase in the number of both registered and unregistered childcare facilities as well as an increase in incidents of trafficking, false documentation and bribery. This led to the temporary suspension of adoption from Nepal in 2007 by the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare.

But by January 2009, the self-imposed ban was lifted, resulting in an even more disturbing situation.

Inside a small orphanage on the outskirts of Kathmandu live dozens of 'orphaned' children. Younger children lie in small rooms tied to cribs, with the door shut, screaming, in desperate need of a diaper change. Older children stand barefoot outside as they wait for the small amount of food they are allotted each day.

Sadly, this is an all too common scene in Kathmandu. Organisations like UNICEF and Terre Des Hommes Foundation estimate that more than 15,000 Nepali children live in residential care facilities, but no one knows how the children are treated because the shelters are rarely monitored. Shockingly, more than half of the children in the 'orphanages' actually have biological parents.

Inside the same orphanage, a 15-year old girl nervously confesses having living parents and two younger brothers. "I want to go home," she whispers in English as her biological younger brother climbs onto her lap. Her parents voluntarily gave their children to shelters in the city because they couldn't afford to feed and educate them. In many cases parents are promised their children's safe return following the completion of their education, but many never see their children again because they are sold to foreign adoptive parents.

Many child-care facility owners see the struggle of poverty-stricken parents simply as a lucrative business opportunity. This is not surprising because the average price of an international adoption can be up to $10,000.

On the other hand, many adoptive parents also endure great personal turmoil as they wait for their children. Over the past year, 11 countries including the United States, Canada, and Britain have suspended adoption from Nepal, citing an unreliable adoption system and the documentation practices. Although no new adoptions can be initiated from these countries, parents who have already begun the adoption process have been forced into legal battles with government embassies in their efforts to acquire visas for their newly adopted children.

Dozens of families from these counties have put everything on the line to bring their children home, spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and months stuck in small hotel rooms in Kathmandu. Sharon Vause is one parent. "I am meeting families here who are risking everything to bring their children home," she told Nepali times, "some have sold their homes, taken loans, but we are doing it for our children, we can't give up on them."

A growing group of foreign and domestic voices are once again calling for the suspension of international adoption from Nepal. However, those who oppose this fear that children will be forced to live in bleak orphanages for years before adoption is resumed.

In order to bring adoption practices in Nepal up to the standards outlined by The Hague Convention, child care experts say, there is a need to completely reorganise the process. In the meantime some agencies like Next Generation Nepal are concentrating their efforts on rescuing children with their biological families in hope of one day healing shattered lives.


Anonymous said...

I hope everyone reads the entire article - I read it a couple of days ago and cannot get it out of my mind.

I don't have any answers but sure have a lot of wishes.

Kim said...

The founder of Next Generation Nepal, mentioned at the end of this article, wrote a book called The Little Princes that talks about how he uncovered the trafficking issue and started that organization. Worth the read! We're proud to support them when we can. As adoptive parents, advocating for an end to human trafficking seems like an inherent part of our "job."

Sharon said...

Lack of oversight of orphanages and institutions is not just a problem in Nepal - it is a significant problem EVERYWHERE. This is why folks debate how many "true" orphans we have in the world, and how many institutionalized children -- NO ONE KNOWS.

Adoption often becomes the focal point in talking about trafficking and corruption, but the fact is that countries with adoption trafficking issues also have child trafficking for sex, labor etc. The kids in Grennan's book were trafficked for labor and their parents falsely told they would get an education. Countries that don't have intl adoption also have trafficking for sex, labor etc. The root is issues are poverty and lack of international accountability in child welfare. Adoption programs get tagged as spurring corruption, and that happens, but they also bring greater international and governmental oversight on children's issues and greater accountability. We need the same accountability for the millions of children that will not be adopted.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "The LIttle Princes" is a great read ... good background in how many of these kids ended up being in these "homes".