Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Love and Legislation: The International Politics of Inter-country Adoption

That's a title of this post from the Carnegie Council, self-dubbed "The Voice for Ethics in International Affairs."  Wow, I was excited to see it -- finally! an organization touting ethics in international affairs was going to tackle international adoption!  I couldn't wait to read it.  And then comes the first paragraph:
Probably not since the first wave of inter-country adoptions took place in the aftermath of the Korean War has there been so much attention focused upon the very personal decision of taking a child from one country, and placing him/her permanently within a family in another. Between 1999 and 2010, 224,615 children—often girls, and most aged two and under—were adopted into the United States,1 whilst overall, Sweden, Ireland, and Spain lead the field in terms of inter-country adoptions per 100,00 inhabitants in each country (10.18, 9.45 and 7.79 respectively).
Umm.  Are you seeing the same thing I am?  IA as a "very personal decision," not as something systemic taking place on the international stage. And the only personal decision about taking a child is the adoptive parents'. So just how adoptive-parent-centric is this piece going to be? The next sentence helps us there: the very bland, "taking a child from one country, and placing him/her permanenty within a family in another."  Is it just me, or are we ignoring what might cause a child to be taken from one country -- HER country?  Is it just me, or is there no family she loses in HER country?

OK, I won't judge from the first paragraph.  Let's keep reading:
In an increasingly celebrity-obsessed culture, inter-country adoption can appear to demonstrate the very worst of what wealth and fame can bring—the ability to treat children as commodities, "buying" them to create not only the family that you desire, but the one that publicly appears to elevate the adopter to some form of "saintly" status. It may also appear to imply neo-colonialism, with the common assumption that inter-country adoption implies that a child is "saved" from a poor country by bringing it up in a rich one.
Well, that's more like it!  those are some ethical issues worth discussing -- the commodification of children, the wealthy white world adopting brown babies from poor countries.  But then we find out it isn't any of those things!
Behind such appearances, however, is the real story of inter-country adoption—and it is a story that demonstrates a number of things that are of significance not only to each family touched by adoption, but also to the wider discourse of international affairs, and to the ethical dilemmas that surround it. In an era supposedly characterized by a desire for pluralism, multi-culturalism, and hybridity, the many dilemmas of inter-country adoption demonstrate how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go.
OK, I'll accept a discussion of "things that are of significance not only to each family touched by adoption, but also to the wider discourse of international affairs, and to the ethical dilemmas that surround it."  But guess what?  No such discussion ever comes.  What comes next is a discussion of children who will never be adopted -- ok, that sounds good, since ethics in adoption should care about the orphans left behind, right?
Although the number of inter-country adoptions is certainly large, the figures should be seen in proportion. UNICEF estimates suggest that there are around 140 million children who have lost at least one parent, whether as a result of poverty, conflict, or disease. The greatest proportion of these children live in Africa, whilst the largest numbers of orphans are in Asia.

For the vast majority of these children, adoption is not an option, whether because it is unnecessary—they may still be being cared for within their families, whether by their surviving parent or by extended family; because it is unlikely—some children may be seen as "unadoptable" for a variety of reasons, such as age, disability, or HIV status; or because it is impossible, for example in societies where there is no history of adoption or where the societal infrastructure cannot support it. Where it works, however, it seems that inter-country adoption can actually help to change the culture of adoption in the adoptees' native country, so that in the longer term more children are cared for within their own communities. In China, for example, there is now evidence that as the number of inter-country adoptions has increased so has the number of Chinese families willing to consider domestic adoption.
NOTHING about doing anything to help unadoptable orphans, to help partial orphans cared for by family members.  We just have to think international adoption is a good thing because it has spurred some domestic adoption in some countries.  Great.

Then we have a long and nothing new discussion of the Hague Convention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, about how the objectives of these treaties is to ensure ethics in adoption. We can nut it down to 2 points:  1. the Hague is a good idea; 2. but lots of ethical adoptions happen without the Hague. Well, that really touts the value of the Hague, doesn't it?!

And then the rest of the post is the sadly familiar critiques of UNICEF:
The debate surrounding inter-country adoption is not made any clearer by the somewhat negative tone that some of the most powerful intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) that advocate for children assume in their views.
Sigh. So much promise, so much potential for an organization dedicated to international ethics to address the many real ethical issues in adoption.  And they blew it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But they said ethics in the article so all must be well - right?

I read that yesterday with the same hope and the same let-down.

No guts, no discussion, all is well because we say it is so.

Good post.