Victoria exudes motherhood, even amongst the dank synthetics of Finfine’s old, strip-lit bar. And even now, whilst rain drills the potholed car park outside, in the uncomfortable company of harsh-featured afternoon drinkers and without her daughter, this elegant European transmits a contradictory familial comfort. She is one of those parents so in love with her family that there’s heartening warmth in the most fleeting exchanges, and an overt protectiveness in more lasting ones. In short, she’s a mum. And it shows.
But being a mum isn’t something that came easily to Victoria. As an international adoptive parent, determined not to cut corners or resort to bribery, she was forced by a rapidly corrupting system to fight tooth and nail for her little girl. It was a fight that took its toll and almost forced her from the ring. After her second or third blow in as many years and as many countries, Victoria admitted early that she came close to throwing in the towel. “After all that, I was very depressed. I thought there was no point in continuing my search. Never mind, I told myself. I tried. Okay, I give up.”
* * *
Her search began, in the early noughties, with a holiday. “I was always very fond of Asia,” Victoria said, reflecting on the time she’s spent in India, Nepal and Vietnam. So when she decided to adopt, with the support of her Italian partner whom she’d met with true European style on a flight from Paris to Rome, the Eastern continent was the obvious choice.
And so for two years Victoria leapfrogged between her job teaching artistic therapy for children and her tireless search to find her daughter in the quagmire of Asiatic adoption. At the time, only one country in Asia was open to the kind of single parent, private adoption she was pursuing, and so her search led to Nepal. “I went there, I liked very much the country so I though okay, I’ll go with it.”
“But it was very corrupt: with $6,500 in your wallet you could buy any child you wanted,” she explains. “So, after days and nights trying to find honest people to help, and after so many bad stories, I decided forgot it.” Her decision was a prescient one. In the same month the French government ceased its international adoption relationship with the Asian country, and more were to follow suit. Canada has still prevented all adoption with Nepal, as has most of Europe, on allegations of corruption and child trafficking.
“So I turned to Vietnam, because I wanted to keep one foot in Asia,” she says. “But it was the same. In the end everybody wanted to take something from you. I decided to renounce it. I said to myself: if the only way to become a mother is to pay a huge amount of money then I don’t want it.”
Again Victoria demonstrated sound foresight. Vietnam, like Nepal, has become more than a headache for inter-country adoptees.
* * *
“There are thousands of orphans all around the world who dream of a loving, permanent family to call their own,” said Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of the National Council For Adoption. “Our hope is that the Step Forward for Orphans March brings attention to the problems in inter-country adoption that must be addressed now.”
The problem though, is that inter-country adoption is rapidly becoming a highly profitable market, largely because it remains almost completely unregulated. Expensive and well-advertised agencies have sprouted across the world, as child-rearing entrepreneurs have realized parents present the lucrative combination of desperation and ignorance. “Your neighborhood health club is more heavily regulated,” says Trish Maskew, executive director of Ethica (a nonprofit outfit that advocates better international adoption laws).”The industry allows unlicensed facilitators to work without oversight. The U.S. government refuses to act, and consumers walk into this blind.”
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