Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's the Problem with International Adoption?

At Huffington Post, Dr. Jane Aronson writes, The Trouble With International Adoption Is not Trafficking: It's the Global Orphan Crisis:
A September 18 NY Times article by John Leland sensitively highlights recent trafficking of babies in China. The article includes interviews with American parents of adopted children from China, focusing on how it feels for a parent to think that their child might have been bought and sold. The complex issues about how to speak to one's child about such matters in the future are excruciating, but not impossible to handle. That said, most parents who adopt from abroad rarely know the real facts of that desperate moment when their child was abandoned or relinquished. We have hopefully learned not to glorify birth parents and to respect what we do know and what we don't know in an honest and loving way when we speak with our children. Those conversations change and become more sophisticated as children grow and develop.

Trafficking is rare in international adoption. It is not because of trafficking that international adoption has gone south. I don't dismiss the importance of trafficking and I hope that the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption in cooperation with each country will continue to work hard to prevent the violation of the rights of birth mothers and to protect the rights of children. That will never happen however, unless there is a financial and educational investment in the sending country's social welfare infrastructure.

* * *

I ask myself a bigger and more philosophical question about the millions of orphans when I read articles like this. There is a Global Orphan Crisis. When I started out helping parents manage the health issues of children adopted from abroad, I knew very little about the social conditions that dominated the communities of developing countries. For over two decades I have traveled abroad on medical missions and learned about the despair and hopelessness in countries all over the world where there are no social workers or community workers to openly engage in discussions with women who are pregnant and poor. Economic strengthening is limited and women have little access to education and medical care. Why did we create such a marvelous bureaucracy to improve international adoption practices and not pour some of that money into the welfare of mothers in these countries? It seems immoral to me to accredit US adoption agencies and to not empower women from sending countries to make international adoption a well-thought out choice for a birth mother no matter what her economic status.
I agree with Dr. Aronson that there is a global orphan crisis; but that really has little to do with international adoption.  It can't be solved by international adoption.  And there's no logic in her claim that the global orphan crisis has somehow caused the recent declines in international adoption.  But I whole-heartedly agree that our focus should be on empowering women so as to reduce abandonments & relinquishments.  The only way to solve the global orphan crisis is to prevent children from becoming orphans in the first place.


Lorraine Dusky said...

It is because of people like you and your blog that I feel encouraged about adoptive parents who have adopted internationally. Thank you for a post that highlights what is needed in the home countries--not more machinery to take babies away from their mothers to "complete" families elsewhere in the world. Thank you, Malinda.

Jane Ballback said...

Hi Malinda,

I enjoyed your thoughtful blog about what is surely a huge crisis.

I'm the adoptive mother of three young adults, all from Korea. Your blog reminded me why am so happy that I chose the Holt International Adoption Agency.

The Holt agency was a real driver behind the Hague Convention, and it's incredible work all over the world can be summed up in their belief system.

Their mission is always to find families for children, not, children, for families. They also do a great deal of work with unwed mothers in a way that allows them to make the best decision.

I love blogging as well, and you can find mine at

. Jane

Jessica said...

" prevent children from becoming orphans in the first place."
Great conclusion. Like many other APs who adopted internationally, I believe change must begin within countries of origin--through family planning, the education of women, and a commitment to the well-being of children.
Thanks for posting this link to Dr. Jane Aronson's editorial.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is that adoption is a.) family building and b.) a business. Adoptive families want a child and it is the business of the agency to fulfill that requirement. Hence, the birthmother component is missing.

Indeed, resources would need to come from the sending country to empower the birthmother, but seldom do because they lack the resources.

Vicious. Meet cycle.

Anonymous said...

p.s. Jane's link to her blog above is broken-- as is the link w/her name.

Michiel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michiel said...

I think that if you frame poor care for kids (or worse) as a 'global orphan crisis', international adoption seems the best option to solve this crisis. However, if you frame the problems differently (think of 'poverty' or 'unequal rights for women') other (local) solutions seem much more appropriate to deal with this issue. Hence I totally agree with Malinda's comments, but not with the framing as a 'global orphan crisis'.

Julien ChAbAdA said...

I do like your post, and your blog in general !
I am a new "Korean French adoptee" fan !
I apologize for my english and I hope I will be understandable...

Thanks for reframing things so well, Malinda.

Julien ChAbAdA (Adoptee Adoptiologist Adoptiophile)