Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Infants as Orphanage Loss Leaders

We're all familiar with the retail concept of the loss leader, right?  If you've ever been led into a store by that advertisement of that incredibly attractive and low-priced widget you've always wanted and then find yourself buying tons of other stuff, you know what a loss leader is.

I was reminded of the loss leader when I read this quote from an orphanage director in Ethiopia in an article in Christianity Today (that just happens to be where the article is -- I'm not trying to draw any inference that Christianity is behind this!):
At the Kidane Mehret Children's Home in Addis Ababa, Sister Lutgarda Camilleri said . . .[t]he new government rules have resulted in Kidane Mehret receiving fewer infants, which means less attention from would-be parents across the globe since infants are much more easily placed. And that means less support for the majority of aging orphans who won't be adopted. "When we had babies, people came here and when they came, they would sponsor these older children," Camilleri said.

So those who have been commenting on this post, to say that adoption often leads adoptive parents to care about others in the country -- are you sympathetic to the sister's lament?  Is this how you envisioned it working?  Is it a wholly positive good that international adoption works this way?

I confess I'm troubled by the quote, though I know as a practical matter that the sister is right in how it works -- once adoptive parents adopt from a country, they have a motivation to help that they didn't have before. But it strikes me as a bizarrely utilitarian argument when made from the sending country's end -- an orphan becomes a tool, a sacrificial lamb, to create that motivation that will help others. 

And it's easy to see how that would create strong incentives to offer to internationally adopting parents the most "attractive" orphans for in-country adoption -- as young as possible, healthy -- to stimulate interest and support in the children who would have the most difficulty finding adoptive families in country. 

And another incentive is created -- to procure those "attractive" orphans whatever the cost, despite the overflow of truly orphaned and needy children already in the system. That answers that familiar argument that coercion and purchase and kidnapping isn't necessary in a country like Ethiopia where there are already 5 million "orphans" in institutional care (Case in point here: "[W]hen I read that some people are “concerned” about the rate of adoption among children from Africa because people are “trafficking” in adoption, I am truly amazed. Does anyone really think that people are stealing babies and children to sell them for adoption? Are there not enough babies and children already orphaned by AIDS and other diseases in Africa?")



Sharon said...

Malinda, I really don't understand your take on this at all. I didn't feel the nun was "lamenting" anything -- simply stating the facts of the current situation, which is that with fewer adoptive parents coming through the orphanage, there's been a decrease in financial support. It's a fact that older children are harder to place for adoption (or if they have living relatives, the family is struggling and can't help support them) and the children's home has to find a way to pay for their long-term care. Elsewhere in the article the same nun says she supports the government crackdown because it was needed, despite the challenges it has brought her organization.

People who work in charities in the developing world have told me that they receive very little support from their fellow citizens. In struggling economies, people who are able to give are helping their own relatives.

It can be awfully hard to get any govt support either. I met a woman who runs an orphanage in South Africa. She started it with her retirement money, and when she went to the govt for help they were suspicious -- why would anybody spend their own money to help the unwanted kids? Only after she won a fellowship to the US to learn about nonprofit management was her own government shamed/prompted to give her organization any support. We tend to thing of the big money in adoption as lining the pockets of corrupt exploiters, and that can happen, but many times it is the means of support for true charitable work. Maybe we need a better model, but the facts are it's incredibly hard for those who want to do good in their own developing countries to make it happen.

LilySea said...

I think it is a well documented fact that most of the orphans in true need of adoption world-wide are not "desirable" to would-be adoptive parents.

I think it is also an accepted fact that in China, they use high healthy-infant adoption fees to support the children left behind (and perhaps enrich a few orphanage directors in less savory ways).

This is not really shocking, but another example of how much of a market--in the strictest capitalist sense--adoption really is.

It rather unmasks the claims people make about it being a humanitarian system. If people really wanted to help orphans (true orphans) they would not be neglecting the facilities that care for them in favor of a pleasanter shopping experience.

LilySea said...

P.S. thanks for the link you put up here some time ago to the Smolin article. That was really great.

Anonymous said...

I am an adoptive mother. I did not adopt to be a humanitarian, I was not on a crusade. My husband and I wanted to be parents. We had unexplained infertility. My husband is from China (I am white) so we decided to adopt from China. I was born with a birth defect so we deciddd to adopt a special need child. This is not a black and white issue. I was told when we adopted by several people that it was awful that we were not adopting within the US. I asked had they done so. The reply "no we could have our own children"........

We give back to the SWI our daughter spent the first 13 months of her life in and to several organizations that help orphans in China. If we had not adopted I would not be aware of them. We would never have become donors.

All of the arguments I hear against international adoption assume a world that does not exist today (maybe never will...). People are not so altruistic but to expect those who want to be parents to be so is wrong. Most end up becoming more altruistric because of what they see and learn during the international adoption expereince.

Anonymous said...

Please excuse my spelling. I typed too fast!

Anonymous said...

Amen Anon!!

It often feels as if adoptive parents should have in their arsenal YEARS before considering adoption a crystal ball to see all needs, everywhere. Or so others would imply.

Perhaps we can at least agree, for even those who so vehemently oppose adoption, that all things remaining constant, one positive bi-product of an ethical adoption is the cash flow it generates to care for those left behind. Are their countries caring for these children? No. So who then?

And to LilySea, if your suppositions all held true, then Chinese adoptions would all but be halted; its also fact that last year 60% of adoptions from China were Special Needs. Are you saying that's the new "desirable" then?

Seems to me if all folks wanted were healthy infants, there would be no market left in China.

Rail against the countries that create this monsterous dichotemy if you wish ~ but please stop presuming that all adoptive parents are made to fit one mold and should automatically give of themselves to help orphans around the world, before or after an adoption. Do all parents? Do all Amercicans? All citizens of the world?

And Malinda, honestly I suspect your motives here more than just a bit. I think you didn't like the way the "tone" was going on the other post you referenced ~ perhaps not anti AP's or IA enough? So you stretched this piece to make a further point?

I agree with Sharon that after reading the article, the Nun was simply stating a new reality, one that finds them further impovished and less able to care for those children left behind.

Sad all around.

Anon. 2

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:53
I second (or maybe third) that.
If DH and I would not have decided to adopt internationally, we would have possibly NEVER known about Half the Sky, or Love without Boundaries. And assuming we would have known about them, it's a good chance we would have just shrugged our shoulders because they would not have been organizations that touched us personally in any way.
Our daughter was sponsored by a gentleman thru HTS, and so I know first hand the effects it can have on an orphan. We were fortunate enough to be able to write to him, to tell him what his sponsorship meant to us. Even though he donated, he had no idea how he was effecting the life of our daughter one on one, with his donation. We now sponsor a child thru HTS. But we never would have if we had not adopted and been touched by the donations for our own daughter. Selfish, but true.

Anonymous said...

Do all parents? Do all Amercicans? All citizens of the world?

Most parents do not rely on "orphanages" to find a way to build their families.