Monday, March 5, 2012

The "golden age" of international adoption

The Globe & Mail (Canada) offers an editorial in support of international adoption:
The golden era of international adoptions has come to a close. And that is a shame for the hundreds of millions of children in orphanages around the world.

Bureaucracy, escalating costs and more stringent regulations have caused a number of Canadian adoption agencies to close, and made it much harder for parents to adopt overseas.

Nepal, Guatemala, Cambodia and Liberia are on Canada’s adoption blacklist, and in most provinces, so is Haiti. Popular source countries such as China and Ethiopia have reduced the number of children sent abroad for adoption.

The international adoption industry has been fraught with concerns about child trafficking and corruption. Because Canada is a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, the provinces must take these concerns seriously, and ensure Canadians are not inadvertently taking part in the abduction or sale of children.

However, instead of shutting down a country’s entire international adoption program, wouldn’t it be better to investigate specific allegations of abuse, enforce existing laws and penalize those who violate them? Canadian adoption agencies could continue to work with their overseas counterparts that follow regulations, and do not commit adoption fraud. This would allow the thousands of orphans in Guatemala, Haiti, Nepal and Ethiopia to be adopted out, in the event that they cannnot be placed in homes in their own countries.
Go read the whole thing, including the obligatory quote from Elizabeth Bartholet: “Even if adoption law violations occur, the harm they cause children and birth parents is minimal compared to the harm caused by shutting down or severely restricting international adoptions." Sigh.

Lots to say about the editorial, but I'll limit myself to one issue (hard to believe, I know!). Let's see first if we can find some common ground -- I will start from the proposition that international adoption should exist in some form (we aren't all likely to agree on what form, and some won't accept that starting premise at all), and that we are all interested in eliminating corruption in international adoption and all interested in facilitating international adoption for truly needy children.  We might disagree on what corruption is (I, for example, use a broad definition that goes beyond kidnapping or buying children) or which children are truly needy (I, for example, firmly believe that domestic adoption options HAVE to be explored before a child is truly needy of international placement, which is not something everyone agrees with). But I hope we can agree on these fundamentals -- end corruption, help needy children.  Okay? So how do we do that?

The idea that we can end corruption and avoid shutting down entire countries by simply investigating and punishing individual cases of corruption ignores the fact that we are outsourcing adoption to countries without the regulations and infrastructure to police corruption in adoption. Think of a country like China (I'm using China as an example because some people seem to think I give China a "pass" because my kids were adopted from China (yes, to believe that, you can't really be reading everything I post about problems with adoption from China, but, whatever)). With all the overwhelming stories of general corruption in China, corruption it can't keep up with -- why would we think China is suddenly able to police corruption in adoption?

And can the receiving country do the investigating?  Given issues of national sovereignty (why would China allow foreign operatives to investigate in China?!), language and culture differences, lack of cooperation generally, and there's little possibility of Canada or the U.S. investigating claims of corruption within a sending country.  We've seen how that has worked in the past with China -- when cases of corruption go public, the U.S. and/or Canada asks China about it, and China reports they've handled it, and that's the end of that.   This article by E.J. Graff illustrates the limitations on the U.S. ability to investigate individual cases in Vietnam:
[T]he State Department was confident it had discovered systemic nationwide corruption in Vietnam -- a network of adoption agency representatives, village officials, orphanage directors, nurses, hospital administrators, police officers, and government officials who were profiting by paying for, defrauding, coercing, or even simply stealing Vietnamese children from their families to sell them to unsuspecting Americans. And yet, as these documents reveal, U.S. officials in Hanoi did not have the right tools to shut down the infant peddlers while allowing the truly needed adoptions to continue.
We're merely pretending that sending countries actually have the resources to police adoption, and that receiving countries can do the necessary case-by-case investigations, aren't we? The reality is very different from that pretence.

So, how about offering a real solution to the problem of corruption in international adoption? If shutting down a country's program isn't the solution, then offer a realistic one.  Calling for sending countries to investigate individual cases, enforce existing laws and punish individual wrong-doers is NOT realistic. We need to stop pretending that sending countries can police themselves or that receiving countries can police the sending countries.

How about this as a solution -- we only allow adoption from sending countries who have the necessary infrastructure to investigate individual cases of corruption or who agree to allow for meaningful internal investigation by the receiving country? I can hear many objections: it would increase costs of international adoption, it would limit countries parents could adopt from even more than current practice does. Maybe so.  So what's your proposed solution? It certainly can't be to go back to the "golden age" of unregulated international adoption, what this editorial yearns for -- not if we want to end corruption and help needy children.


sbj said...

I don't disagree with you at all. But limiting IA as you suggest would virtually eliminate it. Countries who are sufficiently well-functioning to have the infrastructure you suggest aren't likely to need IA, I'm willing to bet. Are there examples of countries you think have the necessary infrastructure, yet still need /have IA? (serious question, again, not disagreeing). said...

I also do not agree with you. Does this site ever publish pro adoption stories? I am new to the site so you may do so and I am just not aware. Before we made the decision to adopt we were fortunate to speak with several adult adopties (2 domestic adoptions and 2 from Korea) who are very happy. All did mention the pain of adoption but said this did not define them. Two of the individuals were adopting themselves because of how positively they viewed adoption and their own lives (one domestic, one Korean). We were not put in touch with them by our agency they were people we knew as friends or friends of friends. I also met one very unhappy adopted adult - domestic.

LisaLew said...

"Does this site ever produce pro adoption stories"?

Definitely, IMO. The author herself has a beautiful story of a loving family created by adoption.

I think because the topics are emotionally charged, you will often see negative comments and opinions.

On this blog (which is really the only one I regularly follow so far), I tend to filter through, and take away the information I feel may be pertinent to my own children's upbringing.

This blog does hit realistic topics our children may encounter as they grow up, whether negative or positive.

I hope my quick analysis helps. said...

Hello. Thanks it does! Being an adoptive mother and having worked as a social worker with troubled familes(many years ago) I am a very strong advocate for adoption.

American Mamacita said...

As we become more globalized, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that if one wants to help an orphan crisis in another country he/she may need to be willing to go address it there. In its own context. With knowledge of the laws, political nuances, social structures, and the resources to raise kids to feel continuously connected to their whole story.

I do think the era of mass-transporting of kids out of their cultures into ours is winding down. It's a little surreal how quickly it's happening, but we as Americans have a lot of options about how to respond if we truly do care about kids from a particular culture.