Monday, November 30, 2009

"They Will Return To You"

In American adoption law, it is a fundamental principle that coercion makes consent to an adoption involuntary and therefor ineffective. And coercion isn't exclusively about force or payments, it can be about false promises, too. Perhaps one of the most common false promise in domestic adoption these days is the promise of open adoption. It tends to be a false promise because open adoption is not enforceable in most states, and in the states where open adoption agreements are enforceable, certain technical steps have to be followed to make it so. Not surprisingly, birth mothers aren't always given adequate legal advice to understand what steps are necessary to make the agreement enforceable.

If it is so hard domestically, can you imagine how false promises might affect consent in international adoption, where there is no shared language, no shared culture, often no shared understanding of what adoption is?

In a 2004 article in the Journal of Law and Family Studies, Jini Roby highlights the problem of different cultural understandings of adoption:
The beautiful young woman was wiping tears from her cheeks as she struggled to tell her story. She paused many times, often overcome with sorrow, and frequently searching for the right English words. I waited for her, knowing that attentive and empathic silence on my part was not uncomfortable for her in context of her culture. She looked to be in her early twenties, but she had already given birth to three children and relinquished the older two.

At her home in Majuro, Marshall Islands, a small Pacific country with a population
of just over 50,000, she had been solicited to bring her children to the U.S. to place them with an adoptive family. When she and her husband divorced, she had been left without means to support the children. A local adoption ‘facilitator’ (child finder) had visited her, and urged adoption. To make things easier, she would travel to the U.S. with her children and relinquish them on U.S. soil; thus the adoptive family would avoid the complicated process of international adoptions and she would have a trip to the U.S. She was promised on-going help and continuing contact with her children, which did not strike her as anything unusual. Had she known that adoption meant something entirelydifferent in the Western world from her own knowledge of adoption, she may not have considered it an option. In fact, the notion that a mother can sign away her relationship with her children had never been a concept in her culture. . . . [I]n the Marshallese culture adoption only bridged two families together to bring up children.
That lack of understanding of what adoption meant also appeared in Madonna's adoption of her son David Banda from Malawi:
Mr Banda [the birth father], who is illiterate, said he had no idea what the High Court adoption papers he signed had meant and he was "just realising" what the procedure entailed.

He said: "I was never told that adoption means that David will no longer be my son... If I was told this, I would not have allowed theadoption.

"I want more clarification on the adoption. I would prefer that David goes back to the orphanage where I can see him any time I want, rather than send him away for good."

Mr Banda, 32, said he thought Madonna would just "educate and take care of our son."

But he still thanked Madonna for rescuing David "from poverty and disease."

"We pray for the good Lord to keep blessing her for her benevolence," he told Associated Press news agency.

Mr Banda's cousin, Wiseman Zimba, told AP: "Our understanding as family is that David is still part and parcel of our clan. After the good woman nurtures and educates him, he will return back."
False promises of continuing contact and return were at the center of the Samoan adoption scandals that led to criminal convictions for adoption agency personnel:

Samoan families accuse Utah-based adoption agency Focus on Children of tricking them into giving up their children for permanent adoptions. Similar tactics were described in interviews with six Samoan families, all but one members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Recruiters exploited their religious faith and dreams for their children, they said, selling adoption as a "program" that would send youngsters to live with an American Mormon family and get a good education before returning home at 18.

Same story in Ethiopia:
Parents are often unaware of what they're doing when they offer their children for adoption. They're led to believe they'll hear from their children regularly and their children will be well educated and eventually bring the family wealth.

But in reality, the parents and families never hear from their children and receive little information about where their children have gone. We filmed a room full of grieving mothers who gave their children for adoption after agencies promised they'd be given regular updates.
And as Brian Stuy recently reported, the same promises are made in China, when there is hardly a chance that birth families and children could be reunited:

While much is spoken about the financial payments involved in many orphanage programs, a lessor-known program involves no money, but a simple promise: That a
child will be provided a rich family to raise it, that the child will be given a great education, resulting in a successful life. This promise, often combined with promises of a "returning child", is a very strong incentive for any loving parent, but especially a parent that views such "blessings" as impossible to provide themselves.

How cruel these promises are -- those making them have to know that they will not be carried out. If we can't guarantee that the promises will be fulfilled in domestic adoption, we certainly know that there's no chance of fulfillment across oceans and miles and language differences and cultural disconnects. It's hard to imagine consent being voluntary in the face of these false promises and cultural misunderstandings.


SustainableFamilies said...

beautifully written

SustainableFamilies said...

I;d be willing to guess that somewhere around .2 to 2% of adoptees actually do reject their aparents for the bioparents.

Either way, somebodies getting lied to.

Dawn said...

I am somewhat fixated on hating Madonna because I've always had a love/hate thing with her and the adoption made it a lot less love. (Her topple of the pedastal began when she nicknamed her daughter Lola after her own alter-ego in the Sex book.) Anyway -- she could have had that kind of adoption with David. She has the resources to have a fully, truly open adoption and she's done one lousy visit. She could have set it up so that David could have regular phone calls with his father and regular visits and she hasn't. Then she went and stole Mercy when her family didn't want the adoption. Sick sick sick.

SustainableFamilies said...

Get this she recently stayed in africa with her children and denied all biological parents a visits.

Mercy's uncle said this "We just heard from the radio that Madonna has brought my niece back. We don't even know as a family that she has left. I wish she was brought here so we could see her again."

Baneti was, however, hopeful that "one day she will bring her home because that's what she told me when I signed adoption papers at the High Court".

This family cleary believes that THEY are home. Madonna was thinking "a visit" but it doesn't sound like that's what she said at all.

SustainableFamilies said...

Lorraine Dusky said...

I know I'm a day late, but thank you for posting this.

Lorraine Dusky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorraine Dusky said...

Blogger Lorraine Dusky said...

I just posted a link to this blog, as I had a wonderful but heart-breaking letter from a prospective adoptive parent who had been planning to adopt from Ethiopia--until she found the children had mothers.

See Ethiopian Adoption: Trying to Do the Right Thing