Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Dark Side of International Adoption, Part 2: Where Did We Go Wrong?

Read this first:  Part 1:  The Evidence

I just couldn't understand it.  Tanzania's law is crystal clear:  You must be a resident for at least 3 years if you want to adopt a child.  I had worked directly with the social welfare department for ten years and they were never willing to compromise on the residency requirement.  So how could these U.S. agencies get away with opening an international program in this country, with families whisking in on tourist visas to pick up a child?

It was Uganda that made it click for me.  One day, I was searching the internet about international adoption, following links, and I found this about Uganda:

"The law governing adoptions in Uganda is...clear about the requirements for international adoption.

Section 46 (1)  A person who is not a citizen of Uganda may in exceptional circumstances adopt a Ugandan child, if he or she

(a) has stayed in Uganda for at least three years;
(b) has fostered the child for at least thirty-six months under the supervision of a probation and social welfare officer."

Hmmm, I thought.  Sounds similar to Tanzania's law.  In fact, it's even tougher than Tanzania's law, because Tanzania only requires a six-month foster care period.  So how are hundreds of American families adopting from Uganda?

I read on.

"Certain courts in Uganda can issue a 'Legal Guardianship Order,' which transfers parental rights of a child from one adult to another.  This was designed to cater for circumstances such as if a child's parents can no longer provide for the child or if the child is at risk of abuse.  It is an instrument of law to protect a child at risk.  It was not designed to enable international adoption.

In 2013, 97% of adoptions from Uganda to the USA used this Loophole, ignoring the Ugandan Adoption Law."

All of a sudden, it made sense to me.

The reason my concerns about Tanzania were being ignored is because American adoption agencies have been pulling these kind of shenanigans all over the world and getting away with it.  What they are trying to do in Tanzania is not an exception, it is the rule.  For many U.S. agencies, skirting around a country's adoption laws has become common practice.

Why is that a big deal, you might ask, if it means children's lives are being saved?

It's a big deal because it's encouraging corruption--and corruption always stifles economic growth and justice, especially for the poor.

And it's a big deal because corruption in an adoption system inevitably leads to children being stolen or coerced from poor families.

So how did we get here?  Where did we go wrong?

Misunderstood Statistics

You've all probably seen the statistics:  150 million orphans worldwide.  Some even say 200 million orphans.



That's a lot of children.  And it makes sense why compassionate Americans would recoil in horror at those statistics; why tens of thousands of people jump on the adoption bandwagon to save these children's lives.  We imagine millions of babies and small children, languishing alone in orphanages, waiting for a Mommy to save them.

Except.....most of them already have a Mommy.

What?  But we thought they were orphans.

This is where definitions matter.  UNICEF defines an orphan as an child who has lost at least one parent.  150 million children have lost one parent.  The number of children who have lost both parents?  18 million.  Still a significant number, but far lower than 150 million.

The number of children living in orphanages worldwide?  Even smaller:  8 million.  And 4 out of 5 of those children have living, known parents.

This is what it means:  There are millions of vulnerable children in the world.  No question about that.  Many have lost a mother in childbirth or a father to war.  Their parents need help.  They need job training and opportunities.  They need addiction counseling.  They need the gospel.  But they don't need their children to be adopted.

"The truth is the majority of the world's orphans do not live in orphanages or on the streets--and only a tiny fraction of the world's orphans need international adoption."  (In Defense of the Fatherless, abbreviated throughout as DF)

YES--there are children in the world who need adoption.  As you will see in future posts this week, I am still an advocate for international adoption, because there still is a time and a place for it, and a way to do it right.  But what must change is the mindset that there are millions of children out there who need us to rescue them through adoption.  In reality, the number of children who need adoption is much smaller.  I will be discussing those implications in other posts.

The First Wrong Attitude:  The End Justifies the Means

I think sometimes we imagine 150 million children on a train heading for a cliff.  It's up to us to save their lives....and that can only happen through adoption.  Adoption has been often been painted as the answer--and the only answer-- to the orphan crisis.

"When Christians believe adoption is the answer to the global orphan crisis, some are willing to adopt at any cost.  Some believe so passionately in adoption that they are willing to justify all sorts of injustice--including coercing poor families, bribing government officials, trafficking children, or closing their eyes to corruption--in order to get a child home."  (DF)

And this is where the misunderstood statistics lead agencies and families to the wrong conclusions.  If adoption is literally the only hope for 150 million children, then we should be willing to beg, bribe, and steal our way into saving their lives.  But if adoption is the only hope for just some of those children--and there's other solutions for the vast majority of them--then we need to reconsider the means we are using to get to that end.

Another Wrong Attitude:  Ethnocentrism

"A child who has parents doesn't need new, wealthier parents."  (DF)

I'm looking deep inside myself here too, my friends.  International adoption is not always the result of ethnocentrism.  In fact, I think that international adoption, in many ways, can help us to fight our own ethnic prejudices in ourselves, our churches, and our communities.  It is a good and wonderful thing when racial walls are broken down through the love of a family.


We must examine our hearts.  I look at the evidence.  I look at what is happening in Tanzania.  I look at what has happened, and is happening, in many countries around the world.  I see American agencies breaking the laws of other countries in order to make adoptions happen.  I see American agencies facilitating corruption in adoption by paying bribes.  I see them taking dangerous advantage of the lack of infrastructure.  In many cases, I do not believe that these agencies--or the families who trust them--are evil.  But I do think that many have an inherent belief that even if a child is snatched away from his parents, even if a mother was coerced into giving up her child--that the child is better off with an American family.  Why leave a child with a desperately poor mother in Africa when he can be given an education, Disneyland, and karate lessons in America?

This is ethnocentrism.  This is the belief that we as Americans know what's best for the world's children.  We justify breaking their laws because we believe we can take care of their children better than they can.

It's ugly; it's unbiblical; and it's got to stop.


I need to make it clear that I am not casting judgment on any parent who has adopted a child internationally.  Though our kids were adopted domestically in Tanzania, we were on the path to adopt a child from Ethiopia before our agency lost its license there.  We also had strongly considered adopting from Uganda or Congo, and we would have done it, had the way opened for us.  I never dreamed this kind of corruption was taking place, as I'm sure is the case for most adoptive parents.  Of course, many international adoptions are entirely ethical.  And if they were not, then I believe in God's sovereignty and I trust in His redemption in making something beautiful out of something broken.  But as an adoption community, once we know more, we cannot ignore it.  We can't let it continue. 

That said, I do believe that adoption corruption did not happen by accident.  Though I believe that (most of the time) adoptive parents are in the dark about these things, there are other parties who are not.  And that's the focus of my next post:  U.S. adoption agencies' role in international adoption corruption.

Continue reading:
Part 3:  The Horror That is Called Child Harvesting
Part 4:  Pure Religion is to Look After Orphans (and Widows?)
Part 5:  God Told Me To....Or Maybe He Didn't
Part 6:  What About the Children Who Really Do Need Adoption?
Part 7:  Is There Hope in This Mess We've Made?

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