NEW BLOG LATER TODAY (Tuesday, 2/24/08) FROM JANE, ABOUT HER GRANDDAUGHTER'S VISIT....
I'm not putting this up as a new post, but I did want some to see some of the comments at the Reality Check site regarding E.J. Graff's piece, "The Lie We Love":
Why is it so hard to believe that the women in these countries are any different. I am sure that many of them would like to keep their children but recognize the fact that the best future for their children may in fact lie somewhere else.
Yes, many of the women would like to keep their children...but the idea presented here is that a middle-class life is always better than being raised in one's own culture with one's own kind. And:
I am the mother of 2 Beautiful children adopted from Guatemala, I want YOU to imagine trying to work for $60 or $80 a MONTH while supporting yourself, a child and pay for daycare for said child. This is the "salary" the Birth Mothers of my children made. I know for a fact (after speaking to her personally) that my son's Birth Mother loved him with all of her heart and in that same heart she knew that she was not able to care for him). That is an unbelievable act of selflessness in my opinion. But it seems unselfish and an act of love only if it is someone in the States doing the same thing????
Boy, doesn't that sound like the load of crap that we birth mothers were fed when we gave up our children--how they will have better life with two parents...who can give them what we could not? Doesn't that sound like the same argument that was pounded into our heads, we survivors of the Baby Dump Era? And:
My daughter will not end up in the dumps of Guatemala City. Do some more research--that's where the infants are now being found, often dead or dying since Guatemalan adoptions have halted to be "fixed".
During the year long process, much of our money went to care for our daughter since there are no government programs to do this. Our daughter was not "stolen". We met her birth mother and have continued contact. She chose adoption because she had lost 4 children in 4 years due to the fact that she could not feed them or provide needed medical care. She could not bear to watch this happen again. We would love to be able to help her financialy, but cannot for two reasons. One, she fears that she would be killed if anyone knew that she had any money, and two, it is not allowed as it would look like we were "paying her for her child". Yes, our daughter did have one living parent--a desperate parent with nowhere to turn. Her choices were adoption, or abandonment. She made the only choice a loving mother could make.
Why are the women in other countries not allowed the same freedom to make a choice for themselves and their child? When family members, friends and well meaning individuals convince a woman here at home to give her child away, is she not being unfairly coerced? Why the double standard? Does money not change hands in a domestic adoption?
I dunno. But being incredibly poor with someone standing there waving money and seeming to be salvation does not seem to offer "freedom to make a choice." Most of the comments at the site are from angry adopters who feel maligned. E.J. answered some of their accusations. Here is a section of her response:
The DNA tests have been shown to have been fraudulent at times, with false "birth mothers" coming forward in the interviews, for pay. For instance, the doctor who signed Ana Escobar's child's test, Dr. Aida Gutierrez, has been shown to have falsified other tests; see this AP story: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/11/23/news/LT-FEA-Guatemala-Adoptions-Dilemma.php. Dr. Gutierrez certified hundreds of adoptions and is now under criminal investigation.
The documentation in Guatemala was so in-depth that no other Western country would adopt from there--Canada, England, Germany, the Netherlands, and other major adopting countries closed their doors to those adoptions. A number of international and local human rights groups were standing up for the impoverished birth families in Guatemala: the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, Casa Alianza, the Roman Catholic Archbishop's Office, the Myrna Mack Survivors Foundation, and others. -E.J. Graff
All this makes it so abundantly clear how much of an uphill battle we face in changing attitudes about international adoption. I am sure that the people I know believe with all their heart that they were doing a good deed by adopting from overseas, though thankfully, they I did not hear them express it that way: they merely said that they wanted to have a child and could not conceive. And it was too hard/complicated/lengthy to adopt from America.
At least they were honest about their reasons. As for the academic who adopted from Guatemala a decade ago, our friendship waned as she proceeded. I do not doubt that these people love their children; I just don't want to be faced with them day after day. For whenever I see them, my mind always strays to...the adoption. Save for one couple I see quite often, the adoption is always the elephant in the room. How do others feel about having friends who are adoptive parents? I can't be the only reader who is confronted with this so often. --lorraine
Now here's the rest of the post about "The Lie We Love" from Foreign Policy, Nov/Dec, 2008:
EJ.Graff, the investigative reporter of The Lie We Love that we began writing about yesterday goes on to note that delayed conception in developed countries has led to the uptick in the demand for babies--but that in the United States the drive to adopt overseas is also motivated by a fear of birth mothers--not only our change of hearts, but the specter that we might return someday....That idea was certainly at the heart of the arguments over the last several months I had with with friends who have little to no empathy for the women who bear the children, i.e., their natural mothers. They really would rather have us just drop dead. Oh no, they would say, we don't need to have you dead, we just don't want you to ever reappear. Same difference.
Witness that awful book I mentioned in an earlier post, The Brotherhood of Joseph, the woeful tale of delayed conception, normal infertility, failed fertility intervention, and eventually, of course, adoption...from Siberia. I can still see the face of the father of the author looking at me across a dinner table and saying: You are our worst nightmare after I told him I was a birth mother whole daughter had lived with my husband and I for lengthy periods of time. I did that, I admit, because I wanted to jolt him with a shot of reality. I wanted to let him know that adoption is not that simple. I wanted him to know that his grandchildren (now there are two) have other mothers, other pasts, other lives.
Why is my life surrounded by adopters?But I digress. Back to Graff on the abuses in international adoption: She notes that women in poor countries have far fewer protections than their U.S. counterparts [that would be us, and we know how much pressure many/most of us had to relinquish our children], and that these huge imbalances are neatly overlooked by people mad to have a baby at any cost. The would-be adopters only see and hear what they want to; the other day on the ABC reality show, "The Bachelor," one of the women stated that she not only wanted to have children, she wanted to adopt. In her mind, apparently there are children going begging on every Third World corner. Not so, says Graff:
In reality, there are very few young, healthy orphans available for adoption around the world. Orphans are rarely healthy babies; healthy babies are rarely orphaned. “It’s not really true,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior advisor on child protection with UNICEF, “that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption.”
That assertion runs counter to the story line that has long been marketed to Americans and other Westerners, who have been trained by images of destitution in developing countries and the seemingly endless flow of daughters from China to believe that millions of orphaned babies around the world desperately need homes. UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption. The organization’s statistics on orphans and institutionalized children are widely quoted to justify the need for international adoption. In 2006, UNICEF reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But the organization’s definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Just 10 percent of the total—13 million children—have lost both parents, and most of these live with extended family. They are also older: By UNICEF’s own estimate, 95 percent of orphans are older than 5. In other words, UNICEF’s “millions of orphans” are not healthy babies doomed to institutional misery unless Westerners adopt and save them. Rather, they are mostly older children living with extended families who need financial support.
Ah, if only Angelina and Madonna had decided to give financial support to the families, maybe this adoption craze would not be so systemic in the land.
The country that has had the greatest abuses is Guatemala--and I personally know two single mothers who adopted from there--both professional women, one a highly respected feminist academic. In 2006 and 2007 Guatamala was the No. 2 exporter of children to the United States, Graff points out. "Incredibly, in 2006, American parents adopted one of every 110 Guatemalan children born," she writes. "In 2007, nearly 9 out of 10 children adopted were less than a year old; almost half were younger than 6 months old. 'Guatemala is a perfect case study of how international adoption has become a demand-driven business,' says Kelley McCreery Bunkers, a former consultant with UNICEF Guatemala. The country’s adoption process was “an industry developed to meet the needs of adoptive families in developed countries, specifically the United States.' " Graff continues:
Because the vast majority of the country’s institutionalized children are not healthy, adoptable babies, almost none has been adopted abroad. In the fall of 2007, a survey conducted by the Guatemalan government, UNICEF, and the international child welfare and adoption agency Holt International Children’s Services found approximately 5,600 children and adolescents in Guatemalan institutions. More than 4,600 of these children were age 4 or older. Fewer than 400 were under a year old. And yet in 2006, more than 270 Guatemalan babies, all younger than 12 months, were being sent to the United States each month. These adopted children were simply not coming from the country’s institutions. Last year, 98 percent of U.S. adoptions from Guatemala were “relinquishments”: Babies who had never seen the inside of an institution were signed over directly to a private attorney who approved the international adoption—for a very considerable fee—without any review by a judge or social service agency.
So, where had some of these adopted babies come from? Consider the case of Ana Escobar, a young Guatemalan woman who in March 2007 reported to police that armed men had locked her in a closet in her family’s shoe store and stolen her infant. After a 14-month search, Escobar found her daughter in pre-adoption foster care, just weeks before the girl was to be adopted by a couple from Indiana. DNA testing showed the toddler to be Escobar’s child. In a similar case from 2006, Raquel Par, another Guatemalan woman, reported being drugged while waiting for a bus in Guatemala City, waking to find her year-old baby missing. Three months later, Par learned her daughter had been adopted by an American couple.
On Jan. 1, 2008, Guatemala closed its doors to American adoptions so that the government could reform the broken process. Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain all stopped accepting adoptions from the country several years earlier, citing trafficking concerns. But more than 2,280 American adoptions from the country are still being processed, albeit with additional safeguards. Stolen babies have already been found in that queue; Guatemalan authorities expect more.
Guatemala’s example is extreme; it is widely considered to have the world’s most notorious record of corruption in foreign adoption. But the same troubling trends have emerged, on smaller scales, in more than a dozen other countries, including Albania, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Peru, and Vietnam. The pattern suggests that the supply of adoptable babies rises to meet foreign demand—and disappears when Western cash is no longer available. For instance, in December 2001, the U.S. immigration service stopped processing adoption visas from Cambodia, citing clear evidence that children were being acquired illicitly, often against their parents’ wishes. That year, Westerners adopted more than 700 Cambodian children; of the 400 adopted by Americans, more than half were less than 12 months old. But in 2005, a study of Cambodia’s orphanage population, commissioned by the U.S. Agency for International Development, found only a total of 132 children who were less than a year old—fewer babies than Westerners had been adopting every three months a few years before.
And that's what we have been saying here. Bribery, kidnapping, corrupt attorneys and hospital and government officials combined with illiteracy and poverty lead to hundreds--thousands--of babies suddenly being "available" to be adopted. As Graff writes:
So that means that two out of three of the Brangelina's adopted kids were acquired through suspect means. Now I believe that National Enquirer story about the mother of one of the kids. And maybe now with her and Brad having their own kids, she won't opt for more adoptions, but continue humanitarian efforts to help poor families worldwide. I want to like her, I really do. But serial adoption is not the way.
In August 2008, the U.S. State Department released a warning that birth certificates issued by Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City—which in 2007 had reported 200 births a day, and an average of three abandoned babies per 100 births—were “unreliable.” Most of the hospital’s “abandoned” babies were sent to the city’s Tam Binh orphanage, from which many Westerners have adopted. (Tu Du Hospital is where Angelina Jolie’s Vietnamese-born son was reportedly abandoned one month after his birth; he was at Tam Binh when she adopted him.) According to Linh Song, executive director of Ethica, an American nonprofit devoted to promoting ethical adoption, a provincial hospital’s chief obstetrician told her in 2007 “that he provided 10 ethnic minority infants to [an] orphanage [for adoption] in return for an incubator.”
...Most of the Westerners involved with foreign adoption agencies—like business people importing foreign sneakers—can plausibly deny knowledge of unethical or unseemly practices overseas. They don’t have to know. Willful ignorance allowed Lauryn Galindo, a former hula dancer from the United States, to collect more than $9 million in adoption fees over several years for Cambodian infants and toddlers. Between 1997 and 2001, Americans adopted 1,230 children from Cambodia; Galindo said she was involved in 800 of the adoptions. (Galindo reportedly delivered Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian child to her movie set in Africa.) But in a two-year probe beginning in 2002, U.S. investigators alleged that Galindo paid Cambodian child finders to purchase, defraud, coerce, or steal children from their families, and conspired to create false identity documents for the children. Galindo later served federal prison time on charges of visa fraud and money laundering, but not trafficking. “You can get away with buying babies around the world as a United States citizen,” says Richard Cross, a senior special agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who investigated Galindo. “It’s not a crime.”
ROCKING THE CRADLE
Buying a child abroad is something most prospective parents want no part of. So, how can it be prevented? As international adoption has grown in the past decade, the ad hoc approach of closing some corrupt countries to adoption and shifting parents’ hopes (and money) to the next destination has failed. The agencies that profit from adoption appear to willfully ignore how their own payments and fees are causing both the corruption and the closures.
Some countries that send children overseas for adoption have kept the process lawful and transparent from nearly the beginning and their model is instructive. Thailand, for instance, has a central government authority that counsels birth mothers and offers some families social and economic support so that poverty is never a reason to give up a child. Other countries, such as Paraguay and Romania, reformed their processes after sharp surges in shady adoptions in the 1990s. But those reforms were essentially to stop international adoptions almost entirely. In 1994, Paraguay sent 483 children to the United States; last year, the country sent none.
For a more comprehensive solution, the best hope may be the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, an international agreement designed to prevent child trafficking for adoption. On April 1, 2008, the United States formally entered the agreement, which has 75 other signatories. In states that send children overseas and are party to the convention, such as Albania, Bulgaria, Colombia, and the Philippines, Hague-compatible reforms have included a central government authority overseeing child welfare, efforts to place needy children with extended families and local communities first, and limits on the number of foreign adoption agencies authorized to work in the country. The result, according to experts, has been a sharp decline in baby buying, fraud, coercion, and kidnapping for adoption.
In adopting countries, the convention requires a central authority—in the United States’ case, the State Department—to oversee international adoption. The State Department empowers two nonprofit organizations to certify adoption agencies; if shady practices, fraud, financial improprieties, or links with trafficking come to light, accreditation can be revoked. Already, the rules appear to be having some effect: Several U.S. agencies long dogged by rumors of bad practices have been denied accreditation; some have shut their doors. But no international treaty is perfect, and the Hague Convention is no exception. Many of the countries sending their children to the West, including Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine, and Vietnam, have yet to join the agreement.Perhaps most important, more effective regulations would strictly limit the amount of money that changes hands. Per-child fees could be outlawed. Payments could be capped to cover only legitimate costs such as medical care, food, and clothing for the children. And crucially, fees must be kept proportionate with the local economies. “Unless you control the money, you won’t control the corruption,” says Thomas DiFilipo, president of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, which represents more than 200 international adoption organizations. “If we have the greatest laws and the greatest regulations but are still sending $20,000 anywhere—well, you can bypass any system with enough cash.”
Improved regulations will protect not only the children being adopted and their birth families, but also the consumers: hopeful parents. Adopting a child—like giving birth—is an emotional experience; it can be made wrenching by the abhorrent realization that a child believed to be an orphan simply isn’t. One American who adopted a little girl from Cambodia in 2002 wept as she spoke at an adoption ethics conference in October 2007 about such a discovery. “I was told she was an orphan,” she said. “One year after she came home, and she could speak English well enough, she told me about her mommy and daddy and her brothers and her sisters.”
Unless we recognize that behind the altruistic veneer, international adoption has become an industry—one that is often highly lucrative and sometimes corrupt—many more adoption stories will have unhappy endings. Unless adoption agencies are held to account, more young children will be wrongfully taken from their families. And unless those desperate to become parents demand reform, they will continue—wittingly or not—to pay for wrongdoing. “Credulous Westerners eager to believe that they are saving children are easily fooled into accepting laundered children,” writes David Smolin, a law professor and advocate for international adoption reform. “For there is no fool like the one who wants to be fooled.”
This is absolutely the best piece of journalism I have ever read on international adoption. Though I have quoted directly most of the piece here, I urge everyone to go to the site at Foreign Policy or Reality Check, where E.J. Graff has her own blog. At Foreign Policy, there are links to other papers of similar interest.
But how do our readers here feel? I'm relieved this is coming to light aat last, but since I'm surrounded by so many who have adopted from overseas (Romania, China, Guatemala, Siberia) it's obvious that the word has not been spread wide enough. Yet do I have the nerve to send this to a man I know whose girlfriend is hoping to adopt from China, and if not there, Nepal, which so far has not allowed any out-of-country adoptions? He is already the divorced father of a Chinese teenager. I don't know. Every parent I know who has adopted from overseas seems to live in a cocoon of self-induced ignorance. Whenever we mothers from FirstMotherForum see a child that is clearly not white Anglo, we look up to see who the parent is. And if the genetic makeup is from the same race, we silently saw: Yeah! Maybe the kid is not adopted!
I asked E.J. (We've never met but I'm beginning to think of her as a friend) how she became interested in this subject. She emailed that a family friend was in line to adopt from Cambodia in 2001. When the shutdown came*, and the corruption info came out, her friend was sickened to think she'd come so close to paying someone to steal her a child. Graff then became interested in the topic and began researching, hearing more and more heartbreaking info, until she could finally interest an editor in the story. Last night (2/21/08) I caught Graff on another subject--teenage sexual harassment on the job--on NOW on PBS. Do many of us remember when the slimy manager of the coffee shop where we worked in high school put his hands on us inappropriately? I do. One such guy drove me home after work and when I wasn't interested in a quickie, fired me the next day. I'd say I was lucky. And did I ever tell my parents? Of course not. Now I worry about my granddaughter.
Both of them. The one I know and the one I don't. Very soon, we'll hear from Jane about her granddaughter's (the daughter of her adopted daughter) visit over the long holiday weekend. There are some good stories, after all. --lorraine