Although Neal Conan introduced Talk of the Nation on Tuesday, April 7 by referring to the brouhaha over Madonna’s attempted adoption of a little Malawi girl, the program, “Why Did You Opt for International Adoption” was simply an international adoption promo piece.
The program perpetuated the myth that millions of infants and toddlers have been abandoned at train stations, along roads, or church doorsteps and are living in crowded orphanages waiting for generous American to take them home, and that the children thus blessed live happily ever-after in middle-class America.
Conan interviewed Susan Soon-Keum Cox, Vice-President of Public Policy and External Affairs for Holt International of Eugene, Oregon, the largest US agency specializing in arranging adoptions of children from poor countries, and Isolde Motley, adoptive mother of two IA children, former editor at Time, and co-author with Susan Caughman, editor of Adoptive Families, of You Can Adopt: An Adoptive Families Guide to be released in July 2009.
Cox and Motley reminded me of the old dope peddler in the Tom Lehrer song, “Doing Well by Doing Good.” Thus Cox, (who is well-paid from the money Holt rakes in pedaling foreign children for $35,000 a pop) and Motley (profiting from her status as an adoptive mother) told listeners that adopting a foreign child had the twin benefits of “building a family” and “saving a child.”
To her credit, Cox did dispel the notion expressed by some callers that adopting internationally kept those pesky bio-families out of the picture. She noted that many foreign-born adoptees including herself search for their original families and that some agencies encourage ongoing contact with birth families. Cox also stressed that prospective adoptive parents adopting a child of a different race will face difficult cultural and racial issues as the child grows up.
Interestingly, Motley and the adoptive parents who called in had biological children as well as adopted ones. Cox noted that infertility was only one of the reasons people adopted from abroad and adoption was contagious (my word). Once someone adopts, Cox said, their friends often decide to do the same. (Keeping up with the Joneses I would call it-- Lorraine adds that she has seen it spread among the Hamptons like …well, not quite like wildfire, but spread just the same.)
Neal Conan approached the topic much as he might have in discussing whether to buy an American or foreign-made car. He and his guests omitted any consideration of the parties most affected: parents who lost children to adoption and the children themselves. Indeed this may be a habit of NPR – when discussing adoption. A recent program on open records did not include a single adoptee; instead adoptive father and head of the Evan B. Donaldson Institute, Adam Pertman, spoke on their behalf. Maybe they would like to have us on as bigtime bloggers speaking on behalf of – adoptive parents.
I’m emailing TOTN suggesting it does another program on international adoption, as it claims that its coverage “must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest”. A good place to start to reach that goal would be to interview the authors of two recent articles exposing the realities behind the international adoption myth: “The Lie We Love” (Foreign Policy November/December 2008) by E. J. Graff and “Red Thread or Slender Reed: Deconstructing Prof. Bartholet’s Mythology of International Adoption” (Buffalo Human Rights Law Review, 2008) by Johanna Oreskovic and Trish Maskew. Graff is a senior researcher directing the Gender & Justice Project at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Oreskovic and Maskew are attorneys. Maskew is also the founder and former president of Ethica, Inc, a non-profit dedicated to adoption reform. (See side panel here –Ethica is raising money to support Mercy in Malawi; let’s all chip in.)
Among their findings that we have reported here and here previously is that babies in many, if not all, countries are systematically bought, coerced, and stolen away – i.e., kidnapped--from their birth families. Nearly half of the 40 countries that are the top sources for adoption have at least temporarily halted adoptions or have prevented agencies from sending children to the US. Yet though this will prevent more children from being kidnapped, this policy was soundly criticized by Cox and Motley on the NPR program.
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. Ninety-five percent of orphans are older than five, living with extended families that need financial support. The supply of adoptable babies rises to meet demand and disappears when Western cash is no longer available.
To add grist to the mill, a 2008 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) unequivocally states that the intercountry adoption business in Nepal has created a culture of child abuse including the abduction, trafficking and sale of children.
Of the some 15,000 children in orphanages or children’s homes, a significant number of admissions in these homes are a result of fraud, coercion or malpractice, according to the 62-page report. Only four out of every 100 children adopted in Nepal are adopted by a Nepali family and many children put up for adoption are not orphaned but are separated from their families.
Let’s hope NPR does a report on that.