UNICEF's recent statement on inter-country adoption strongly states in no uncertain terms that children belong first with their families,
and all attempts should be made to keep them in their country of their birth. (Full statement below.)
An adoptive mother of a child from Vietnam, Ms. Poe takes issue with UNICEF's position and brings in pro-international adoption advocate, Elizabeth Bartholet, who never met a poor child in another country who wouldn't be better off adopted in a rich country like ours! Bartholet, a Harvard feminist law professor, adopted two children Peru when her biological child was eighteen and she had "struggled to give birth again" for ten years, using very medical and technological advance in her unsuccessful attempt.
How to solve the problem when she needed more children to fulfill her life? Adopt! Adopt internationally since she wouldn't have had a chance to get a child in this country. While we have tangled with Ms. Bartholet personally before on PBS on the day of the Anna Schmidt/Jessica DeBoer handoff, she keeps springing up again and again with statements like this in the Buffalo Human Rights Law Review:
"Policy makers in both sending and receiving countries [she is talking about poor countries that supply children to rich countries like ours] need to facilitate the adoption process so that it better serves the needs of prospective adopters."and
"...significant numbers of would-be parents wrestle with infertility and are increasingly open to building their families through international adoption. "That is putting it mildly. People are anxious to adopt overseas to avoid any possibility of the [first] mother and child reunion.
Bartholet does go on to say that the primary reason to make adoption more pleasant and easier for people from developed counties is to "maximize the number of number of adoptive parents for the children in need." She is all about finding families for children in need. But--and this is where her position falls apart--she does not question how those children in need got that way in the first place. She ignores child traffickers, kidnappers who snatch children and sell them to agencies, the horror of what happened to Guatemalan women in order to get their babies, or anything at all about how children came to be "available." It is as if she has scales on her eyes and is blind to the truth. Yet because she has "Harvard" after her name, many in the adoption industry take her seriously.
As Ms. Poe notes in her blog, Bartholet has publicly stated that "international adoption is under siege." Look hard enough and you will find Bartholet decrying Guatemala's policy of closing down adoptions, even in light of the fact that Guatemala's own government has concluded that women were killed in order to make their babies available for adoption.
Yet there is hope that the truth will out. As two of her academic critics, Johanna Oreskovic and Trish Maskew have noted, in the very same law journal, next issue:
"We cannot responsibly conclude that a child must be adopted internationally before we know how the child got to the orphanage, where his or her parents are, and whether the cause of the family separation is permanent and cannot be remedied in a less radical manner than moving the child from its original family and culture to another."Amen.
Ms. Bartholet ignores the documented abuses in adoption practices that are a directly result of the huge market for young children to adopt in wealthier countries. An hour spent at the Pound Pup Legacy website would enlighten her as well as all those adoptive parents who scream holy hell when international adoption is criticized. The case of Nepal is particularly interesting in that when Nepal, at the urging of the United Nations, shut down adoptions in that tiny country, the number of children "abandoned" and thus available for adoption went down to ... zero, or close to it.
On the issue of international adoption, I feel like Sisyphus, forever doomed to pushing that boulder up the mountain and have it forever rolling back down again. As long as there are affluent people who are determined to have a baby, anybody's baby, at any cost, the economics of the world are such that someone will find the way to make a profit on that child, and children. Human flesh in this case is fungible: this one will do if I can't get that one.
Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I live among so many who have adopted internationally, and some have frankly admitted that they did so to avoid any possibility of contact with their children's birth/first mothers. These mothers and their children pay the price to feed the hungry maw of the adopting class. --lorraine
For more on the UNICEF statement and a wonderful blog post by an adoptive mother, see: Another perspective on UNICEF and inter-country adoption. She is Margie Perscheid, one of our commentators. Hats off, Margie, for that great blog.
See also: UN finds irregularities in Guatemalan adoptions--no surprise there ; Guatemalan Army Stole Kids for Adoption; The Lie We Love; International Adoption: Corruption as Usual and Abuse in International Adoption, Part 2 with new commentary.
UNICEF's position on Inter-country adoption
UNICEF has received many enquiries from families hoping to adopt children from countries other than their own. UNICEF believes that all decisions relating to children, including adoptions, should be made with the best interests of the child as the primary consideration. The Hague Convention on International Adoptions is an important development, for both adopting families and adopted children, because it promotes ethical and transparent processes, undertaken in the best interests of the child. UNICEF urges national authorities to ensure that, during the transition to full implementation of the Hague Convention, the best interests of each individual child are protected.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides UNICEF’s work, clearly states that every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible. Recognising this, and the value and importance of families in children’s lives, UNICEF believes that families needing support to care for their children should receive it, and that alternative means of caring for a child should only be considered when, despite this assistance, a child’s family is unavailable, unable or unwilling to care for him or her.
For children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure. Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution. In each case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption.
Over the past 30 years, the number of families from wealthy countries wanting to adopt children from other countries has grown substantially. At the same time, lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather than the best interests of children, takes centre stage. Abuses include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents, and bribery.
Many countries around the world have recognised these risks, and have ratified the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption. UNICEF strongly supports this international legislation, which is designed to put into action the principles regarding inter-country adoption which are contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These include ensuring that adoption is authorised only by competent authorities, that inter-country adoption enjoys the same safeguards and standards which apply in national adoptions, and that inter-country adoption does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it. These provisions are meant first and foremost to protect children, but also have the positive effect of providing assurance to prospective adoptive parents that their child has not been the subject of illegal and detrimental practices.
The case of children separated from their parents and communities during war or natural disasters merits special mention. It cannot be assumed that such children have neither living parents nor relatives. Even if both their parents are dead, the chances of finding living relatives, a community and home to return to after the conflict subsides exist. Thus, such children should not be considered for inter-country adoption, and family tracing should be the priority. This position is shared by UNICEF, UNHCR, the International Confederation of the Red Cross, and international NGOs such as the Save the Children Alliance.