It is the rare adoptive parent who, after adopting from overseas, can wrap her mind around the idea that "her" baby might have been stolen, sold or bartered to fill the huge demand for adoptable infants in wealthy nations, of which she herself was a part.
There are some. They have come to First Mother Forum and we are heartened to hear from them. But most adoptive parents do not want to think that. How much more comforting it is to believe that their children were "rescued" from an awful fate of growing up in a grim and loveless state-run institution, leading to a life of crushing poverty and its twin components, illiteracy and prostitution.
For some children, this is unquestionably true. Adoption into a loving, middle class family--even far way from the child's culture and extended family in a foreign county--is indeed a lifesaver. But because there are so many childless couples, straight and gay, who desire children to "complete their family," and because they read and hear stories of others who have done so, the notion that there is an inexhaustible supply of such needy, available children in places such as China, Nepal, Ethiopia or Guatemala--when there are not--has taken deep root in our culture.
When we talk to our friends and acquaintances about this, they generally look upon us with disbelief. If this were so, surely the media would be covering it, surely they--smart people who read The New York Times and watch 60 Minutes--would know about this. They dismiss us as harpies who only say these things because we are mothers who gave up children. We are "only birth mothers" who can hardly be believed; because of our personal circumstances, we are biased. How much more comforting to listen to heart-warming stories of the trials of a foreign adoption that has a happy ending, and, Oh dear, that brings us back to Scott Simon, adoptive father and author of Baby We Were Meant For Each Other: In Praise of Adoption, who stated in his letter to us* that his own adoptions of two Chinese girls surely has nothing to do with wholesale corruption and child-trafficking in inter-country adoption.
If only that were true. International adoption today is largely a crap shoot. While it certainly saves many children, the overreaching demand for children available for adoption leads to horrible, incredible abuses, like the one we read about last week, and it is nearly impossible for adopting parents to know if their children come to them untainted by corruption. For example, last year a Mother Jones reporter tracked down a boy living in the Midwest who had been stolen from his parents from India.
And last week? In Nigeria officials arrested 32 pregnant teens and accused them of planning to sell their babies for between $160 and $190 to a doctor who was accused of offering to sell the babies to childless couples for up to $6,400. Where does the corruption begin here? With the girls? Or the demand that leads to this kind of sick situation? It begins with the demand for babies in the international market, as Mirah Riben has written so forcefully about.
This comes on the heels of reports of kidnappings in China, and massive corruption in Nepal and Ethiopia. And all these, dear reader, are the result of feeding the huge demand for babies in wealthier nations where infertility seems rampant. (We note that much, but not all, of the infertility we hear about seems to strike career-minded, college-educated women and men who delayed conception until they were past their most fecund years.)
In the meantime, we also read reports of the abuse of adopted children. We believe this is rare, we know sometimes biological children are mistreated, but it strikes us as doubly horrible when people who were allowed to adopt from a foreign country turn around and abuse those children.
Thus we were horrified to read that a Longview, Washington couple, Jeffrey and Rebecca Trebilcok, have been arrested on charges of starving their four daughters adopted from Haiti, along with their biological son. The children told detectives that they were punished if they tried to take food from the kitchen. They resorted to eating dog food, goat food, and dandelion leaves. All five children have been removed from the home and placed in protective custody.
Last year the adoptive mother of a Russian child placed her seven year old son on a plane back to Russia because she could not control his behavior. Other Russian children have not been so fortunate. At least 14 have been murdered by their adoptive parents. These are, of course, extreme cases. However, the lack of scrutiny over those seeking to adopt, and little follow up once the child arrives, create conditions that allow abuse.
Corruption and abuse, even if they are only a small part of international adoption, cannot be ignored just as “collateral damage” (the killing of civilians) in a war zone cannot be ignored.
FMF joins with Ethica, PEAR, and others working for more stringent regulations both in the U.S. and abroad. We applaud reformers like Jane Jeong Trenka, a Korean adoptee who grew up in Minnesota, working to change cultural norms that cause women to give up their babies. We encourage efforts to improve conditions for women in developing countries to alleviate conditions that cause mothers to surrender or abandon their children. (See Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn.)
All of these efforts, however, will not be effective unless we also reduce demand for children to adopt. But that cannot occur until people in wealthy nations of the world are forced to abandon their idealized attitudes about how they are "saving" children, saving them, that is, to "complete" their families.--Jane and Lorraine