Joyce begins with the tale of Laura Silsby who tried to take 33 "orphan" children from earthquake-ravaged Haiti in 2010 to the Dominican Republic where she planned to house them in an orphanage not yet built. In fact, the children were not orphans. Their parents had consented for Silsby and her band of evangelicals to take the children because she told their parents she was taking them to the DR for education and they would come back.
Joyce, who previously has written extensively about the extremes of the American evangelical movement, documents that the Silsby incident was not an aberration. She shows it to be a logical outcome of adoption fervor ignited by the twin goals of saving children from poverty and depravity and saving their souls from perdition.
"Saving" children through adoption is not new. In the mid-nineteenth century, The Rev. Charles Loring Brace, a protestant minister, arranged for several hundred thousand poor Jewish and Catholic children in New York City to be sent west on "orphan" trains to be adopted by farm families. These children were for the most part not orphans, but their parents were poor, and many of the children were exploited as unpaid labor.
In the 1830's Congregationalists in Jamaica adopted the children of former slaves, separating them from their homes and culture as a way of "civilizing" them. Other nineteenth century would-be do-gooders sought to save American Indian children and convert them to Christianity by placing them in boarding schools. From the 1950's through the 1970's, the Child Welfare League of America operated the Indian Adoption Project, removing between 25 and 35 percent of Indian children from their homes and placing them into white adoptive homes. In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act to stop this pernicious practice, mandating that children stay within their tribes, if possible. (The law is under attack is a case before by the U.S. Supreme Court brought by would-be adoptive parents, and supported by segments of the adoption industry and much of the media.)
THE RISE OF INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION
|The Holt Family|
In 2004 Rick Medefind, President Bush's acting director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, founded the Christian Alliance for Orphans. In 2007, he held a small summit at the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs which caught the attention of Rick Warren, pastor at the mega Saddleback Church in California and author of the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life. Warren and other evangelicals quickly saw that adopting children from abroad was a way to answer critics who accused them of not obeying biblical mandates to help the poor, bring millions to conservative Christianity, and reduce abortions. They spread the gospel of international adoption through their extensive networks of churches and the media touting adoption and foster care as scriptural imperatives. The movement spread outside evangelical churches as a way for liberals to neutralize abortion debates by proposing adoption as a "common ground" compromise.
CREATING ORPHANS THROUGH 'THE ORPHAN CRISIS'
To rally the troops, raise money, and gain the support of politicians, evangelical church leaders and other international adoption advocates invented an "orphan crisis," first claiming there were 143 million orphans in the world, then raising the figure to 163 million, and then 210 million. In 2008 Warren brought Barack Obama and John McCain to Saddleback and convinced both candidates to commit to an emergency plan for this global crisis.
In fact, there is nowhere near 210, 163, or 143 million orphans available for adoption. The 143 million came from a United Nations tally of "'orphaned and vulnerable'" children, which included children who lost one or both parents. What went unnoticed was that most of these children live with their surviving parent or extended family. Many of the children in orphanages are still connected to their families who may use orphanages as boarding schools, or places for their children to stay because of poverty or work demands during a harvest season. Furthermore, many of these "orphans," are older or disabled, not the children those seeking to adopt are looking for.
Ironically, the adoption industry itself increases the "orphan" population by expanding and building new orphanages, financed by donations from grateful adopting parents. ("If we build it, they will come.") Orphanages in Korea increased from 38 in 1945 to a whopping 482 by 1957, housing nearly fifty thousand children. Joyce writes:
"When orphanages are created in places that didn't have them before, suddenly that region will have more 'orphans,' as poor parents see the institutions as a way to ease their burden and give their children an opportunity for better food, shelter, and education. Children who were not homeless or unparented before end up becoming institutionalized as a direct result of orphanages setting up shop in poor areas. Then adoption advocates point to the increased rates of institutionalization as evidence for the need for adoption. It's what some have come to call 'a culture of adoption,' functioning like a self-fulfilling prophecy."These newly-created orphanages become holding pens while operators make the children available for adoption through fraudulent paperwork or convincing their parents to let them go to America for education, without explaining that the children will not return.
We've seen a similar outcome during the Baby Scoop Era in America, as pregnant women were urged to give up their babies, in part to give an infertile couple a family. Meanwhile the adoption industry recruited couples to adopt their babies, so that the children would not grow up in foster care or orphanages. Yet each side of the equation naively believed it was acting selflessly to meet the needs of the other.
Joyce does not discuss the role of non-evangelical churches. Yet I've visited four Unitarian Universalist churches in the past half dozen years, and have seen many children who were of a different color than their parents. While the UU Church may not have promoted adoption, many of its members have jumped on the international adoption band wagon.
STORIES OF KIDNAPPING AND 'BABY FARMS'
Once planted, the demand for overseas adoption rose. "A number of popular 'sending countries' or 'source countries' emerged, and in waves hundreds of children began to arrive from South Korea, Romania, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Guatemala," Joyce writes, adding that the focus has recently shifted to African nations; Ethiopia, Liberia, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have became source countries.
Joyce outlines how adoption follows a five stage process in "source countries": The first stage begins with a legitimate need for large numbers of children facing a particular crisis. In the second stage most of the original children have been placed, but adoption demand has grown and paid "child finders" enter the scene. In the third stage pressure to find children increases to keep pace with demand. The fees Americans pay for the children create powerful incentives for adoption workers to find children who match the desires of Western families, baby girls or young children. Bad players begin to appear, along with suppressed stories of kidnapping or "baby farms."
In the fourth stage adoptive parents begin to come forward with their experiences of corruption or fraud, and governments and adoption agencies respond. In the last stage governments shut down the program and adoption workers and agencies move to another country that can supply children. When that country gets wise, they move on to another unprepared nation. It's a cycle that repeats year after year, in country after country.
In the last few years, countries rocked by scandals have curtailed adoptions and adoption workers have not found enough new sites to keep the adoption gravy train going at the same rate, Joyce writes, and international adoptions have plummeted from a peak of nearly 23,000 in 2004 to around 7,000 in 2012. Evangelicals joined by secular adoption promoters have launched counter attacks, generating media coverage of would-be adoptive parents whose "children are in the pipeline" and writing horror stories of children in orphanages. Of course it's not just the welfare of children which has caused alarm in the adoption community as numbers have fallen, it's the closing of agencies and the loss of jobs. Without children, they can't stay in business.
In the cycle that Joyce so graphically documents, adoption advocates blame familiar scapegoats like UNICEF or the Hague Convention for creating bureaucratic red-tape and an over-zealous response to incidents of corruption. They argue that wrong-doers should be punished but "saving" children through adoption should continue, conveniently ignoring the fact that the corruption is deeply institutionalized within the culture, not the result of a few wrong-doers. As long as money is to be made, it can't be fixed.
Politicians are quick to respond, pressuring the State Department to open the markets. Senator Mary Landrieu, an adoptive mother and co-chair of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption, has sponsored at least seven pro-adoption bills, the most recent being the Families for Orphans Act. The bill, co-sponsored by another adoption champion, Senator James Inhoff, would have used aid to developing countries as carrots and sticks to increase adoptions. A sort of "show me the children before I'll show you the money." Fortunately, the bill did not pass.
A bright light in all of this is Rwanda where thousands upon thousands were murdered in a long civil war, leaving thousands of orphans. The Rwandan government prohibits adoption agencies from operating in the country, requiring all international adoptions, Joyce writes, "undergo individualized, plodding scrutiny instead of permitting the booming free-for-all that characterized the adoption process in nearby Ethiopia." Churches and the government work together moving children from orphanages into foster homes until they can be reunited with their families or placed for adoption with Rwandan families. International adoption is a last resort. Cambodia is following suit with the same model.
THE UGLY SIDE OF DOMESTIC ADOPTION
Domestic adoptions follow patterns similar to those of international adoption: a boom after World War II, followed by a bust when evolving mores caused more mothers to keep their children and abortion became a viable option. In what's often referred to as the Baby Scoop Era (1945 to 1973), anywhere from six to ten million women, about 60 percent of unmarried mothers, relinquished their babies. (Other researchers put the figure at 80 percent of white women and close to zero for women of color.) Today less than one percent of unmarried mothers give up their babies. I was pleased to see familiar faces in the chapter on the BSA, colleagues who have worked tirelessly to document the abuses of the era and work for adoption reform: Mirah Riben, Karen Wilson-Buterbaugh, Joe Soll, Sandy Young, Suz Bednarz, Evelyn Robinson and Ann Fessler.
To counter this trend of falling adoptions, the industry has gone on the offensive, decrying the shortage of adoptable babies, as if this were a bad thing. Even President Obama has gotten into the act, recommending that adoption be made easier to reduce the number of abortions. We are well aware of the successful pro-adoption campaigns in the media to convince the public that adoption is just another way to form a family and the ultimate form of charity, masking the fact that it is a multi-billion business with fees from $15,000 up to $40,000. As part of this normalizing of adoption, the industry has popularized positive adoption language intended, as Joyce notes, "to remove any stigma from the idea of being adopted or relinquishing a child for adoption." Adoption marketers sweep first parents' pain aside, often portraying them as immoral or manipulative, liable to turn up on adoptive parents' doorsteps, or at best inept and immature. In the case of foreign mothers, they are written out of the narrative altogether, assumed to be dead or uncaring.
Joyce writes that evangelicals are prominent in domestic adoptions as well as international adoptions, with approximately half of all agencies associated with evangelical churches, including Bethany Christian Services, the largest adoption agency in the country. They portray adoption as part of God's plan--"'that some parents are infertile because god has a child for them in another place'" Of course it's not only the evangelicals who find divine intervention in adoption. Rosie O'Donnell made a similar claim when she said that she told her adopted children that God placed them in the wrong woman's tummy. (Rosie's brother Dennis O'Donnell is a staunch opponent of allowing adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates in the New York Legislature.)
Christian adoption marketeers use various forms of help and coercion to convince young women to give up their babies, from isolating mothers-to-be in maternity homes or apartments, practices reminiscent of the Baby Scoop Era, guilt-tripping mothers not to disappoint the prospective adoptive parents, and providing inaccurate legal information. Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) funnel unmarried pregnant women into the adoption stream, frightening them with predictions of poverty, a tactic not limited to such centers. (Although more sophisticated, the Center for American Progress uses a similar spiel in their white paper, "The Adoption Option.") Joyce shows how CPS's portray single parenting as a selfish, immature choice adding a strong dose of religion, telling them "'You've done wrong, but God will forgive you if you do the right thing.'" Both religious and secular practitioners often use openness as a ploy to get mothers to give up their babies.
The Mormon Church's LDS Family Services is another vital presence in the Christian adoption community. Because of the Church's influence, Utah has become a haven for unscrupulous adoption practitioners, luring women to leave their homes and give birth in Utah where adoption-friendly laws allow irrevocable relinquishments and create legals traps and barriers for fathers, effectively denying them any rights.
Joyce ends The Child Catchers by taking us back to South Korea where up to 200,000 children
|Jane Jeong Trenka|
The Child Catchers has its critics, of course, accusing Joyce of being "anti-adoption" and promoting a pro-abortion agenda, as we at First Mother Forum have been accused of. But it is an important voice for adoption reform and should be read by those who shape adoption policy and those considering adopting from abroad or donating to an international adoption agency or foreign orphanage. It's laden with facts and figures, but is never dull. FMF highly recommends The Child Catchers.--jane
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Throughout The Child Catchers we meet an interesting and diverse group of people from Oregon evangelical farmers Harry and Bertha Holt to Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet. Besides those mentioned above, also included are:
Adoption advocates including Rick Medefind, President Bush's acting director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and founder of the Christian Alliance for Orphans; Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky who is crafting an extensive orphan theology; Tom DiFilpo of Joint Council on International Children's Services; Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption; Jane Aronson (the "Orphan Doctor") CEO of Worldwide Orphans Foundation. Aronson has just written a self-laudatory book, Carried in Our Hearts, recounting how she helped Angelina Jolie, Connie Britton, and countless ordinary families bring home a child from developing countries; Craig Juntunen, former pro-quarterback, adoptive father of three Haitian children, and founder of Both Ends Burning which employs strategy consultants from Mitt Romney's firm, Bain & Company.
Adoption workers including Tom Benz of Bridges of Faith who brought children from Ukraine and raised thousands of dollars to bring Haitian orphans to the U.S., which never happened; Michelle Gardner, mother of twelve including nine adoptees and founder of Kingdom Kids Adoption Ministries who worked on behalf of Christian World Adoptions. Gardner arranged the adoption of three Ethiopian sisters without their parents' consent and misrepresented their ages and family status to the adoptive parents; Sam and Serene Allison, parents of five biological children, who adopted six children from Liberia. The children were "home-schooled" and received little education. They were denied food, forced to work, and beaten. The Allisons and their families were part of a movement urging people to have as many children as possible; Dave and Jana Jenkins who developed a pilot program with the Rwandan government to place abandoned children with foster families rather than in institutions with the Jenkins' church providing basic supplies and training for foster families.
Adoption Reformers including: Gina Pollock, Vice-President at Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR); Ethica, law professor David Smolin; Niels Hoogeveen of Pound Puppy Legacy.
The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption
Kirkus, STARRED Review“Groundbreaking investigative and explanatory reporting”
The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler, an adoptee.
"A wrenching, riveting book." Stories of women like us.
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