' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Trafficking reports raise heart-wrenching questions for adoptive parents

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trafficking reports raise heart-wrenching questions for adoptive parents

An adoptive mother who found First Mother Forum offensive posted some inflammatory comments to the previous post about the Women In Hiding website we wrote about the other day. She, as have others before her, said that we were a bunch of angry women with issues and that we could not call ourselves "mothers," because, well, because we were not. She also wrote:
There are such hateful references on this blog, accusing adoptive parents of stealing and buying babies. It's disgusting that a woman who regrets her decision not to parent then attacks the very people who gave the child a loving home and 24/7 care.
Her accusations have been gnawing at me since, and then came a news story (11/09/09) from the Los Angeles Times about people, including, Mark Brown and his wife, Nicki Genovese, who are plagued with the thought that their daughter from China might have been kidnapped:
They had just returned to Los Angeles in 2005 after adopting a Chinese foundling in south-central Hunan province when they read the news reports about trafficking. Police had arrested 27 members of a ring that since 2002 had abducted or bought as many as 1,000 children in Guangdong province and sold them to orphanages in Hunan.

The story makes clear what we have been trying, in our small way at First Mother Forum, to get out to the world, that child trafficking does exist, and it exists not only for sexual exploitation, but also simply to provide willing Westerners who want children to "complete their families," a phrase that always makes me sick in the knees because it almost always refers to adopting. The Times story notes that A U.S. congressional commission that monitors human rights in China said in a 2005 report that "trafficking of women and children in China remains pervasive," with many infants and young children abducted for adoption and household services. According to an estimate cited in the report, 250,000 women and children were sold in China during 2003. (Not all go to Westerners who get them "laundered" through seemingly legitimate agencies: some are sold for child labor, others to wealthy Chinese families who want a boy, or, in some cases, a girl to marry their son, because the Chinese one-child-per-family law and the adoption situation not surprisingly has led already to a shortage of marriageable young women. The message here? Mess with Mother Nature and you get a stiff kick in the behind.)

China has cracked down on many family-planning officials and orphanage workers found guilty of trafficking, with some violators sentenced to death or long prison terms, according to Chinese news agencies. But according to Jane Liedtke, founder of Our Chinese Daughters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers programs and tours for families with children from China, the United States has treated China differently from other countries. U.S. families, for instance, are not allowed to adopt from Cambodia, Vietnam and Guatemala because of evidence of trafficking or other corruption.

"As a country, we should come out and say the Chinese government has to demonstrate what it's doing to prevent" trafficking, she said. But she added that it would be tragic to close off adoptions from China because "there are still way too many children who need help."

The Canadian government opened an investigation in October after The Times documented numerous cases in which Chinese babies were confiscated from their parents by local government officials and sold for foreign adoption.

Some adoptive parents "looked the other way" when they heard reports about child trafficking in Hunan province years ago, said Liedtke. Now that trafficking cases have been documented not just in Hunan but also in Guizhou, Guangxi and other provinces, "people say, 'Oh, I didn't know. My agency didn't tell me. If I'd known, I wouldn't have adopted.' "

To that, Liedtke responds: "Oh, yes, you would have. You wanted a child." 

Do I wonder if any of the children whose parents I know who adopted from foreign countries (two from  Guatemala, three from China, one talking about adopting from Ethiopia) have children who were stolen? You bet I do. I think about it all the time when I see the kids, some of whom I've bought presents for.

What do I say to people who think we are accusing them of "stealing" children?  I'm repeating here what I wrote at the blog because we are First Mother Forum  need to make clear where we stand on issues (as so many accuse of what we are not):

Dear Anon:

While you may feel that we accuse adopting people of "stealing" or "buying" their children, we are not doing that directly because they are not telling someone to go out and, say, kidnap a young child for a fee. However, this does happen--and happen often--in poorer countries such as Vietnam (where women were told they could not leave the hospital with their babies unless they came up with an exorbitant amount of money) and Nepal and India, where cases of outright kidnapping have been proven, and in China, where government officials are now on trial for extorting children from their parents.

When the Guatemalan government investigated adoptions from a certain period of time in the Nineties, they discovered that over half of the more than 600 adoptions they looked occurred because the mother was killed for the purpose of taking the baby, or was kidnapped, to be sold to unscrupulous baby brokers who appear, to willing and anxious adoptive parents, as ethical adoption lawyers. Adoptive parents who willingly adopt from overseas without looking into why a country has so many children available then become part of the corrupt system, just as, say, people who collect stolen art without investigating its provenance.

Does that make the adopters liable? Yes. Yes. Yes. If you doubt this, simply do a search at firstmotherforum.com [it's it in upper right corner or the bottom of the blog] for "corruption in international adoption" or any of the countries mentioned, and you will be directed to the original source of these statements. You will find that you will end up reading publications such as Foreign Policy or Mother Jones, or directed to CNN and NPR. The stories do not get a lot of play in this country because the public does not want to know.

We have several adoptive mothers who regularly read this blog (see their posts above) and they know that we are not making this up, or accusing anyone directly of ordering someone to steal a child. But it happens. Adoption, particularly overseas adoption, is rife with corruption because there is a buck to be made by supplying the world with freshly-minted healthy babies.

As for adoptions in this country, religious organizations such as the Mormons and agencies with a strong Christian connection (such as Bethany) encourage women to give up their babies in large part simply to grease the wheels and keep the business of adoption going. You can even find websites that list adoption "situations" and show a price tag--white infants go for much more than African-American or mixed race babies.* Without "product," agencies would lose business and in fact, go out of business. And while you personally may be honoring your child's heritage and first/birth mother, many many adopting parents do not. In open adoption cases, they promise one thing and do another, and that is what happened to at least one of the people who has posted here. We do not hate those who adopt. We hate the system that takes babies from mothers and does not offer them the help they would need to keep and raise the child.

One last thought: you refer to the decision to relinquish a child as excruciating and selfless. Excruciating, right. Not selfless. And not "loving," as many adoptive parents like to say, and believe. If the most loving thing a mother could do was to give a child up for a better life, many, many poor mothers would be offering their babies freely. Giving up a child is totally an act of desperation, and surrender to what seems the obvious: that the mother does not have the money or the support system to raise that child. But she remains his or her mother for all her life. While you have been disturbed by much of what you read here, I hope this at least has made you rethink some of your assumptions. And if your son finds himself calling the other woman "mother," please accept that this does not diminish your role as "mom" and "mother" in his life. He knows he has two mothers, and I sincerely hope you can come to accept this with peace and equanimity.

peace to you--lorraine
*With thanks to Osolomama for alerting us to this website. 


  1. I'm going to add my comment to this thread in addition to the initial one:

    Anon said: Again, they could NOT adopt a child that has not been placed for adoption to begin with. That "need" was created by the birth mother.

    ARE YOU NUTS??? You were just the next one in line. Agencies NEED babies to satisfy the unending demand of the adopters! It is the agencies that have the NEED. If not you, it would have been the next couple in line. YOU were nothing special, your number was just up. YOU did not "save" the baby you adopted. Talk about head in the sand.

    I did not "give my baby up" or "make an adoption plan" or MOST ESPECIALLY I was NOT UNWILLING TO PARENT! Those are the propaganda that adoption agencies feed to PAPs (prospective adoptive parents) to get them to feel better about legalized kidnapping!

    I was made to believe that becoming pregnant was the most LIFE SHATTERING ERROR I COULD HAVE MADE. I was made to believe that I was NOT mother material and that I could NOT raise my daughter. I was mind-controlled into believing that adoption was the ONLY option for my situation.

    BTW, I was almost 21 by the time my daughter was born. I was NOT a teenager. In fact, I was Valedectorian and I was in nursing school WITH A SCHOLARSHIP when I became pregnant. So I HAD resources, I COULD have supported myself and my child. BUT I WAS NOT MARRIED. That was the SOLE criteria for keeping a child, apparently.

    Your head-in-the-sand attitude, Anon, about the REALITY of adoption is going to continue to cause problems with your adopted children. Your refusal to realize that you are raising SOMEONE ELSE'S CHILD is going to be your undoing. Yes, your children became yours through adoption. BUT THEY ARE NOT YOUR PROPERTY. They are PEOPLE, human beings with feelings and thoughts of their own. If you were a good mother, you would be thinking of what was good for THEM and not just yourself. You would not be so threatened by the fact that your child has TWO MOTHERS because you would be secure in the love your child has for YOU. They will never leave you or your family. You have made certain of that. Why do you then deprive them of loving their First Mother who was the reason you got to have this experience in the first place?

    I searched for and found my daughter 11 years ago. She does not call me "mom" but she knows I am. I don't mind, really, because it's how she TREATS me that is important. You see, I know I am HER mom, too.

  2. Adoption or not, child trafficking is alive & well in our country. One doesn't have to look far either:
    http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/11/15/north.carolina.missing.girl/index.html It's whether or not society wants to ADMIT it is happening & do something about that REALLY matters.

  3. " Now that trafficking cases have been documented not just in Hunan but also in Guizhou, Guangxi and other provinces, "people say, 'Oh, I didn't know. My agency didn't tell me. If I'd known, I wouldn't have adopted.' "

    To that, Liedtke responds: "Oh, yes, you would have. You wanted a child."

    Projecting much?

  4. Lorraine, I have a great deal of respect for what you said. I know that none of us are acusing the adoptive parents of anything except maybe their willful blindness to the truth of adoption. Sadly, and to the detriment of our shared children, we as adults can not share the love of those same children.

  5. Child trafficking happens within our borders and outside our borders because AP's aren't concerned about purchasing a true orphan, they are only concerned about getting a "forever child" for their "forever family". (Cough, gag, blahhhhh....)

    I am an adult adoptee. My records are sealed because of the selfishness of adoptive parents and their "purchase power".

    Every time I see a obviously different raced child with old white people I cringe and then feel like I want to vomit. That poor child was probably stolen for the money that his/her wrinkled AP's paid the kidnappers (i.e. corrupt governmental agencies, adoption agencies.

    Hey, all you judgemental, hypocritical AP's out there: You think natural mothers are pissed, you haven't heard NOTHING YET. A lot of adoptees would like you to shove your rainbow sh*t where the sun doesn't shine.

  6. Nicely put.


    An AP

  7. I sometimes wish for a magic wand so i could make sure that NO mother ever placed her child for adoption due to poverty. That, to me, is what needs to change FIRST; but in countries where there are so many human rights issues, violence against women, well, where does a country start even if it wanted to start? I struggle with IA sometimes...taking a child away from it's home country? I am ashamed to admit how little i knew when my husband and i started our adoption process; and a little upset that these things weren't talked about by our SW with us. But in the end, it was OUR responsbility to be educated about adoption, no one else's.

    I am one of those adoptive mothers who is searching for a first mother. My husband thinks i'm "opening a can of worms" (and what's wrong with that?), my friends who are not adoptive parents do not understand my desire to do this. Why do i want to do this? So when i tell Emma "HER" story, i have ALL of the information i need to tell her the TRUTH. So we can meet Emma's first mother, so she can see her, talk to her and so the two of them can know each other and share in each other's lives. My greatest fears is that Emma's first mother will not want to meet her, that a searcher will not be able to find her with the information i have, or even worse, what information i thought was true at our adoption is not.

    Call me naive, i know that i was, but it never occured to me that people would try to make money off of children. Adoption was to HELP a child, not to BUY a child. The amount of money that is passed through hands could easily provide for a first mother to take care of her child. Are some first mothers not ready to be mothers? Perhaps. But poverty should never be the reason for a first mother to place her child for adoption.

    Women's rights in the world need SO much attention and i do believe that until we start there, until we educate all women, well, we'll have a way to go. If you haven't read "Three Cups of Tea", please do. It speaks of a man who opens schools to educate women in. Women, he says (and i believe) are the ones who stay in their towns and their countries. Education will help end poverty, i truly believe this. And this, my hope is, will lead to where a first mother never has to be in a position to place her child for lack of money.

  8. I'm an adoptive mom to two children from China, and I've been reading here and commenting here for over a year, and Lorraine has been kind enough to post comments at my blog, which is mostly read by adoptive parents.

    And I have to say that I've never felt that I've been attacked here because I'm an adoptive parent. I've never felt defensive about what's written here about adoptive parents.

    That's not to say I've agreed with everything written here (adoption = slavery, anyone?!!).

    But I've always found this blog to be REAL. And when you're being REAL about adoption, you have to talk about issues that make some adoptive parents uncomfortable --corruption, lack of ethics, kidnapping, baby-buying, coercion, and all the other evils in adoption. REAL means you have to realize that the happy-happy-joy-joy narrative about adoption is only about US adoptive parents.

    That is not to say that all adoption is bad. Or that adoptive parents are bad -- and I've never read anything here to convince me that Lorainne and the other posters believe that all adoptive parents are bad.

    But without blogs like this one, keeping adoption honest and pointing out the flaws, I believe I'd be a worse parent to my children. One day I will have to answer to them for what I've done -- they had no choice in the matter. I want them to know that I care about these issues. I want them to know that I recognize their pain and loss, and the pain and loss of their birth parents.

    Every adoptive parent or prospective adoptive parent who reads this blog and reacts defensively needs to search within and find the source of that defensiveness. You owe it to your children.

  9. The thing is, Anon, didn't visit and listen and she didn't moderate her views at all. She just came to correct other people's "false assumptions". It was pretty funny, really. Remember the X-files tagline: The truth is out there. That's adoption today. It's out there and we can all talk about it. Those who can't acknowledge the dark side of adoption are doomed to live in a very precarious universe with their kids.

  10. Mei-Ling asked, "About?"

    Leidtke adopted her daughter from China in 1994/5.
    So even if she feels she's sea-green (given that publicity about child trafficking and corruption in adoption from China really took off around the millenium), she sounds crass and self-righteous under the circumstances.
    JMO, of course.

    Little Snowdrop

  11. Snow, unless she would dish out the same opprobrium to herself. Hard to tell with Jane. Her business depends on the Chinese gov't.

  12. Um... forgive my obtuse-ness, but -

    Is the exchange of dialogue...

    AP: If I'd have known, I wouldn't have adopted.

    Liedtke: Oh, yes, you would have. You wanted a child.

    ... being seen as an assumption that an adoptive parent would have done whatever it took to adopt a child, even if it meant going against possible moral values, and therefore a projection about the extent to which another human would 'go to' in order to achieve a child?

    I'm confused. :\

  13. "Snow,"
    White as the driven.

    "unless she would dish out the same opprobrium to herself."
    Judging by that remark, it doesn't look as if she even consider it as a possibility.

    "Her business depends on the Chinese gov't."

    LIttle Snowdrop.

  14. Mei-Ling -

    Short answer, yes.

    I think.

    Too bad Jane just didn't say "we". That would have helped.

  15. Jane? What post are you talking about?

  16. Jane Liedtke, of Our Chinese Daughters. This post.

  17. The only "heart wrenching" question I have how you can take sensationalized snippets from media reports and generalize them to the entire international adoption community. There is an entire division of the U.S. State Department devoted to international adoption regulation, and yes while there are sporadic, sensationalized abuses, there are also hundreds of thousands of truly abandoned children in this world (many of which are warehoused in STATE RUN orphanages) who need homes. I urge you to take a trip to China or Russia or Ukraine and talk to goverment officials and visit some state run orphanages before making sweeping generalizations. I repeat. GO TO SOME OF THESE COUNTRIES AND SEE THE ABANDONED CHILDREN FOR YOURSELF. Abuses should be reported to proper authorities but the overwhelming majority of parents who adopt from abroad do so legitimately. Most families who adopt aboad also have to deal with the physical, emotional and psychological damage done to their children. I thought that the article you co wrote with the attorney about adoption reform, particularly as it relates to surrender times, made sense, but for you to go off on a subject (international adoption) which you obviously know little or nothing about is hurtful and offensive. Go. Get on a plane and GO.

  18. Corruption in international adoption does not amount to "sensationalized snippets from media reports". It is bigger and deeper than that and the fact that adoption is supposed to be regulated is not an antidote, especially in places with zero transparency like China. Recently, Canadian Embassy staff in Beijing tried to ask the China Centre of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) about corruption. They were simply reassured that there was no problem and that isolated cases of corruption had been dealt with. But this is hardly a reassuring response, something the Dutch have taken up. As a member of the Dutch Green Left Party recently said:

    "Every time that independent researchers and journalists investigate particularly China, gross violations of the Hague Adoption Convention are reported. . . I am very harsh -- maybe too harsh -- but the investigation that the [Dutch] Minister of Justice performed last year by means of a high official delegation to China to speak to the CCAA, came down to this, which is also reflected the answers to written questions:

    'We have talked to the CCAA. They indicated that there have been past abuses, but that they were addressed. Now there is an honest and careful procedure. We must rely on the answers of the CCAA, for the Hague Adoption Convention is how it is completed. This gives us at present confidence.'

    "There is no mention of any research?"

    So honestly, I think there is something here that is quite serious and most agree that it is serious. That does not mean there aren't children for whom adoption is probably the best option. You are correct in stating that there are genuinely abandoned children (and always have been) in China's orphanages but you are not correct in suggesting that all of them would be considered adoptable to western couples. Moreover, it has been reported that orphanage staff themselves, probably owing to China's attitude to people with dsabilities, do not deem some of these children adoptable and do not even submit their names for international adoption. Clearly, the situation for older handicapped children, especially those due to age out of the institution, is not a good one, but adoption would never come close to addressing this issue which has roots as deep and tangled as the roots of gender preference. I'm also on a list with lots of parents who adopted from Eastern Europe, and I agree, there are incredible stories of hardship there and kids for whom time is running out.

    Essentially, the corruption issue is not about the paradigm of children needing families when that is truly the case; it's about families needing children, especially healthy babies. That's what the original post was about.

  19. I do think you are generalizing. Orphanages are HORRIBLE places. Anyone who has adopted a child from an orphanage knows that the chances they are getting a "healthy baby" are very, very slim. I urge you to look at the research on post institutionalized children. The likelihood that children who spent even one year in an orphanage will have severe developmental delays, and later will have learning disorders is very, very high. People looking for black market healthy babies aren't looking in orphanages. The literature about what happens to these children, particularly the horrors of what happens to them if they are not adopted, is vast. Talk to any middle school teacher about the internationally adopted children they have in their classrooms. Many recover emotionally from early neglect, but most never recover neurologically. Yet a recent study of parents of P-I (post instituionalized) children shows they'd still do it again if offered the choice. Again, while their might be abuses in certain pockets, people going through agencies accredited under the Hague Convention on the Intercountry Adoption of Children (monitored by the U.S. State Department) are NOT looking for "healthy" black market babies. What you are describing is a very small percentage of cases.

  20. p.s. You want heart wrenching? I am haunted by what I saw when I adopted my child from Russia. This was published the same year we got home with our beautiful son, who has had challenges but whom we wouldn't trade for anything in the world:

  21. The problem is that in China, there are baby-buying programs. Children are getting TO the orphanages for the purposes of adoption via a black market.

    I am aware of the effects of institutionalization on children. I'm an adoptive mother. And when did I saw orphanages were nice places? They aren't.

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. ......"Child trafficking happens within our borders and outside our borders because AP's aren't concerned about purchasing a true orphan...."

    .. "Every time I see a obviously different raced child with old white people I cringe and then feel like I want to vomit. That poor child was probably stolen for the money that his/her wrinkled AP's paid the kidnappers.."

    ...."ey, all you judgemental, hypocritical AP's out there: You think natural mothers are pissed, you haven't heard NOTHING YET. A lot of adoptees would like you to shove your rainbow sh*t where the sun doesn't shine..."

    I am quoting from the "moderated" comments above, in case anyone wasn't clear why I don't think this is a healthy place for open and honest discussion...

    I am sorry for your collective pain, I truly am, but some of you are hurting innocent children by your generalizations (and you are losing support you might otherwise garner)

  24. I'd just like to say that the Russian report is 11 years old. Twelve years ago, the state of orphanages in China was bad too--so bad that a documentary was made about them that almost suggested the cruelty was intentional. When this is the "scenario," people tend to think that adoption is rescue. But since that time, because of the adoption system and the compulsory orphanage fees, things are looking a lot better. My daugher's orphanage has been upgraded to a huge building with a lot more room, equipment, and staff. So have many others. Clearly, some of the hundreds of millions raised through the adoption fee is being used on the kids, including the many special-needs kids entering the system who may not be adoptable. I don't know the Russian system well or how the $$ collected through adoptions has been appropriated. I'm just saying that the idea planted in people's heads of squalid living conditions as a given is sometimes not a given; it may be because the money hasn't gone where it could, or should. It isn't always the result of a lack of will or interest on the part of care-givers. Granted, that money could be raised without always being on the back of adoption. That is the challenge going forward, I think.

  25. For the record, I think the comment about the people who don't match and the wrinkled a-parent is racist and age-ist. And I've heard it before on other blogs.

    Yes, I do think there is subliminal racism in that comment.

  26. To those chomping at the bit to adopt from orphanages: Just because a child is in an orphanage does not mean they are in fact an orphan. It is common practice in several countries for impoverished parents to take their children to an orphanage on a presumed temporary basis because at least the child will have food, clothing, and consistent shelter until the parent can find employment.

    When you live in a country too poor or too corrupt to have a decent social welfare system, this kind of thing happens.

    Actually, it happens in the U.S. too, sort of, but because we don't have orphanages for the most part, we have to use foster care or extended family instead.

    If you have not personally traced the "orphan"'s background and found out personally whether that "orphan" has parents then you don't know what you're talking about. Full stop. You could still be stealing someone's child. The child being in an orphanage DOES NOT mean the parent is dead and CERTAINLY does not mean the parent has legally relinquished the child.

    I know this for a fact and I haven't been out of the United States since 1981. And I was seven then. Google is my best friend, and ought to be yours too.

    "For the record, I think the comment about the people who don't match and the wrinkled a-parent is racist and age-ist."

    Racism is racial bigotry backed by political, cultural, and/or social power. Last time I checked whites were the political/cultural/social majority in the United States. Is the remark bigoted in nature? Maybe, although I have a similar visceral reaction to white couples raising children of color who are obviously not theirs. Racist? No.

    (Why does it bother me? We already know genetic mirroring, or the lack thereof, is an issue for adoptees. I had a similar problem growing up because I was raised mostly by my stepmother, and I wasn't even adopted. Now bring race and/or ethnicity into the equation. Now bring the history of the United States or any other former European colony vis-a-vis relations with indigenous or other people of color into it... you see where this is going. It's like these couples bought their own pet you-know-what and all I can think is, "How in the world can you live with yourself?")

    Age-ist? It's one thing if you have an "oops" in middle age but to deliberately seek out raising someone else's child when you're in your fifties is a tad inexcusable. It's not like the children in question wouldn't have wound up with younger parents had the older folks held off. Think about this for a minute. Say you adopt an infant when you're fifty. How old are you going to be when they reach majority age? Sixty-eight. That's old enough to be a great-grandparent, never mind the parent of a young child.

    First parents are constantly exhorted to be unselfish and to think about what's best for our children. I don't see adopters going to the same lengths. I had someone jump all over my butt when I was pregnant with my second child and not sure what I was going to do, because I had decided I wasn't going to let her adopt my baby. Not three years later she was on dialysis. (She was type 2 diabetic when we were having that discussion.) I'm not sure who she thought was going to take care of my daughter, but I'm afraid I can't see what the point is of taking an infant from its mother when you're just going to hand it off to a nanny as soon as you get it.

    This same woman was insulted when I wrote about people who refuse to adopt children with special needs. She said, "Don't I have a right to adopt a child I can handle?" SHE didn't have to be in perfect health, though, by gum!

    So I think I will give adoptees a pass when they talk this way about this stuff. If you took a Martian anthropologist's view of some of the things adopters come up with... well... I'll say no more than that, I don't think I could without cussing.



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