' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Adoptive Parents Decry UNICEF's Humanitarian Position about Adopting Overseas

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adoptive Parents Decry UNICEF's Humanitarian Position about Adopting Overseas

How does our culture promote adoption? Let me count the ways, and let me begin with the truly grotesque blog of the ultra conservative Washington Times called The Red Thread: An Adoptive Family Forum by Amanda Poe: "UNICEF's effective attack on inter-country adoption."

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." 
"...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.

International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of ChildrenBartholet 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." 

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.


  1. Excuse the ad hominem attack, but Elizabeth Bartholet is reprehensible hag. The wicked witch of adoption. I intended to nominate her for Demons of Adoption, but forgot about it. Next year should be perfect. She's sinking deeper into hell every day.

    Bartholet spoke at the NCFA conference in July (which I still need to blog about) and she even bothered them. That's how bad she is. (Well some of them!)

    She complained that not enough children are removed from their families and placed in foster care to be adopted. Especially not enough black kids. She declared that poor countries" empower their communities" by sending their kids off to be adopted in other countries. I was not the only person there who suffered from a WTF Moment.

    That Bartholet considers herself a feminist, a liberal, and teaches civil rights is frightening. She obviously has tenure.

    A few years ago BJ Lifton told me that she was scheduled to be on a panel with her, but when Bartholet found out who she'd have to appear with she cancelled. No doubt.

  2. Horrendous opinions and position to take up.The blinkers are on,wonder why?

  3. Marley, I am surprised Bartholet didn't get a Demon in Adoption Award years ago. She has been on the dark side since she first opened her mouth some 20 years ago. I wonder how her "precious babies" are faring? It would be sweet justice if they got into adoption reform.

  4. Just an add: The day after I appeared with Bartholet on the McNeal-Lehrer Report on PBS, I was asked by the Today show to repeat the experience. I declined and suggested they get Florence. They did. Flo made mincemeat of her--always best for an adoptee to haggle/fight/argue with an know-it-all insufferable adoptive mother.

  5. As I remember, it was not that many years ago that Elizabeth Bartholet praised Guatemala as a model for international adoption.
    Then she got pissed when adoption from Guatemala was shut down.

    I can quite see why B.J Lifton cancelled.


  6. @BD
    "That Bartholet considers herself a feminist, a liberal, and teaches civil rights is frightening."

    This is frightening and dangerous. I think of a feminist as someone who is pro-women. Encouraging a woman to give her child to strangers (and overseas no less) because she is poor or for any other reason sounds like the most anti-woman thing I can think of.

    Feminism had a positive image in the 60's and 70's and then somehow it developed a negative connotation. Now it seems to have been co-opted by the right. I have read that Ms. Sarah Palin considers herself a feminist.

    It is also quite telling that Elizabeth Bartholet went to such great lengths for ten years to have another pregnancy. Seems she really, really, really wanted her own bio-kid.

    And thank heavens Florence made mincemeat out of her. Wish I could have seen it :)

  7. For Bartholet on Guatemalan adoption:

    Slamming the Door on Adoption

    Does the woman ever even consider that the number of people like her contribute to the number of "available" children? Apparently not.

    "In recent years, Guatemala has been a model for those who believe in adoption as a vehicle for providing homeless children with permanent, nurturing parents. It has released significant numbers of children to international adoption, many at young ages, before they suffered the kind of damage that results in attachment disorders and other life-altering limitations. Ironically, these policies are why Guatemala attracted the attention of UNICEF and other human rights organizations that, along with our State Department, have been pushing for adoption 'reform.'"

    She wrote this before the Guatemalan government relesased a report stating that half of the children's adoptions they looked into appear to have been the result of kidnapping or killing the mothers to get their children, who were then sold by soldiers to corrupt lawyers, who then presented them as "needy" and languishing in orphanages. To the unsuspecting and blinded Americans who wanted them, it all looked like they were doing a good thing.

  8. The Family Research Council urges an end to abortion and the adoption of all children born to single mothers which, the Council says gleefully, would result in about three million children being available for adoption each year. http://www.thedailyreporter.com/communities/coldwater/x556844305/Adoption-Good-bad-news

    If Elizabeth Bartholet has her way another several mill would arrive on our shores each year.

    Even Angelina Jolie couldn't adopt this many children.

  9. To believe that this one adoptive mother knows better than a TEAM of experts with no ulterior motive other than the welfare of children who have been on the ground working with families in crisis for sixty years is absolutely preposterous!

    However - another blogger does just that: http://ethicsalarms.com/2010/12/08/unicefs-unethical-war-against-international-adoption/comment-page-1/#comment-8539

    Bartholet is a law professor who has made it her goal to increase the adoption practices of her attorney colleagues who rely on the transfer of children for their livelihood.

    Bartholet is so blindly extreme in her position that she disregards ethnicity and winks and nods at baby selling!

    “Baby buying is generally not thought of as a serious evil in today’s world in other contexts. Commercial surrogacy is the institution in which true baby buying takes place systematically. Surrogacy contracts specify that the woman who provides pregnancy and childbirth services, and often her egg as well, will receive money in exchange for turning over the baby born, and terminating her parental rights. Commercial surrogacy is flourishing in the United States and many other countries…” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-5899.2009.00001.x/full

    This is a vile, repugnant position for anyone who pretends to be acting in any child's best interest! These are the words of someone who sees children not as vulnerable human beings with rights, but rather as a COMMODITY to fill a demand with no regard for the what is best for the child at all.

    This woman should be ignored as a radical extremist profiteer.

    Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

  10. For more about Bartholet, please read:

    Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Baby Selling?




COMMENTS ARE MODERATED. Our blog, our decision whether to publish.

We cannot edit or change the comment in any way. Entire comment published is in full as written. If you wish to change a comment afterward, you must rewrite the entire comment.

We DO NOT post comments that consist of nothing more than a link and the admonition to go there.