' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: What about those babies in....any-poor-nation?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What about those babies in....any-poor-nation?

The previous post dealt with the prevailing attitude towards adopting in America today--that there must be a lot babies who need adopting--when they aren't. Continuing that theme of What About Children Who Need adopting, today's post talks about going overseas to adopt:

In the quest to rescue children from deplorable conditions in another country, the number of children adopted from South Korea ballooned to more than 100,000. The exodus of babies began after the Korean War with the mixed-race babies left behind by GIs, but the flow of children didn’t stop when most of those children were settled in America. Exporting children to America became a cash cow for the country, and only lately has this become a national embarrassment.

Today, Holt International Children’s Services, the same agency that facilitated a great many—if not most—of the Korean adoptions, now advertises a side business of guided trips back to Korea for adult adoptees, who may be in search of their parents. If they are lucky enough to find them, now a language and cultural barrier separates parent and child.

More recently children from Guatemala, Ethiopia, China and Vietnam, among others, were healthy revenue streams for those countries. In country after country, widespread cases of fraud, including falsified paperwork, fake birth certificates, and charges of baby theft led the government to suspend adoptions.

In Guatemala, babies were kidnapped, and mothers were sometimes murdered to get the child. In Guatemala, the situation got so out of hand that the government itself investigated, finding that during the time of peak adoptions from that country (1977-89), the number of corrupt adoptions was nearly half, and that was in the  state-run agencies. Almost certainly it was higher in private adoptions with little or no regulation. Although the fraud was widely reported in the media when discovered, it soon fell from the public consciousness. People do not want to hear they may be raising stolen children.

Yet the fact remains that the likelihood that any adoption from Guatemala—and most other poor nations—is clean is a tossup, no matter how pleasant the bureaucrats arranging the adoption are, or what the documents contend. A little investigation into adoption from poor nations would quickly show this to be true, but few who want to adopt take the time or care to.

In Vietnam the baby grab included such practices as “charging” the mother such an exorbitant fee—that she never would be able to pay—at the hospital before she could bring her baby home. In China, a one-child-per-family government policy did give rise to a glut of abandoned babies in the Eighties, mostly girls, but the demand for the babies in the U.S. ultimately outstripped supply, and the same kind of corruption we have seen elsewhere sprang up. People have been arrested there for kidnapping children and selling them to adoption agencies for $500 to $5,000.[1]

Girls are a more desired commodity than boys, and thus bring more money. I can’t look at a beautiful young girl from, say, India or Nepal—and I have seen them—without thinking that she was most likely kidnapped, no matter the paper work that the adoptive parents here have amassed. Everything on paper can be forged.

While not every single international adoption is the end result of corruption, enough of them are to render the commerce of moving children around one huge, uncomfortable reality of child trafficking. As long as there is money to be made from transferring human flesh from one poor nation to a wealthier one, a willing posse of corrupt lawyers, adoption workers and officials in poor countries line up to do business.

Because I am active on Facebook regarding adoption issues, an orphanage in Africa messaged me several times, offering me a child earlier this year. The sender of the message said he had inherited the orphanage and didn’t know what to do with the children, was I interested in one or more? Apparently he did not comprehend my posts. 

When one country becomes embarrassed by the rampant corruption and shuts down its adoption mill, the action shifts to another poor nation, and the cycle repeats itself. However, as more and more nations have severely restricted or ended altogether the number of adoptions, fewer children have been available of late.

In the fiscal year spanning 2012-2013, more than seven thousand children were adopted from other countries, but this is down by a third the number adopted in 2004, when international adoptions peaked in the U.S. at close to 23,000.[2]  “The United States adopts more children internationally, but also domestically, than the rest of the world combined," notes Adam Pertman, former director of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. [3] So great is the demand for children from overseas today that many in Congress have tried to tie future aid to the ease by which Americans could adopt children from the countries receiving the monetary aid. Were this to become law, it is no less than a government-endorsed child-buying scheme, no matter how the language is framed.

While the controversy over intercountry adoption continues, some adoptees who have grown up here in America are speaking out about the cultural dislocation that is a necessary by-product of international adoption. Listen to Jane Jeong Trenka, who was adopted with her sister and grew up in northern Minnesota: “What were my parents to know of the inescapable voice of generational memory, of racial memory, of landscape—if they never had been separated from their own people?

"What were they to know of a girl whose presence demanded more from them than they either had bargained for or were capable of giving? They did not know this emotion or the word for it—han—but nevertheless it climbed from the other side of the earth, through the bottoms of her feet, through her legs and body like the columns of a building, and was crystallized in sadness at an impasse in the throat, where a new and forgetful life had become a tourniquet.”[4]

Trenka returned to South Korea where she is actively involved in a campaign not only to reduce the number of adoptions, but also to fundamentally change the way Koreans think about adoption, and single motherhood, still the cause of great shame there.[5] How great an impact she will have on the American mind set is doubtful.

But while Americans go searching for children overseas, American kids—black American kids, that is—are adopted internationally. Children of Americans who are descended from slaves are not as desirable as black babies from Africa. The number of such children we export is in the hundreds, not thousands, but is still a blot on America’s ethos.--From Hole in my Heart by Lorraine Dusky, soon to be released. Not to be copied without permission. You are welcome to share on Facebook. That last section will discuss the thriving industry that adoption as a business has become. 

[1] Benjamin Carlson, “For sale: Chinese babies and children,” Global Post, Oct. 3, 2013. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/131002/China-child-abductions-reunion

[2] Intercountry Adoption, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U. S. Department of State, Oct. 1, 2012-Sept. 30, 2013,  http://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php

[3] Kevin Voigt and Sophie Brown, “International adoptions in decline as number of orphans grows,” CNN

[4] Jane Jeong Trenka, The Language of Blood
(Minnesota: 2003),  p. 208

[5] Choe Sang-Hun, “An Adoptee Returns to South Korea, and Changes Follow,” New York Times, June 29, 2013, p. A4. 


  1. I am not even shocked.... sad to say.

  2. Kerry and Neils (Pound Pup) have a great piece on the up and down of international adoption here: http://poundpuplegacy.org/node/74385

    Also, I'd probably put one-child-policy meets anti-girl prejudice resulting in girl abandonment more towards the early 1990s. I know it's hard to pinpoint these figures but that's where I've heard the bulge probably was.

    From Wikipedia: "However, in the 1980s and early 1990s, poor care and high mortality rates in some state institutions generated intense international pressure for reform."

    I remember that "pressure" thing happening and the fueling of international adoption (I was adopting just a few years after that). You might take "The Dying Rooms" as one of the high water-marks of pressure/rhetoric as relates to China. It was released in '95. The system was so lucrative for China that adoptions continued on a sharp upward trend until 2005.

  3. I won't dispute your facts; widespread corruption in some (not all ) overseas adoption programs occured. Shuttering those programs was just and right. Ideally, all children could be raised by their genetic families, cultural norms would never favor one sex over another or shame single Mothers; all cutlures would embrace children born with handicaps, cleft palates, visual, auditory or other impairments. Children of mixed races or born of slaves would be welcomed in their own countries and completely embraced. Afforded the same opportunities as all children.

    Sadly that is not reality. For many children born of those circumstances, our American sensibilities and ethos, while wonderful in theory, fail to keep them nourished, safe and loved. Often they are forgotten; of a birth culture yes, but not truly a part of that culture. Institutionalized until the age of 15, often poorly educated and lacking of familial or social support, they face severely limited options to support themselves once liberated from their Orphanage and many commit crimes, turn to prostritution or commit suicide. Fact. Also fact is that many of them will potentially one day place a child of their own in that same institution. And the beat goes on......

    Do you believe that all of these children wind up in Amercian homes? I might suggest instead of attempting to rewrite social heirechy in forgeign lands and shaming adoptive families, turn your considerable passions towards aiding those children in....insert any poor country.....who will age out this year....or this month.....or this week.....or today. Maybe we can all collectively congratulate them for avoiding the adoption/family trap. Perhaps they can cloak themselves in their birth Culture when hunger and street violence ravages them. The same birth culture and country who turned their backs on them so many years ago and apparently sold their "brothers and sisters" for profit. It seems hard to say that about a nation and still yearn for vulnerable children to be left at their mercy.

    .And just perhaps some or much of the money that exchanged hands; money paid in transparency for courte fees, interpreter fees, travel expenses, medical care, VISA appointments, passport fees, transportation, etc. aided all of the children left behind. The ones not brought into a family either locally or overseas. For every one child adopted, hundreds remained. Perhaps not in Guatemala, but in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Russia, Bulgaria, China, African nations - the need remained staggering.

    Addtionally, not all countries that have closed to International Adoption did so due to corruption. Some did so due to embarrassment as you mentioned but also due to political manipulation; a way for one country to strike at another or use it as a leveraging tool. Is that shameful and in need of reform? Absolutely. Another ideal place to turn our energies. Children being used as pawns in any situation is an absolute wrong. Yet it happens and continues to happen. For many of these closed countries the need didn't diminish when American families were turned away. (Guatemala might be an exception) AND sadly, just because a country closes to the U.S., doesn't mean it closed to all IA.

    Another part of this and not explored in your post, is the burgeoning economies of some of these nations. In China, as elsewhere, education, family planning, reform and a rising standard of living have contributed to fewer children in need of overseas (or local ) adoption. The inference that children in need drastically drops when IA closes to Americans is not necessarily causal or fact.

    You are welcome to your opinions, but as someone who has traveled overseas to assist these lost souls and WAS adopted at the age of 4 from an overseas hell hole, I too have a unique insight.

    Thank you,

    Once a throw away child with a partial missing limb....adopted by a family who didn't just want a shiny new baby.

    1. Jaden, your story is heartening but sadly the exception. The great majority of children adopted from overseas are healthy infants. Helping a needy child is secondary for many of those who adopted. They wanted a child, it was easier to get a foreign child than an American child, and foreign children didn't come with the baggage of first parents who may show up.

      FMF encourages readers to donate to NGOs. We encourage those wishing to adopt to take older children or disabled children. At the same time we recognize that providing services to needy children allows the governments of these countries (or war lords) to shift responsibility for their children on outsiders, leaving bosses money to wage war and live high on the hog.

      The chief supplier of babies to the US are Korea and China. Neither are poor and both could care for their children. The existence of foreign adoption allows them to duck responsibility and make a profit by doing so.

      American aid often goes to the wrong places. At the insistence of adoption practitioners, Americans help fund orphanages resulting in an increase in the number of children in institutions according to Kathryn Joyce in "The Child Catchers." A number of children adopted from institutions end up abused and institutionalized, even murdered, in the US.

      In short, adoption does little for the vast numbers of needy children and can do great harm.

    2. Jane, I appreciate what you have said here about the shifting of responsibility for caring for children onto outsiders. This has been one of the ongoing criticisms of the China program, in addition to other issues raised in Kathryn's book.

      I do want to say one thing, however, that kids in care (institutions) in China are for the most part kids with some form of disability and I'm sure adoptions of kids with special needs eclipsed adoptions of healthy babies some time ago and lots of PAPs were quite open to this. However, that does not automatically mean that these adoptions are ethical. The actual medical needs of these children may be misrepresented in an effort to expedite the adoption and reduce waiting times--all designed to get the attention of PAPs--but this can result in adoption disruptions and children being handed off to other families with no oversight, and it is certainly no way to address the medical issues of individual children over the long term.

      Ironically, in recent years, the adoption of older children from certain provinces in China has become very compromised, with original parents being "canvassed"-- told that if their child enters the orphanage system, he or she will be educated and return to the family with the skills to get a good job and support everyone. Once in the system, the older child is proposed for adoption to well-intentioned but naive PAPs open to adopting older children. The teen's history will be falsified and the young person will be told to lie and never say a thing about his or her first family. Some APs have discovered this reality post-adoption, i.e., the 13-year-old turns out to be a 17-year-old. And before the adoption there may be heart-rending stories of the child "aging out" and having nowhere to go. One can only imagine what a traumatic event this is for the young person and his or her parents.

      Now that I'm on my soapbox (ok, hardly anyone is here because this stuff can't possibly top Tyler and Catelynn). I would just like to respond to Jaden's comment about the transparent fees: it is the non-transparent fee in China (the compulsory orphanage donation) that is most problematic because it has never been scrutinized by an independent agency. These fees, which have collectively added up to hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, have allowed China to build hundreds of new institutions, some of which are intended for the elderly, but some say the basic services are still lacking. Buildings don't look after kids.

      It is true that the China adoption program would collapse if people stepped away. However, the needs of children in institutions right now are only partially being met locally and through NGOs. Like most things in life, a complex challenge.

    3. Jess--Thanks for your input and fount of information.

      Just one note, however, if those who comment check the box that allows them to be notified when anyone comments, they will see your email, and so those who are interested in this subject will see your comment. And since international adoption is on many interested party's radar, your comment will be read.

    4. Let me ad that the age falsification thing appears to be common. In Oregon, parents who adopted intercountry often do a re-adoption in Oregon courts. One reason is so the adoption decree will reflect a DOB closer to the child's age estimated by a physician than the official DOB.

    5. Let me ad that the age falsification thing appears to be common. In Oregon, parents who adopted intercountry often do a re-adoption in Oregon courts. One reason is so the adoption decree will reflect a DOB closer to the child's age estimated by a physician than the official DOB.

    6. Absolutely--falsification of age is rampant in China and other countries. In fact, there's really no way to know the true age of a child untiI birthparents are located. I only brought up the "aging out" program because even the advice to adopt an older child may have unforeseen consequences depending on where the young person originated.

  4. @ Jane,

    I just wanted to readdress one point you made in characterizing International Adoption as "easier" for hopeful parents. That simply is not the case. The scrutiny is far greater for those parents seeking an overseas adoption, with the U.S. not only mandating requirments, but also a foreign government. It can take years for a couple to successfully adopt overseas, especially in the current climate. Perhaps years ago, IA might have been a quicker route, but that simply is not so today. As with anything, the face of adoption and in particular IA has changed dramatically; what was once taken on faith as fact, is simply no more. Obviously a family open to an older child, a boy or sibling group or one with significant special needs will find a more expediated process, but also one still subject to shifting winds, legislation and requirement changes, unpredictable time frames, etc. It is not for the faint of heart.

    I also believe that yes, some adoptive parents sought an overseas child because they believed it would be faster and result in less likelihood of first family entanglements. However, characterizing all adoptive parents motivations in that broad sweep is unjust. Many families, often with biological children already in the home, wished to add another child to their family, who (they believed) truly needed a family; most Americans intuit that a healthy U.S. baby ( especially a white baby) will readily find an adoptive placement - something not true for orphanage children overseas. Additionally, many families, have and continue to seek out the first families of their children and welcome the opportunity to meet those families if possible while in country. (This is especially true for Taiwan adoptions.) I wish that you could interact with these families and better understand their hearts, values and motivations.

    Thank you,


    1. I'm happy to hear that the scrutiny of those desiring to adopt oversees has improved. In the past, it was certainly easier to adopt from overseas than from the US. In the early 2000's about 22,000 mostly young children were adopted from abroad while only 15,000 non-relative, voluntary adoptions took place in the US.

      Standards for foreign adoption were also loose, allowing a pedophile to adopt a young girl and allowing couples to adopt more children than they could care for resulting in children being abused, starved, and murdered.

      Unfortunately, if some members of Congress have their way foreign countries will be forced to open their doors to Americans wanting children. US and foreign agencies will ignore red flags as they hustle to meet demand (and line their pockets.)

      I recognize that many Americans thought they were helping children when they adopted from abroad, including a very good friend. Many were unknowingly part of a corrupt system.

  5. Let me add that last summer when I was hospitalized the head night nurse told me how she came to find her wonderful children from Guatemala. IVF wasn't working for her and her husband, a worker at the clinic called them at home to tell them about a wonderful "family-run" agency from Guatemala--father, mother and son all "saving" abandoned children. Such wonderful people, she said. I didn't have the heart to tell her that the family was probably not a mother, father and son; that the IVF worker who called them at home was certainly paid for the "successful" referral; and that the two children she had eventually adopted were most likely available because they were stolen and processed through a extremely corrupt system.

    She was the head nurse. I was at her mercy. It was the middle of the night. I wish I had spoken up. It may be harder to adopt from Guatemala now but the demand for children moves the business around from one country to another.



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