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Your Family Can Change the World

Intentional Obstacles to Adoption

People — smart, well-read people — have looked at me in surprise when I say that there are tens of millions of orphans in the world. “I don’t understand,” they say. “It took my friends two years to complete their adoption from…” Fill in the blank — Russia, China, Romania. “I thought that parents had to wait because there are more parents who want to adopt than there are kids who need to be adopted.”

So not. There are long waits because governments and international aid organizations obstruct international adoption.

Why? Here are some of the anti-international-adoption arguments and my responses:

—  Children have a “right to their cultural heritage”

china line of kidsI’m not sure how you define cultural heritage, but a life of institutionalization, mental illness, sex trafficking, crime and early death is not a worthy cultural heritage. And certainly not a life we should impose on a child in the name of some greater heritage-value. This argument is predicated on the assumption that a cultural heritage is not a gift, a meaningful set of ways to orient us in life, but our owner, who has the right to lock us up for the sake of its own honor. The same people who would NEVER claim that  DNA is destiny, claim precisely that in the case of voiceless children. If you are born an “untouchable” in India, does that caste, or caste system own you? Are you morally obligated to  remain in that culture? We would never tell an adult that he was bound by cultural norms — imagine insisting that a gay Iranian stay in Iran and suffer the consequences in the name of cultural heritage? In our liberal western ideals (of which I am very much a part) adults are not expected to  sacrifice themselves on the altar of racial, cultural or sexual identity. Why should children?

There is a paradigmatic story in the Torah — the Five Books of Moses — called Akeidat Yitchak — the Binding of Isaac. Abraham is called to take his son, Isaac, to a mountaintop and sacrifice him on an altar to God. Abraham packs up the stuff he needs — the fire, the wood, the rope, the knife, and takes his son on this journey. What could Abraham do? He was called to by God and God’s purpose for the future nation of Abraham, to sacrifice his son. Abraham fastened Isaac to the altar and raised the knife above him when an angel called down to stop him. “Abraham! Abraham! Do not raise your hand against the boy!”

Are we willing to bind our children to the  altar of of “cultural heritage” — especially when they are extremely unlikely to benefit from the good of that culture?RomaniaOrphans-241x150

— Adoption “robs countries of their most precious resource”

This assumes that children are the property of the nation, culture or religion into which they were born. We certainly do not make these claims for adults. If an adult wants to leave a country, religion or culture, would anyone tell them they are obligated to their old ways? “You were born an ultra-Orthodox Jew and you may be a woman who wants to become a rabbi but you are obligated to stay in Crown Heights and cover your hair and have ten children  — you are their most precious resource!” Why are children different? Elizabeth Bartholet challenges us to a thought experiment. Imagine if children could speak for themselves, regardless of their age, and they were asked if they would prefer an institution or the streets in their country of birth over a family outside their country of birth. What does our empathy, our imagination, tell us? If God forbid our children were ever orphaned, what would we want for them?

— International adoption is corrupt 

Abuses in international adoption do exist although they are not at all widespread. Child abuse, however, is rampant among unparented children — not by people who want to protect and love an raise them, but by people who want to use their bodies for sex and crime. Any corruption in adoption should be punished. But we should punish the perpetrators, not millions of innocent children.

Professor Barthoet writes:

Institutional care often kills children, and it systematically destroys the life potential of those who live. Children who graduate from institutions or grow up on the streets are the ones who are at serious risk of abuses in the form of child trafficking for sex and other slavery, and exploitation as child soldiers. There is no evidence that international adoption serves as a front for any of these forms of serious exploitation.

The common response to law violations in the international adoption area is to shut down such adoption through temporary or permanent moratoria, and to impose increasingly severe restrictions that effectively if not officially shut down such adoption. For example, alleged baby selling was used to shut down Guatemala’s international adoption program entirely for two years, and to help justify the strict new law that Guatemala boasts will limit such adoption to some two hundred children annually, as compared to the several thousand previously placed annually. Alleged abuses have helped justify bans on private intermediaries throughout Central and South America. Since these intermediaries served as the lifeblood of such adoption, these bans have effectively shut it down.

This response makes no sense as a way of addressing adoption law violations. It punishes unparented children by locking them into institutions and denying them the nurturing adoptive homes they need. It puts children at far greater risk of true trafficking and exploitation.

The response to adoption abuses should be the same as in other areas of law violation — enforce existing law, strengthen that law as appropriate, and punish those violating the law. Biological parents often violate the laws against abuse and neglect of children. Society does not respond by telling parents they can no longer take their newborns home from the hospital because henceforth all children are to be raised in institutions to protect against parental misconduct. Instead society enforces and sometimes strengthens the laws against parental misconduct.

Some say that it is hard for poor countries with limited infrastructure to enforce laws prohibiting baby selling and other adoption abuses. This may be. But it is also hard, indeed impossible, for these countries to guarantee nurturing parental homes for all their children. Even if adoption law violations occur, the harm such violations cause children and birth parents is minimal compared to the harm caused by shutting down or severely restricting international adoption.

The chocolate we eat (unless it’s fair trade or direct trade) is often the product of child slavery in cocoa production. In Ghana the fishing industry is “manned” (“childed?”) by small children who’s fingers are thin enough to work the fine underwater netting.

young boy on fish boatThese kids are bought, stolen, and tricked away from their parents into forced labor, often death (have you ever gotten caught in an underwater net?). Yet no one demands to stop all chocolate production. No one is erasing fish from the menu at their favorite restaurant. Why would we stop all international adoptions?

Leaving millions of children without parents is a reasonable trade for stopping the perceived abuses in an adoption system, but giving up chocolate? Well, that’s asking too much.

It’s confounding to me.

— Adopiton is merely colonialism wrapped in a humanistic package

We all want a world in which no one group dominates or colonizes another. A world in which cultures and individuals grow, become and create in environments of well-being, justice and peace — adults, teens, children. Everyone. Does prohibiting, or slowing down, international adoption increase egalitarianism in the world? Does it raise the power and potential of developing countries? If the answer is no (as it is, by the way) then the question becomes: what the hell are we doing? If the answer is yes (which it’s not), then the question is, “do we sacrifice children in the name of fixing grown-up sins?”

The biblical flood story describes the generation of Noah as so evil that God decided to destroy the world and start humanity over again. There is a rabbinic story that says that the waters did not fall as rain but instead came up from the earth like geysers. What did the generation of Noah do? They took their babies and stuffed them into the holes to plug the water flow, to try to save themselves. That is this anti-international-adoption argument. Let’s use our children to stop the flows of injustice we adults have created. Those immense social ills must be addressed and remedied as much and as soon as possible. But we don’t use children to do that. Especially not when using children as tools creates the exact kind of suffering we want to end. 

— Nations are ashamed of their high orphan-rate and the correlating inability to care for the children, and are even pressured — as Romania was in order to join the EU — to make the orphan crisis “disappear”.

On a micro-scale we would never condone hiding child abuse to save face. But on a macro-scale very few people care.