I sat in the waiting room with Moses, feverish, tucked next to me. Flipping through the battered magazines on the table, an article on international adoption caught my attention. Photos of prospective adoptive parents grieving children that may never come home were placed incongruously with text reporting on the corruption rampant in international adoption. Unbiased journalism was revealed as anything but as the article rambled on about the “global baby trade.” The author wrote about “the decline in the supply of foreign children available for adoption” [emphasis mine] and the “Americans who are unable or unwilling to have biological children who could count on adoption from other countries.”
I am neither “unable nor unwilling” to have biological children, but I am an adoptive parent, and my perspective is colored by my experience. For seven years now, I have wrestled with the questions of ethics in adoption. The conversations are hard ones, and there are many educated folks weighing in on the debates surrounding this clouded issue. How do we keep birth families intact yet protect vulnerable children? How can we keep this process transparent and honest when there are often countries involved where government corruption is widespread? Does the closing of a country to international adoption actually protect the children in that country?
We had heard months ago that UNICEF was working on reunification of Ethiopian children and their birth families. This would be the ideal…that birth families would stay intact, international adoption being the last option. But just this week we found out a grievous result of this sweeping mandate. A small care center in Ethiopia (not facilitating adoptions) had been providing food, education, training in life skills and a safe haven for children relinquished by their birth families. Now, because of UNICEF’s “strengthening programs aimed at preventing adoption by improving quality of life and promoting families,” these children were returned to their birth families. A happy ending? Not for the child who was acutely suffering from malaria a week later and was not receiving medical care. Not for the child returning to incest. Not for the child whose very existence brought cultural shame on the family. Yes, we need to strive to eliminate poverty and work on the root issues that break apart birth families. But not all brokenness can be fixed the same way. I wonder at this…what if we were to return all the children in U.S. foster care to their birth families?
I remember keenly a conversation with a tour guide in Vietnam. We had MyLinh in our arms, and our conversation with him turned toward adoption. This Vietnamese man had lived through the war, and he told us that he didn’t know anyone who had ever adopted. He noted friends that could not bear children but would not even consider adopting an abandoned child without “ancestral protection.” It wasn’t just poverty that kept the Vietnamese from domestic adoption, it was a spiritual issue. It came to light later that year that there had been corruption in some Vietnamese adoptions, but the orphanage full of children that we walked away from with our daughter held closely…where are those children now? Statistics for little girls in Southeast Asia don’t point to reunification with families once countries close to international adoption, rather they point to the red light districts.
These words that I write tonight are difficult to string together. My precious family is the result of brokenness…beauty from ashes. I do not have a way to right the wrongs in international adoptions, but my hope is that the tattered magazine in the doctor’s office with the quote, “There’s a very fine line between human trafficking and international adoption,” will not be the lens to help us see this issue clearly. Rather, I hope our hearts will be broken for the ones left without hope, the children that have been sacrificed for political face-saving. May we be harbingers of light in this dark place and may we see clearly how to protect the vulnerable.