Monday, August 15, 2011

Socially Acceptable Human Trafficking

I don't know when I first started to doubt adoption.  As a child and adolescent I was fed the line--as I suspect we all are--that mothers who give their children up for adoption do so out of a sincere desire for them to have a better life.  As a very young woman, I fell in love with and married a man whose brother was adopted, and as a slightly older woman dealing with PCOS and the distinct possibility that I would never have children of my own (iknowright?) without the help of fertility drugs, adoption was the ready, obvious answer.

Actually, I think my former brother-in-law's story is what caused me to doubt adoption.  This might come across as a bit weird if you know that my own brother was given up for adoption by our mother, but Peter clearly had a better life--at least economically--so I never much questioned that.  But then I met my then-boyfriend's extended family and was brought face-to-face with the fact that, well, adoption is hardly a guarantee of a better life.  Trey's parents favored his brother over him in a manner that was breathtakingly obvious to everyone other than them & their Darling Boy.  I have often thought Trey's mother would undoubtedly be heartbroken if she found him as an adult and realized how he'd been treated as a second-class son for most of his life.

When I started to research adoption, and started to learn more about its history, I was appalled.  There are reasons some states have laws prohibiting prospective adoptive parents from paying for anything but the birth-mother's medical care: more than that can be seen as coercion.  Beyond that, many times women are coerced into giving their children up for adoption.  It has gotten better, but it's still there.  (LDS Family Services has a series of radio ads that try to guilt unmarried women into giving their children up for adoption, implying very strongly that only  married husband-and-wife teams can do a good job of child-rearing.  As the child of a single mother, you can imagine how well this sits with me.)

Back then--and even today--I could not understand why parents would travel to a foreign nation to adopt a toddler when there were plenty of American children waiting to be adopted.  Why do white couples find it acceptable to adopt a Haitian or African but not a black child here in the US?

International adoption was explained to me this way (many times, by the way): domestic adoptions carry with them the specter of the adoption some day being overturned by the courts because of a mother who changes her mind; international adoptions obviate this concern.  Implied but (generally) unspoken was the message that a child who is in an orphanage obviously needs adopting.  After all, the very name implies the parents are out of the picture, either through death or through willingly giving up their kids.

Unfortunately, it's not that black-and-white an issue.  It may just be that adopting internationally is a more fail-proof method of fucking someone over.

I came across this article series on Slate a couple of days ago.  It's an interesting read, but a long one.  The short version is this: a "school" was opened up in Makeni, Sierra Leone, and children were solicited from locals with the promise of paid-for education.  Some time during that country's civil war, the children all disappeared.  Where'd they go?  America, where they found adoptive families.  Adoptive families who believed that they were saving these children from a war-torn nation and who were, to a person, told lies about at least some of the birth families:

The case history provided by HANCI and paperwork from Sierra Leone's Ministry of Social Welfare both said that Adama's parents had died during the war—her father by snakebite, her mother of a heart attack. Meers was moved by that story and grateful that she could step in for parents who were no longer around to care for their child. She told me that she had immediately noticed that the girl's parents' death certificates were "in the same hand. There was no effort to hide the fact that they were fabricated." But she assumed they had been forged in order to get the child out of a war zone and safely into a new family. 

And yet, as Meers and Adama have since learned, Adama's birth parents were both alive when she was adopted.

Nor is this anything approaching an isolated incident.  The first article in the linked series discusses other, similar cases of fraud and duped birth parents.  EJ Graff, the author, wrote a more general article for Democracy Journal back in 2010 called "The Baby Business".  From that article:

I’ve heard a string of similar tales from families in Italy, Canada, Austria, and other Western countries adopting from Ethiopia, the current hot adoption source. In the past five years, Ethiopia’s adoptions to the United States alone have expanded exponentially: Americans adopted 442 Ethiopian children in 2005, and 2,277 in 2009, ranking Ethiopia right behind China as a source for our international adoptions. The combination of skyrocketing numbers and troubling stories suggests that Ethiopia has become the latest country beset by an all-too-common problem: a poor country in which unscrupulous middlemen are sometimes buying, defrauding, coercing, or even kidnapping children away from their families to be sold into international adoption.
It's troubling, to say the least. 

I do not, mind you, hold adoptive parents liable in this.  By and large, they are well-meaning people who honestly want to help impoverished children.  I understand the impetus quite well.  Who, looking at the latest Somali famine, hasn't wished to scoop up an armload of children and take them home?  (Is that just me?)  Empirical evidence pretty clearly shows that these kids will have "better" lives in the US.  We don't tend toward wholesale slaughter of the wrong sort of people these days, for one.

I question the "better life" metric, though.  I'm not going all culturally relativist on you, mind.  Yes, it is better for children to not grow up in the midst of war.  Know what, though?  It's also best to not rip children from their roots because we see problems with their current lives.  Well-meaning adoptive parents might be better off working to improve conditions in the country their children were taken from.  Twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars can go a long way if it stays in country.  Of course, if you want your own child, you probably aren't likely to mimic Sally Struthers and help from a distance.  And that's understandable.

Me, though?  I'm not sure I could live with the possibility--the likelihood, in many cases--that I had been an unwitting participant in child trafficking.


peter d said...

Considering how unhappy you are with the way you were raised, I find it interesting that you are upset by the whole single mother thing. Not that there's anything wrong with you, obviously. Many children of single parents turn out fine but I would say that, by and large, children with two parents are better off.
As far as using your money in country rather than adopting, that's great. The problem is who controls how that money is used. Frequently corruption takes the money rather than it being used properly.

TBeck said...

A Christian mission was trying to pull the same type of thing in Haiti after the terrible earthquake. The were trying to smuggle the "orphans" into the Dominican Republic but an alert border guard stopped the convoy. A few minutes of questioning the children determined that they were anything but orphans.

Mad Jack said...

Who, looking at the latest Somali famine, hasn't wished to scoop up an armload of children and take them home?

Me, that's who. I don't like children and never have like them. Right along with that is the fact that I don't have the skill set to raise one, let alone an armload of Somalis.

No thanks. None for me.

Dave said...

This is interesting to me as I know several people who have adopted here, in China and from Ethiopia.

The one's who adopted here were people who could not have children themselves, and decided to adopt.

I'm not sure of the motivation for the folks (who already had kids) going to China.

The people who adopted from Ethiopia also had kids already but they chose to adopt there because their church had set-up some sort of adopt and convert (to Christianity) program. I was told that they actually met the mother of the child they adopted and she was gladly (with sadness of course) releasing the child to a better life in the US.

I don't mind saying that the whole thing gives me the creeps. I apologize if that offends any of your readers (or you), but church groups that do this are very often the same people who would deny otherwise qualified and committed gay couples from adopting crack babies or other hard to place orphans.

I do agree that the best homes probably include the natural mother and father living under the same roof to raise the kids. But I also suspect that more of us would be safer if we could drive the highest quality Mercedes, live in energy efficient homes and eat a healthy diet low in fat and high in fiber.

In reality, not every child will be raised in the "ideal" situation, and yet most of those children will grow up just fine.

Kathy said...

Interesting to find this today, just after my daughter told me the neighbors 13 year old wants to UNDO her adoption by her grandparents and return to her natural mother (and now stepdad and siblings). She found her grandparents diary stating they only took her for the money from social services in the first place, and really don't want her, which continues to this day.

My family has witnessed much verbal abuse over the years, but repeated calls to social services, who handled the adoption, gave no results. Now she's old enough to request to live with her Mother, and we'll see how it goes in trying to get custody returned to her.