I never wanted to write about this.
I love adoption. I love its redemption, how it takes something broken and turns it into something beautiful. I love how it mirrors God's pursuit of us. Since the day we brought home our precious Grace ten years ago, I have been an adoption advocate.
I never wanted to write about the dark side of international adoption. A year ago, I would never have believed that I would ever be doing a series like this.
Oh, I've heard inklings of corruption in international adoption during the last few years, but I always dismissed them as isolated instances. In fact, if you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I often wrote against those who were sounding the alarms.
For a long time, I refused to believe it. But facts have always been extremely important to me. When I was finally willing to really pay attention, my defenses came down under the mountain of evidence. I simply could not ignore it. Corruption in international adoption, especially in developing countries, is not rare. That corruption leads to children being unnecessarily, commonly, separated from their families. And that is a fact.
I'm going to be publishing seven posts in this series over the next two weeks. A lot of what you read will turn your stomach. You won't want to believe it. I didn't either. I'm only going to post a small fraction of what I've discovered. It wasn't very hard to find, but most of the time, Christians have been willingly ignoring it. I believe it is absolutely crucial that the American adoption community, and especially those in the Christian community, come to grips with what is really going on.
I hope you'll share these posts with international adoption advocates or those who are considering adoption. I hope you'll read through to the end, with an open mind. I hope you will ask questions and engage me on this.
There's some pretty nasty stuff in this broken world. But thankfully, there is always hope. Don't worry; I'll get to that part too.
Part 1: The Evidence
Ukraine: "In past years, the pressure to find children for lucrative foreign adoptions has led to scandals, including a baby-selling scheme in which Ukrainian mothers' children were stolen after birth and offered for adoption as orphans." (The Child Catchers, by Kathryn Joyce, abbreviated throughout as CC)
Cambodia: "After adoptions were suspended, the number of infants in orphanages plummeted almost immediately: an indication to adoption reformers that the international adoption system and the revenue it generated was the only reason many babies had been placed in institutions." (CC)
Guatemala: "From 1997 to 2007, Americans adopted more than 30,000 children from Guatemala, which is widely considered to have had the most pervasive corruption in international adoption. Large numbers of healthy infants were bought, coerced, or kidnapped away from their parents in order to be adopted overseas." (In Defense of the Fatherless by Amanda Bennett and Sara Brinton, abbreviated throughout as DF)
More here on Guatemala.
"Some agencies accused of deeply unethical behavior in Guatemala are widely thought to have moved their operations to Ethiopia." (CC)
Ethiopia: "A number of adoption agencies began requiring adoptive parents to sign waivers acknowledging that the information they received about their children might be inaccurate." (CC)
"As country director, Tigabu claims, he witnessed children's records changed so that they were adopted under false last names, thereby destroying their ability to track their heritage later. Further, he said female employees of the agency were heavily pressured to give their own children up for adoption--children who were later declared 'abandoned.'" (CC)
"90 percent of adoption cases [in Ethiopia] that went through the embassy required further investigation or clarification, often regarding misrepresentations or concealment of facts intended to expedite approval." (CC)
"Media reports in recent years alleging direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees remain a serious concern for the Department of State." (DOS web page on Ethiopia)
One family's story here and more information here.
Uganda: Since [international adoption] set its sights on the the country in 2009, the number of orphanages has increased five-fold. Approximately 95% of the 800+ orphanages now operating in Uganda are foreign-funded, yet only about 30 of them are licensed. It is furthermore estimated that 85% of the children in Uganda's childcare institutions have living and locatable relatives. (source here)
One family's story here.
Nepal: "The government of Nepal charged an official fee of $300 for international adoption. Adoption agencies instructed American parents to bring large amounts of cash into the country, though this was against Nepalese law." (DF)
Vietnam: "By 2008 when the United States shut down American adoptions from Vietnam, the State Department had discovered systematic corruption that resulted in the trafficking of children. A network of adoption agency representatives, orphanages, police officers....were profiting through baby buying, coercing...and even stealing Vietnamese children to sell them to unsuspecting Americans." (DF)
Democratic Republic of Congo: "[There are] reports of child trafficking, orphanage raids, and illegal border crossings...You have learned of falsification of documents....siblings split apart....false abandonment reports, coercion of birth parents to relinquish children, and high foster care fees without documented expenses (average of $500/month/child)...All of this information is publicly available, and all of it paints a very clear picture of endemic corruption and fraud in the international adoption business in DRC." (Holly Mulford, Reeds of Hope)
Liberia: "The adoption fees represented a potential windfall....the number of orphanages jumped from around 10 before the war to between 114 and 120 after, and they began to find children to match adoptive parents' desired gender and ages. In 2006 Liberia, which then had only three million people, became the eighth-highest adoption-sending country in the world....The postwar government, functioning without electricity and internet, let alone sufficient numbers of trained staff, was unable to monitor children leaving the country." (DF)
"All of these [countries, such as those listed above] had privately controlled adoption systems where adoption agencies and their representatives were involved in finding children for adoption and matching them with adoptive parents. Families believed there was an overwhelming need for international adoption from these countries. All of these countries were also known for quick, easy adoptions of healthy babies and toddlers. In all of these countries, the numbers of children placed for adoption increased rapidly in response to the demand from adoptive parents." (DF)
I have been naive.
I thought that by adopting four children from Tanzania, that I understood international adoption.
I did not.
We are not Tanzanian, but since we live in Tanzania, our adoptions are not considered international. Our adoptions are domestic. We never worked with an agency. We worked directly with the government, and only at the very end did we hire a lawyer to finalize everything--similar to adopting out of foster care in the U.S. Our only costs were for one U.S. report, and minimal lawyer fees.
The process, though long and frustrating, was free of anything dark or underhanded. Instead, who I saw as dark and underhanded was UNICEF. In 2009, UNICEF advised Tanzania in the writing of new adoption laws. They took stringent requirements and made them more stringent. Instead of just needing to be a resident of any length of time to adopt, now you need to be a resident for at least three years.
UNICEF became my enemy. Had they seen all the children in orphanages in Tanzania? How could they lack compassion? How could they sit their in their ivory towers and prevent these children from finding homes? I prayed for Tanzania to open an international adoption program.
Then, last June, my perspective changed almost overnight. I discovered that American adoption agencies were attempting international adoptions in Tanzania. I was appalled. The law had not changed. So how was this possible? As much as I wanted international adoptions to happen in Tanzania, I certainly didn't want them to happen illegally.
I wrote to the agencies, the embassies, the families, and anyone else I could think of, protesting these adoptions. No one would listen, and no one even tried to offer me a defense. No one seemed to care. Why? How could this even be happening?
Thus began my journey to find answers. What I discovered was worse than I ever could have imagined.
"At the heart of this issue, we believe Christians are afraid to look at the truth. We do not want to talk about corruption in adoption and orphan care because we fear what will happen to the orphans who are left behind....In the face of this fear, Christians are looking the other way or hoping that corruption is rare." (DF)
The corruption is not rare. And we can no longer look the other way.
Part 2: Where Did We Go Wrong?
Part 3: The Horror That is Called Child Harvesting
Part 4: Pure Religion is to Look After Orphans (and Widows?)
Part 5: God Told Me To....Or Maybe He Didn't
Part 6: What About the Children Who Really Do Need Adoption?
Part 7: Is There Hope in This Mess We've Made?