"[Child harvesting] is an unsettling term for adoption agencies' common practice of recruiting children for intercountry adoption from intact families, often in rural areas and sometimes by exploiting parents' lack of familiarity with adoption." (The Child Catchers by Kathryn Joyce, abbreviated later as CC)
The more I read, the more I could see how it happens:
It starts with a genuine need: A war, an earthquake, or an AIDS epidemic decimates a country. Thousands, millions of children are left vulnerable. It's highly publicized, and images of sad, pathetic children are blasted through the media.
An adoption agency representative from America approaches an orphanage, a lawyer, or a government official from this country and asks about starting an adoption program. Their eyes light up--this will be a great way for the country to deal with its orphan crisis, and a way for themselves to earn a little money on the side. It's a win-win.
Yet the country has very little infrastructure. It is trying to recover from a catastrophe and everything is in chaos. Many government institutions no longer exist. The court system is barely hanging on. Internet, electricity, and water supply are sparse. Everyone is just trying to scratch out a living.
But the adoption program starts, and children start being matched with families. At the beginning, everything is great. There are plenty of truly orphaned children available. The lack of infrastructure assures that the process is quick and relatively easy.
"When a country emerges that can supply numerous healthy, young children through a relatively quick and uncomplicated process, an influx of adoption agencies is usually close behind." (CC)
Word spreads among families in America wanting to adopt, and within a matter of months, hundreds of families have applied. Dozens of agencies jump on the bandwagon. After all, adoption agencies are businesses--sometimes even for profit--and in order to keep their business going, they need a ready supply of children. Usually, they don't actually set up shop in the country--they just find a "facilitator" on the ground who helps them process the children.
Local lawyers, orphanage workers, and government officials suddenly find themselves with a regular, dependable, lucrative income in a country that is falling apart at the seams. The problem is that after just the first few months, the supply of genuinely orphaned children has mostly dried up, especially for healthy babies and toddlers, which is what Americans usually request.
And here we see the problem: The government is barely hanging on. The country has never established international adoption laws, let alone a centralized system for adoption. The process is haphazard. Agencies are not licensed to work in the country--they just are working privately with their facilitator or orphanage director. There is no centralized authority to control the process.
But now everyone is making money. So what happens? The agencies hire people to "find" children. Or rather harvest them. Sometimes they find true orphans. But the evidence shows that many times, that means coercing pregnant mothers, lying to families about an "education sponsorship program in America" or even kidnapping--but they are determined to find children to meet the demand. The agency doesn't ask questions. The lawyer or facilitator forges the paperwork. The children's identities are erased. And there's no government infrastructure to stop it. Eventually--usually after just a few years--the whole system collapses under corruption and the entire program is shut down, usually leaving hundreds of waiting adoptive families devastated.
Meanwhile, the agencies--needing their "supply"--move on to the next country.
It's a worst-case scenario, but unfortunately it has played out over and over and over again in countries all over the world. And the worst part? The children suffer, the birth families suffer, and the adoptive families suffer. Who gets off scot-free? The adoption agencies.
Here's a perfect example:
Less than twenty years ago, a massive baby-buying operation went on in Cambodia. Hundreds of babies were purchased from their parents for as little as $20, and the adoptions were facilitated by an American woman named Lauryn Galindo. The children's identities and names were reinvented on all legal documents.
"From January 1997 to December 2001, Galindo and her conspirators helped American families adopt more than 800 children from Cambodia. Galindo [and her partner] received 9.2 million dollars from adoptive parents and used the profits to fund lavish lifestyles." (In Defense of the Fatherless)
Yet when the U.S. authorities finally caught up with her, "Galindo wasn't charged with child-trafficking because the United States doesn't have a child-trafficking law. While there are laws against trafficking for the purpose of sexual or labor exploitation, they don't apply to adoption." (Source here.) Galindo was sentenced to 18 months in prison for visa fraud.
For the crime of trafficking over 800 children, she got 18 months in prison. Total.
How is that possible? Because U.S. laws do not include any provisions for children trafficked through adoption. Talk about a loophole. Usually, the worst that can happen is that an agency will get shut down. The hard truth is that U.S. adoption agencies have very little accountability for their actions.
"As a State Department staffer speaking off the record to an adoption reform group remarked, the government's hands are largely tied when it comes to preventing corrupt adoptions." (CC)
"Adoption agencies have no legal obligation to document how so-called 'in country expenses' or 'humanitarian fees' are spent.....Immigration law does not include any legal requirements or responsibilities for adoption agencies.....If there is corruption in countries that have not enacted the Hague Convention, local US Embassies have very little power to respond." (In Defense of the Fatherless)
Let me be clear: This does not happen in every country. This scenario generally does not happen in countries with a strong infrastructure and strong central adoption authority. However, adoption agencies should have no business setting up adoption programs by skirting around a country's laws, or trying to get children adopted from a country which has no laws and no infrastructure. The level of irresponsibility of many adoption agencies is positively breathtaking. Yet unfortunately, as far as I can tell, these practices are the norm. Every year, American families fork over tens of thousands of dollars to these (often "Christian") agencies and trust them wholeheartedly to do the right thing. Something needs to change.
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?