Adoption Is Still About
by Barbara Free, M.A.,
has been a great deal of media coverage concerning adoption since the January
12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti. The American Adoption Congress has made a
special policy statement concerning adoptions from Haiti. It was estimated
that 380,000 Haitian children were orphans before the earthquake,
and the deaths of many parents in the earthquake has added to that number.
The immediate reaction of many well-intentioned people was, Bring them
to the U.S., where so many people want to adopt children.
Some of these children were already in the
process of being adopted before the earthquake, needing only to be transported
to their waiting U.S. adoptive families. Others were somewhere in that procedure
and needed completion of paperwork. Watching the television coverage of some
of these children arriving on airplanes and being welcomed was, on the one
hand, heartwarming; persons familiar with adoption and the many issues of
trans-cultural adoption could see terror in the eyes of many of these young
children and think, What must it be like to be put on airplane for
the first time, have your ears hurt with the change in altitude, then get
off the plane into a crowd of white people, a lot of noise, everyone speaking
a language you dont know, a lot of strangers picking you up, getting
in your face, giving you strange food, and taking you to a strange house,
everything familiar all gone? This is not to question the love or motives
of the adoptive families and their own supporters, and most of the children
will go on to lead happy lives, but we must be aware of the cost to those
children in emotional terms, not just the economic advantages they have
A great many more children, however, were not
in any stage of being adopted and may not even be orphans. Some orphanages
in Haiti are well-run, legal, and beneficial to the children. Others already
were without adequate resources, were poorly-run, had children who had been
spirited away from family, and in some cases, did not even exist,
but the supposed directors were taking money from well-meaning donors.
The consequences of the earthquake are that
some orphanages were physically destroyed, including some legitimate ones.
Some children have, indeed, arrived in the U.S. to be with adoptive families,
and some have arrived for temporary care. Of course, there are many newly
orphaned children, also. However, the idea of wholesale baby lifts
and rapid adoptions (as in the evacuation of Saigon in 1975) is very unwise.
Many, if not most, of these children have some family, either parents or
extended family, who, if found, will care for them if they can simply feed
them. To take children from their homeland, their culture, and their extended
family is not necessarily best for them. There is a rather arrogant assumption
that the U.S. (especially white U.S.) is always better, always an
improvement, over whatever life a child has had in their country of birth.
The corollary is that children are always better off in more affluent
circumstances, and certainly better off speaking English than French or Spanish
or whatever language their original culture speaks. This is about poverty,
racism, and classism. Children available for adoption are always viewed
as a commodity by society, although not by their adoptive families. When
poverty, racism, and classism are added to the picture, the frequent attitude
is, We can do whatever we want with these superfluous children.
Hence, we have supposed rescuers, some even calling themselves missionaries,
lying to parents and extended families, absconding with children, claiming
theyre orphans when they are not, and attempting to take them across
international borders without permission or paperwork. This is not compassion,
this is kidnaping! There has even been some notion that the border between
Haiti and Dominican Republic doesnt really count because, after all,
its the same poor island and if someone in the U.S. wants these kids,
other borders dont count, anything in the Western Hemisphere being
some sort of subsidiary of the U.S.! The border apparently counted when Haitian
refugees have tried to enter the U.S., however, and many, even whole families,
have been held in prisons for extended periods of time while the U.S. tries
to decide whether to deport them or allow them to enter as human beings.
Since the earthquake, some of these people have been releasednow
theyre acceptable as refugees.
Fortunately, the media coverage of the earthquake,
and of these attempts to bring children the U.S. without papers or permission,
has brought these practices to light and intervened upon further abuses of
this nature. Nevertheless, there is still an attitude on the part of many
that Haitians are not only poor, but ignorant and less intelligent by virtue
of poverty, language, and African ancestry. Some even claim they dont
really speak French! Now, this writer has two years of college
French, and no longer speaks French but can understand it fairly well, and
Haitian French is certainly French, just as Southwestern English is still
English, although with neither a Cockney nor an Oxford accent.
When powerful earthquakes hit California twice
in the last twenty years, no one suggested they should never rebuild
and just move everyone or take all the children to Canada and
adopt them where they can learn a new language and culture. Just weeks
after the Haitian earthquake, an even larger one struck Chile. Some consequences
were similar, some not. No doubt there are children separated from parents
and some orphaned. Will they also be considered up for grabs
by some, or will their larger country, less disturbed governmental situations,
and greater distance from the U.S. mean that people will view things differently?
Will the media coverage of the Haitian child grabs help prevent
similar abuses in Chile? Will both of these tragic earthquakes help us see
that adoption is not just a sweet and sentimental solution to someones
Not everyone and every agency in Haiti believes
children should be shunted into orphanages or shipped to the U.S., however.
In the March 8, 2010, issue of Time, an article details how a therapist
who is volunteering for UNICEF, which, along with other aid groups, is working
to register as many kids as they can find who were orphaned or separated
from parents during the earthquake and its aftermath, and then are trying
to reconnect them with their families. So far, the article says, UNICEF has
registered around 200 children and expects to have thousands logged by
years end. The registry was started right after the earthquake, and
is similar to one created in South Asia after the tsunami in 2004. In the
worst-hit area there, aid workers took five months to compile a list of 3,000
displaced children, 240 of whom were reunited with a parent, and hundreds
more went to live with relatives whom aid workers found by going door to
door and matching information about birth marks or other identifying details.
Marie de la Soudiere, who is coordinating the Haitian registry, say that,
in the thirty years she has spent helping children in disaster and war zones
around the world, the vast majority of children, even child soldiers, have
an immediate or extended family member who, when contacted, is willing to
take them in. The goal for Haitian children is to find their families, even
if it takes time and effort. One of her slogans is No to orphanages.
Part of the urgency in Haiti is rampant child trafficking there. There are,
as stated above, responsible orphanages in this poorest of Western Hemisphere
nations, but there are many loosely monitored ones, and children who end
up in those often get adopted by people who turn them into household
slaves called restaveks or force them into prostitution. A person
who was serving as the legal advisor to the so-called missionaries trying
to take the 33 children out of Haiti is, in fact, wanted in El Salvador and
the U.S. on human trafficking charges. To keep children out of this risk,
de la Soudiere gets help from volunteering nurses to aid the children if
they are injured, then to ask than about family, where they lived, whom they
know or where they went to school. After extensive questioning, they can
usually get a name, a neighborhood, or a school, and then find some extended
family. Then agencies can provide support for care-givers. Some food, clothing,
and education assistance can make a lot of difference to families who can
barely feed themselves. By building this network, they are also strengthening
families and the culture.
One of the ways that persons with adoption
connections can really help, aside from monetary contributions to legitimate
aid organizations to help families in poverty to stay together and
live, is to support adoption reform across the world and talk about it the
connections between poverty and adoption. Whether one is an adoptee, a birth
parent, or adoptive parent, the poverty connection has always been there.
Relinquishment is nearly always due to poverty or threats of poverty through
the birth mother being disowned by family or having insufficient resources.
Adoption because of parental poverty is still the main reason children are
available around the world. Further, adoption is denied to many would-be
adoptive parents due to their relative poverty. This is not to say that adoption,
including trans-cultural adoption, should never take place. It is saying
we should not try to ignore the poverty connection and the losses sustained
by everyone involved. Readers are urged to continue paying attention to these
complicated adoption issues and to speak out about them.
Excerpted from the April 2010
edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2010 Operation Identity