Tuesday, September 20th, 2011
A Kenyan Perspective on the ‘Lost’ Children of Intercultural and Interracial Adoption
A number of years ago I read an article that interviewed adults who had been interculturally and interracially adopted in the 1970s. Though all of the people interviewed appeared to be happy with their adoptive families, they all expressed a sense of loss. They all also talked about the ways in which they had tried to make sense of their identity as adults.
There are a lot of European families who are in the process of adopting Kenyan children in my neighbourhood in Nairobi. The adoption process in Kenya is rightfully long and the parents usually have to spend a number of months in the country with the children. Their children are often instantly recognizable (until the parents get up to speed) by skins that are regularly not well moisturized and their hair not always well groomed.
It takes time for a mother or father from say the Netherlands to understand the intricacies of looking after African skin and hair. I often find myself thinking that even if they buy the products here, where are they going to find the right oils if they are returning to a rural part of Europe? Having gone to school in rural Britain, I know what it can be like.
One of the key complaints of many of the parents adopting is the complications of the Kenyan system. Unlike neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya is lengthy and bureaucratic. Whereas I agree that there can be a lot of unnecessary form-filling in Kenya, I do not think that three weeks is long enough for parents and child to get to know each other before the child is taken out of their biological context to somewhere entirely different. This is especially important given that no major systems are in place for international adoptions that go wrong. This was clearly highlighted by the recent case in the U.S. where an overwhelmed mother sent her son back to his native Russia, but also in Kenya where a young child died of neglect at the hands of her foreign parents.
Yet I also see wonderful, diverse families that live happily together and children who have otherwise been abandoned being raised in loving homes. I am not sure that I have a big enough heart to adopt (be it for my own or the child’s sake) and I have a great amount of admiration for those that do. However, I wonder about the future of all these children that are growing up somewhere else, where a part of them will always be ‘the other’. I wonder whether the families that take them in have truly examined the complexities of bringing them up as rounded individuals, with both their psychological and physical well-being in mind. I feel that understanding this sense of loss must be a starting point for all of the communities involved with these children. Those that take them in, but also those that let them go.
© 2011 – 2013, JC Niala. All rights reserved.
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