International Adoption is Never That Simple

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A few months ago, InCultureParent asked a group of adoptive parents to provide a list of “Adoption Do’s and Don’ts”— a set of requests based on some of the negative and positive interactions we adoptive parents have had with well-meaning friends, family and general passersby. We came up with advice like:
• Don’t assume adoption was my second, third or final choice.
• Do ask me genuine questions about the about the process; it’s a complex one and I’m happy to share.
• Do ask me about my child’s heritage but not about his “real parents”; I’m his real parent.
• Don’t say to me, “You did it the easy way.” It’s all hard, whether you had your child biologically or adopted.
Since drafting this list, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the complexity of adoption, particularly international adoption. There is a lot of debate over whether international adoption is “right” or “wrong.” I have become increasingly frustrated with the way in which the very complex issue of international adoption has been reduced to an overly simplistic question of right vs. wrong. One result of this over-simplification is the children who need help have become the victims of international adoption policies.
Some argue that international adoption creates a “market” for unethical adoptions. The argument goes something like this: the fact that people are willing to pay for international adoptions leads desperate and unethical people to take advantage of families when they are most vulnerable. By ending (or significantly curtailing) international adoption, the trafficking of children can be limited. Some oppose international adoption because it takes children out of their country of origin, depriving them of a connection to their culture. These are valid arguments, but they are only salient in a utopian world. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world where poverty is a reality and biological parents must make difficult choices about their ability to care for their children.
In the real world, there are orphans and, in many cases, it is very unlikely that parents in the orphans’ country of origin will adopt them. So, if we cannot assure that parents living in their country of origin will adopt them, then what’s the next best thing? Is it better to work to connect children with permanent families who may not be in their country of origin or is it better to keep children in their country of origin, knowing that doing so may result in these children living in orphanages for most (or all) of their childhood?
The answers to these questions are complicated, and they deserve a response much more thoughtful than an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Like many things in society today, when we oversimplify international adoption, we aren’t looking at the issue in its entirety. We aren’t doing justice to the people involved who are making difficult—often heart-wrenching— decisions about children.
So, what is the answer? How do we protect all children’s rights—that is, their right to not be victims of human trafficking and their right to a permanent family? I wish I knew the answer, but I don’t. I do know what the answer is not: orphans who are matched with adoptive parents should not be prevented from coming home to permanent families. This is what is happening right now in Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan. In Vietnam, 16 children who were approved for adoption over three years ago wait in an orphanage (an orphanage that was once a prison) as their cases are processed. Processing is a euphemism for bureaucracy. So, these little victims of bureaucracy wait, as do their adoptive parents, many of whom have been prevented from contacting their children.
A friend of mine, Kelly Ensslin, is an adoption attorney for many of the families waiting for their children to come home. Her assessment of the situation sums it up best: “The current system is damaging children. A family is every child’s most basic human right. Our current system of adoption stands between kids joining families.” Policymakers should spend their time developing a system that unites families, and not supporting a system that unnecessarily keeps families apart.

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