August 13, 2009

Adoption & the Fight for Human Rights

EDITORIAL: International Adoption and the Fight for Human Rights

International adoption has quietly become a large, lucrative business. While international adoption agencies would no doubt like to keep it this way, adult international adoptees are now asking questions. They are participating in a debate over whose best interests the practice actually serves, or should serve: the adopter or the adoptee? Taking a critical look at the practice of international adoption, chairman of United Adoptees International Hilbrand Westra explores its disturbing overlaps with free market practices and religious justifications, and lays out solutions for practical legal reform. Westra shows the power of an emerging collective adoptee voice shaping what was once seen as an inevitable inequality.

International Adoption and the Fight for
Human Rights
By Hilbrand W.S. Westra
Chairman, United Adoptees International


"There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand - and there's too much Western money in search of children. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes."

From, 'The Lie we Love', E.J. Graff, associate director and senior researcher at The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism

Saving children from starvation and death will always make news headlines. In the case of adoption, especially intercountry adoption, this is far from the reality most of the time. What once was presented as a last resort for children without parents has become a global enterprise where children seemingly are sold to the highest bidder under the supervision and agreement of involved nations.

The practice of adoption has become an international market where children migrate mainly from relatively impoverished countries to more affluent countries with the help of funding from churches, NGOs, and financial institutions. Prospective adopters find themselves in a cafeteria system, where they can choose between domestic or intercountry adoption, and then have their pick from a variety of genders and skin tones. These consumers can also decide whether or not they are up to the task of raising a child with a physical or mental handicap. The final cost will determine which international program they will be limited to. For some it’s not a matter of money because banks and financial institutions, especially in the United States, will provide loans to facilitate overseas adoptions.

Some people will be shocked by this characterization of adoption which is commonly perceived to be a purely humanitarian gesture. But, for those of us who do intercountry adoption research, such indicators of a warped child welfare system can be seen everywhere in the Western world, from Australia to Europe and from the United States to Canada.

What is even more shocking is to learn that race and gender are big factors in assigning a monetary value to those children made available for adoption. Caucasian boys generally carry the highest price tag with Asian girls following close behind. Prices can reach as much as $35,000 according to an ABC News report, depending on demand which usually hinges on the child’s racial and/or ethnic background.

The undeniable correlation between annually increasing infertility rates in Western countries and the growing demand for children put up for adoption forces one to question why the general public is slow in calling for the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Instead of establishing and funding good healthcare and social services, countries like South Korea and the United States have used adoption as a means to export their socially ostracized or racially undesirable children to families in countries like the Netherlands.

Organizations like UNICEF, International Organization for Migration, Save the Children, the European Union for Fundamental Rights Agency, Terre des Hommes, and even World Vision report on child abduction, trafficking, and trade worldwide for the purposes of adoption. Academics, such as David Smolin and Brian Stuy, followed by Kay Johnson, report regularly about children stolen for adoption, as well as the flaws and weaknesses in adoption laws, if such laws even exist, in both sending and receiving countries. Authors, such as Mirah Riben (The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry), and Roelie Post, a European Commission official (Romania for Export Only: The Untold Story of the Romanian Orphans), have written extensively on how deep international politics has penetrated the racket of trafficking children. They have exposed a horrific money-making scheme that is motivated by pure political and financial interests.

But, lest we forget the role of the Church in paving the way for child trafficking, initially within Western countries and later in their colonies, Carine Hutsebaut, criminologist and founder of ICMAC (International Center for Molested and Abducted Children), wrote a very important book (Kleine zondaars – Kerk en kinderhandel [Little sinners – The Church and Child Trafficking]), explaining how the Catholic church had a hand in trafficking children to childless parishioners in different cities and countries.

The fortress that religious groups, adoptive parents, agencies and politicians have built to protect their monied interests and feelings of entitlement to other people’s children appears to be almost impregnable. However, the first cracks in their bastion are slowly becoming visible. The question we must ask ourselves, though, is who else is willing to push for necessary changes? Until now, the group fighting for children’s rights and family preservation programs is small, but committed.

Establishing Legal Protections

There is an urgent need to come up with solutions to the problems plaguing the practice of intercountry adoption; if not for the sending countries that are reconsidering their views on intercountry adoption due to the exchange of information amongst themselves, then certainly for those adult adoptees who are the victims of falsified birth certificates, identity theft, or embezzlement of their origins by authorities who do not want them to find out the truth behind their adoptions. But, first and foremost we need to acknowledge the close relationship between money and adoption that leads to charges of modern-day slavery and cultural appropriation for the single-minded interest of procuring babies and children for the well-off.

A switch from private to state-controlled adoption agencies should be initiated. First, in order to put a stop to the coercion and corruption caused by the exchange of money and adopting a child, an internationally accepted range of fees, independent of the child’s origins, should be established. Also, a switch from private to state-controlled adoption agencies should be initiated.

Next, an independent international agency should be established quickly. It would be charged with monitoring and enforcing international adoption procedures in order to protect first parents and their children from exploitation and corruption. Child trafficking for the purpose of adoption should be treated as seriously as any other type of human trafficking. International criminal law should be enhanced to apprehend and prosecute those who would abuse adoption for financial gain. This mission would be to uphold each person’s physical and mental integrity in the face of possible exploitation and abuse during the adoption process, being especially mindful of the vulnerability of children.

The present Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption should be regulated and policed to eliminate corruption in adoption

Finally, the present Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption should be regulated and policed to eliminate corruption in adoption. I also advocate working through the existing legal frameworks of technical assistance and aid, ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

For more information on child trafficking and international adoption see
The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism
Against Child Trafficking

Related Stories:

Transnational Adoption and the "Financialization of Everything"

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