Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fraud and corruption in international adoption: what about the children?

My Google Alerts have been going crazy this week on “International Adoption” because the Thomson Reuters Foundation published a new investigation/expose focusing on Uganda. The investigation alleges Ugandan families were bribed, tricked or coerced into allowing their children to be adopted overseas. Intercountry adoptions are described by Reuters as “a booming industry in which child traffickers are profiteering”.

Exclusive: Fraud and deceit at the heart of Uganda adoptions to United States

I have a problem with Reuters’ “investigation” because the media frenzy on anecdotal problems of intercountry adoption detracts from real issues and concerns that need to be addressed which are poverty, family planning and social welfare.
There are millions of children living in poverty in Uganda and 2.5 million of them are orphans (defined by UNICEF as children who have lost one or both parents). Children need help and the situation is a crisis. Depicting international adoption as an industry of corruption, greed and human trafficking is not helping the global situation. I would like to see more attention spent building infrastructure and less attention spent tearing down the "industry" of intercountry adoption. Yellow Journalism of this sort actually makes things worse.

I care about this because I am worried about the children...

International adoption is intensely controversial and adoption between "worlds" is even more complicated. Cultural misunderstandings, financial desperation, adoptive parent desperation and extreme wealth disparity are a perfect storm for problems. And problems do happen. But the Reuters investigation does not describe problems, it describes human trafficking. The implication is that human trafficking is part of the regular course of Ugandan adoption to the US. I do not agree with that premise and it is not supported by the anecdotal evidence presented in the article. Human trafficking exists. It even exists in the area of international adoption but I think it is extremely rare. It is also illegal. The US Department of State and Bethany Christian Services (an American adoption agency working in Uganda) are briefly mentioned in the article but only in a cursory manner. And one which is intended to imply insensitivity or even complicity in the unconscionable actions alleged.

Reuters’ emphasis on Uganda adoptions is also completely out of scale. In a country with 2.5 million orphans and as many as 400 orphanages, there were only 201 adoptions to the US over the last two years. There are simply not enough foreign adoptions from Uganda to merit anything that could be considered widespread abuse. Yet the Reuters investigation describes a “culture of corruption” and a “mushrooming network of unregistered childcare institutions through which children are primed for adoption”. 201 adoptions to the US could hardly be considered a basis for a “lucrative industry”. It doesn’t even make sense.

I am not pro-intercountry adoption. It’s also not my decision to make. Most countries ban foreign adoption (except in special circumstances) and that is my understanding of the situation in Uganda. Children living in extreme poverty and without parents to care for them is a crisis. However adoption may not be the best way to help them. If there is a way for a child to grow up with his or her birth family (or with his or her extended family) measures should be taken and supported to effect that end. Adoption is, and should always be, a last resort. But there are children who do not have parents and who need to be adopted. I have experienced it personally. I spent several months in Ethiopia between 2012 and 2014 and we adopted two children.

Reuters’ investigation does nothing but promote sensationalism. It is easy to attack an “industry” and look for individual cases of corruption, greed and abuse of power. That kind of thing sells news. That’s how it works. I do not have a problem with that. My problem is impediments to action about a situation of crisis for millions of children. International adoption is not a solution for the orphan/poverty crisis. Of course it is not a solution. It is a last resort. But it is a solution for some children who have no family and no one to care for them. Recently in Uganda it was a solution for a few children. Not a lot of children. 201 children. If you were one of those 201 children, it doesn’t matter how small the number was. The solution was your whole life. By demonizing intercountry adoption without promoting other solutions, Reuters forgets about the children. What about the children?

Thomson Reuters Foundation: Thank you for another exclusive investigation. There are millions of children who have no home, no money and no one to care for them. They will grow up in an overly if they are lucky--most will grow up on the streets.  Where is your solution?

Related:  Orphanages I Hang Out In

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