UNICEF’s Unethical War Against International Adoption

UPDATE, 12/19/2011: There is more on the topic of international adoptions here.

There are few things more harmful than a trusted organization associated with good will and good deeds that uses its influence irresponsibly, and there are few organizations with more accumulated trust than UNICEF, the United Nations organization dedicated to children’s rights, safety and welfare. That UNICEF could be promoting policies that actually harms children seems too awful to contemplate, but that appears to be what is occurring. The problem is that most people have grown up thinking of the organization as the epitome of international virtue. UNICEF doing something that hurts kids? Impossible. Since the group’s impressive moral authority seems to be focused in an unethical direction, the damage it can do before public opinion turns is substantial.

The area is  international adoptions. Elizabeth Bartholet has just released a scholarly paper describing the impediments to international adoptions worldwide, and her credentials and passion are impressive and undeniable. She is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program (CAP) at Harvard Law School, where she teaches civil rights and family law, specializing in child welfare, adoption and reproductive technology. The paper is entitled, “International Adoption, the Human Rights Position,” and it describes in heartbreaking detail the degree to which opponents of international adoption, led by UNICEF, have worked to dismantle the administrative support structure that makes adoptions possible.

The reason appears to be that UNICEF leaders have fallen prey the views of international adoption critics, who regard the practice as an inherent violation of human rights because it “robs children of their heritage” and creates an incentive for poor parents to give up their children. This has led the organization to relentlessly focus on adoption abuses at the cost of successful adoption, and to promote policies which will effectively eliminate all international adoption. It has called for closing down the private intermediaries that in many countries make adoption possible. UNICEF also maintains that international adoption must be subordinate to various in-country options, like foster care, regardless of whether those options are realistic. Bartholet writes:

The real threat to international adoption and to children is posed by UNICEF and others who claim they are not against international adoption, but simply for regulatory reform…But the UNICEF positions would if accepted radically limit children’s opportunities for finding nurturing homes. Moratoria closing down international adoption programs in particular countries end such adoption entirely, and while moratoria are often initially described as temporary, they may end up being permanent. Even if eventually lifted, children will meantime have been denied adoptive homes. Thus in Guatemala, the current moratorium is denying homes to thousands per year.

“Regulation prohibiting private intermediaries has been the deathknell for international adoption in many countries, as those promoting this ‘reform’ well know. Critics find receptive audiences with their talk of eliminating the greedy lawyers and others who make a living arranging such adoption. But private intermediaries are generally more eager than government bureaucrats to make matches between the parties who want adoption to happen – parties that include birth as well as adoptive parents. Pursuant to pressure from UNICEF and others, many countries in South and Central America have banned private intermediaries, and have as a result largely eliminated international adoption. These countries include Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, and El Salvador. Instead of placing thousands of children per year, they now place only a handful, and then only after the children have spent long periods in damaging orphanages. Guatemala has responded to similar pressure by enacting legislation eliminating private intermediaries in any future international adoptions.”

Discussing UNICEF preferences for foster care over international adoption, she writes:

“UNICEF’s argument is that such care could preserve children’s birth and national heritage links. But foster care doesn’t exist as a meaningful option in most sending countries – unparented children are instead relegated to orphanages. UNICEF wants foster care expanded, but denying children adoptive homes now because in the future foster care might exist is unfair to existing children. Nor is there any reason to believe that poor countries will be able to build a nurturing permanent foster care system. Such foster care as now exists in poor countries is often quite terrible, a euphemism for cottage-industry-level institutionalization… parentless children in a small-scale orphanage run by a small staff of under-resourced adults.”

The inevitable results of UNICEF’s opposition to international adoption is clear, Bartholet says, and

“…will be disastrous for the many tens of thousands of children who could be placed yearly. Such adoption will be limited to last-resort status, with a relative handful of children released, and this only after damaging periods in orphanages.”

How damaging?

“…Abandoned babies are often confined to steel cribs 23+ hours a day for months or years. Without normal stimuli, without the ability to crawl, play, interact or be loved, they suffer immense, often irreversible psychological and physical damage.”

This is no exaggeration. I visited such orphanages when I adopted my own son in Russia, and the prospect of any child being left to rot in such places because UNICEF is in thrall to ethnic purity, class warfare, and anti-American political correctness is frightening.

It is time to re-evaluate our blind trust of UNICEF, and to make its anti-adoption efforts known. The organization is substantially funded by American donations, and those quarters dropped into those Trick or Treat cans are being used to ensure that thousands of foreign orphans never have the opportunity to experience Halloween, or anything other childhood pleasures.

Can an organization continue to be regarded as a beneficent child welfare advocate if it is working to keep poor kids from finding the loving parents who are eager and able to give them better lives?

No.

[Please read Prof. Bartholet’s paper here.]

57 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Family, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Race, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

57 responses to “UNICEF’s Unethical War Against International Adoption

  1. Tom Fuller

    Disclaimer: I know little if anything, and certainly less than you, about the substance or merits of what you talk about in either your MSNB piece or your UNICEF piece.

    But from a bird’s-eye view of the two discussions, it seems odd that you criticize the MSNB folks for slanting their content towards their own agendas, and on the same day have a long post about what UNICEF is apparently doing wrong, quoting five paragraphs (and providing a link to ) a critical article without hearing what UNICEF might have to say on their side. Whether you are a reporter, an advocate, or something else (frankly, I’ve never been quite sure WHAT you are), the one-sidedness of the UNICEF piece is striking. What exactly is the ethical point your are raising for discussion, and how does presenting only one side of what has to be a complicated issue advance that discussion?

    Just wanted you to know that we’re still paying attention, despite your (admittedly cheery) Yuletide format.

    • Well, now, I’m not sure that’s fair. I have known that UNICEF has been philosophically tilted against foreign adoptions for some time, because the supplying countries hate what they symbolize. I know there are bad international adoption agencies; I know there is child-buying. But I also know, because I studied the issue (and talked to the officials and doctors in Russia, one of the best off of the supplying countries), that in-country adoption of orphans in the South American countries,Asian countries and Soviet Union components is astonishingly rare. I would argue that if indeed the welfare of the child is paramount, even the need to address serious problems in the international adoption system would not justify keeping thousands of dependent children in understaffed and funded orphanages one second longer, as they become sicker and more damaged with each passing day. What is the “other side” to the virtual halt of international adoptions in many countries? “No, really—it’s a good idea!”?

      I was very aware of the opposition leveled at Madonna for her African adoptions, some of which came from UNICEF. It was obviously political, and had zilch to do with the welfare of the child, who would have been condemned to abject poverty without the singer’s efforts. I’d take the position that impeding international adoptions in any way is a per se breach of UNICEF’s mission; stopping a thousand kis from finding families to block a hundred shadowy adoptions is literally throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

      The ethical points are that an organization that has built its good will as an advocate of kids’s welfare is endangering the welfare of the most vulnerable kids imaginable for the political posturing of governments that can’t take care of their own children, and that we should know a bit more than reputation when we pass along money to an organization like UNICEF, because we may be promoting something we shouldn’t be.

      I checked out the good Professor; she has an impeccable reputation, and it is a peer reviewed work. I rely on her research and conclusions, which is reasonable: this is her field. Sure, she is an advocate too, but my independent experience is consistent with what she reports. And it is not as if her report doesn’t include the supposed basis for UNICEF’s position; it does. And I an very aware of the irregularities: I saw those too.

      I think the issue is one sided. The other side doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The post was fair.

  2. Tom Fuller

    Gosh . . . and you didn’t even thank me for telling you that the Yuletide format is cheery.

  3. i.labo

    The article does not mention Professor Bartholet is an adoptive mother of 2 South American children and at the height of thousands of illegal adoption/abductions from Guatemala she kept fighting to keep the abhorrent system going. The countries that have closed their international adoption programs have done so because of inherent corruption . UNICEF is helping impoverished communities not exploiting their poverty by taking their kids to meet the needs of couples or singles in wealthier countries. An interesting point is that whenever international adoption is closed in a particular country, many of the orphanages also close, for some reason when the money dries up so does the number of abandoned babies. Read Professor David Smolin on the egregious practices inherent in international adoption and the failure of the Hague Convention to regulate their occurrences – this article is obviously pro-adoption, written for the pro-adoption community for adoptive parents with no concern for the many thousands of families looking for their stolen children who have been taken abroad whilst middle men and adoption agencies make a fortune

    • Send me a good link about the professor and I’d be happy to include it in the article.

      Legitimate adoption agencies do not make “a fortune,” nor is “stealing” children the norm, though it occurs. Child buying should be illegal, but any parent who sells a child or tries to should be relieved of that child for good—in both meanings of the word. While biased adults and administrative bodies duke it out, children are rotting. Bottom line: whatever empties the orphanages faster and places children where they are wanted and are cared for is the most ethical course, and such issues as national pride and consistency of heritage ought to have nothing to do with it. Fix the abuses, but keep those kids moving out of the orpahages.

      • Patricia Coleman

        Mr. Marshall I could not agree more!
        I am the mother of three internationally adopted children. All three of my children are or were considered special needs. Without the medical treatment they have received, two of them would not likely make it to adulthood, and the other would most likely have gone blind. One of my children who came to us at age six, had been in a very abusive foster home. She has described having been caned, she has deep scars around her ankles and arm from having been tied down, and several other issues that are too personal to speak of on this forum.
        All three have grown and thrived in our home. I have worked diligently to keep their heritage alive for them. Truthfully though, I think having a safe loving family, nourishment, medical care and a roof over their heads trumps concern over heritage. Children who immigrate to the USA with their biological parents are placed in the same schools as the children who are adopted. They too experience a shift from their heritage, so how is this any different. Many of them want nothing to do with their heritage and pull away from their parents heritage.
        You ask any one of my children if they regret having been adopted and the answer would be an emphatic NO. They love being a part of our family, and have expressed this opinion openly on numerous occasions. All children need homes no matter where they were born.

    • Leslie Fiore

      Did you bother to research the process in Guatemala???? There is corruption in any system, including the US adoption system. There were safeguards in place for these children. There were many legal adoptions made. The number of abandoned children in Guatemala has not decrease but only increased. The corruption in Guatemala was mainly on the government side and the power struggles within their own government. Which left hundreds of children without the possibility of having a safe and loving home.

  4. Regular Joe

    Hi Jack,
    I haven’t seen an official UNICEF opinion/statement regarding this issue included in any of your posts.
    Fair play, or are you going over to the Dark Side?
    You have lived it and taken it home. Good for you, best wishes.
    Thanks for your consideration.

    • Did you read my response to Tom, Joe? That’s pretty much my position on that. I can draft what UNICEF’s position statement would say. It’s PR and politics, but the facts speak for themselves….at least I think so. Unless UNICEF claims that all those orphans are holograms or androids…

  5. To believe that this one adoptive mother knows better than a TEAM of experts with no ulterior motive other than the welfare of children who have been on the ground working with families in crisis for sixty years is absolutely preposterous!

    Bartholet is a law professor who has made it her goal to increase the adoption practices of her attorney colleagues who rely on the transfer of children for their livelihood.

    As author Lorraine Dusky has said of Elizabeth Bartholet, she “never met a poor child in another country who wouldn’t be better off adopted in a rich country like ours!” http://www.firstmotherforum.com/2010/12/adoptive-parents-decry-unicefs.html

    Bartholet is so blindly extreme in her position that she disregards ethnicity and winks and nods at baby selling!

    “Baby buying is generally not thought of as a serious evil in today’s world in other contexts. Commercial surrogacy is the institution in which true baby buying takes place systematically. Surrogacy contracts specify that the woman who provides pregnancy and childbirth services, and often her egg as well, will receive money in exchange for turning over the baby born, and terminating her parental rights. Commercial surrogacy is flourishing in the United States and many other countries…” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-5899.2009.00001.x/full

    This is a vile, repugnant position for anyone who pretends to be acting in any child’s best interest! These are the words of someone who sees children not as vulnerable human beings with rights, but rather as a COMMODITY to fill a demand with no regard for the what is best for the child at all.

    This woman should be ignored as a radical extremist profiteer.

    Mirah Riben, author, THE STORK MARKET: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

    • I can’t let that pass. She doesn’t “wink and nod” at baby-selling: prove it. I see no evidence of that in her work. Children in desperately poor third world countries would be “better off” with parents who could feed them? Do you deny it? Nevertheless, believing that, which is stunningly obvious, is not the same as advocating taking children away from their families. Let’s focus on orphans: there are a lot of them, and very few of them get adopted. That is fact. Keeping them in their prisons because a country’s self-esteem is bruised by the self-evident fact that it can’t care for its own children is indefensible.

      And honestly: calling a Harvard professor and published scholar with demonstrable expertise “one adoptive mother” is intellectually dishonest, as is maintaining than any UN arm has “no other motives.” Who could believe that?

    • Penn

      Do I believe that one parent “knows better than a whole TEAM of experts?” Yup. Personally and professionally throughout my life I have seen hundreds of cases where the parent or the student or the patient — the people emotionally and physically involved and personally committed — knew better than the TEAM of professionals whose primary interest lay in salary, promotion, reputation or an agenda that had nothing whatsoever to do with the subjects well-being. A TEAM of two or three carers of infants, toddlers and small children, for instance, is not capable of bonding with all of them, of making happy, healthy human beings out of each of them. There is a reason why the human mother usually bears one child at a time (Octomonsters notwithstanding) and gives that child a space to learn that it is worthwhile to grow older and not just go FTT … That’s FAILURE TO THRIVE. Or to thrive less than whole. less than Right, emotionally and physically, as will happen to most of them. Nor does the “One” caring, able adult have to inculcate the language, practices and beliefs of the child’s birthplace (is there a proper ritual for starving?) in order to give a child a nurturing home.
      There is only ONE race that is vital to a child’s survival — not the TEEMing hundreds of warring ethnicities that vary as much within their own borders as they do with those without: the ONE that is the human race.

    • You have no idea what you are talking about! I live in Guatemala and work with children who grew up in the system. There are two young people in my life right now that are in their early twenties who grew up in a Government run situation and their culture has not been practiced in these “homes” nor do they have any since of heritage. Do you have any idea what these places are like? The are like a jail, but with less food, less medical care, and honestly less caregivers than our criminals have jailers. They don’t celebrate holidays, they don’t know their birthdays and all that they know about their heritage (outside the walls of their reality) is that something fun must be happening that I am not able to celebrate. These kids have never had a family and are always on the outside looking in. All of the ones I know personally have told me that they have always dreamed about having a family. One of them even admitted to trying to kill himself multiple times as a child because he felt that he had no reason to exist or any value. Non of these children (I have worked with many) would choose the life they were forced to live over a loving family regardless of where they live.
      I am not going to argue politics with you, but the reality of life in this third world country is that the Government cannot afford to take care of these children properly and there are not enough people here that are able to help.
      If what I have said made you want to take one of the kids into your arms and love the hurt away, too bad, because it is not possible thanks to these organizations you are so ignorantly defending.
      Oh, and I am just a regular person who decided to be a part of the solution instead of talk about it.

  6. Regular Joe

    I did, in fact, read your reply to Tom.
    Well stated, again, your opinions only.
    Facts are facts. It is unconscionable and inhumane to use children, holograms and androids, maybe not so much holograms, too blurry for me, as pawns, to further a poltical (read: Adult/National) agenda.
    I thought it might be helpful to further the discussion if UNICEF’s position was presented.
    Thanks

    • Well of course they are my opinions only, Joe. I can state that something IS, because I believe, reviewing what I believe to be the facts, that this conclusion is warranted. And I will change that assessment when I see facts or hear arguments that I think justify it. I’m not accusing you of this, but “that’s just your opinion” is a weak default argument: one can use it on Einstein’s theories, the Declaration of Independence, or the Gettysburg Address. Thoughtful opinions have value, even when they are ultimately proven to be wrong. They move the ball.

  7. Tim LeVier

    Would this discussion benefit from a comparison to a Mall Pet Shop that sells puppies? If the mall pet shop didn’t exist, puppy mills wouldn’t have clients to buy large quantities of puppies and they’d have to produce only enough puppies to meet the local demand in their area.

    But since Mall Pet Shops already exist, if you just shut them down, a lot of puppies wouldn’t find their way into good homes and the existing puppies might end up at a pound where they are just exterminated.

    So, do you treat the symptoms or do you treat the disease? Tough call. I’m not sure I’m intelligent enough to figure it out.

    • Well, no, actually. Puppy mills breed puppies. Shutting them down actually forces people to adopt from shelters (=orphanages). Unlike with puppies, the number of children needing homes will not go down by eliminating agencies. In fact, the puppy mill situation is almost the opposite of the adoption problem. A closer analogy would be if there was a movement to shut down the ASPCA and shelters.

    • You make changes, while helping the children that are already orphaned. Instead, these children are being left to rot in said “pet shop” while it take an ill equipped government decades to fix the problem.

  8. Prove Bartholet doesn’t JUSTIFY baby selling? Read this:

    Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and Baby Selling?

    http://www.opednews.com/articles/Lies-Damned-Lies-Statist-by-Mirah-Riben-101209-205.html

    • Nope, not as I read it. She is correct that surrogacy is “baby-selling”; the author cites Australian law. The whole piece is work games, and debating statistics. 1.) A child who a parent gives up because the parent can’t care for him or her, or a child removed by the state for abuse, is as much an orphan as one with no parents., contrary to the ideological bent of the author. 2) I’ve been to the orphanages, which are packed, with almost no local parents seeking adoptions. What more do you need to know? 3) The argument is doubletalk: “She carries this passion fervently into her advocacy for all who wish, and can afford, to adopt privately, protecting a non-existent “right” to adopt an unrelated child in disregard of every child’s right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible.” If the parent gives up the child for adoption, or abuses the child and has it taken away, what is the point of this statement? I’d say that a child has the right to LIVE, and to have a loving family that wants to care for him, regardless of the genes involved.

      It all seems very simple to me. Either the child has a family that wants him, or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, one adoptive family is as good as another, and where that family lives shouldn’t keep an orphan institutionalized for a second longer than necessary. THAT is in the best interest of the child. The linked article uses deceptive weasel words like “alternative care.” What does that mean?

      Thanks for the link.

  9. You are uninformed and WQRONG!! Adoptees are reunited every day with their natural parents! If they have parents = NOT orphans! Some are in pen adoptions from the start nowadays! Adoption does not destroy the natural parents – except on paper! They still exist.

    And you simply ignore the fact that children are SYOLEN or kidnapped to fill a demand!! READ:

    Duped by Indian adoption agency, US family cautions couples
    http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/Duped-by-Indian-adoption-agency-US-family-cautions-couples/articleshow/5964751.cms

    Read Julia Rollings story at: http://bittersweet-story.blogspot.com/

    Read also: The Lie We Love by E.J.Graff
    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2008/10/…/the_lie_we_love

    The works of David Smolin on child trafficking: works.bepress.com/david_smolin/1/

    Re China, read:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/adoption-stories/200909/la-times-chinese-babies-stolen-foreign-adoption

    http://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/5824/

    http://ouradopt.com/adoption-blog/jan-2009/juliafuller/was-baby-you-adopted-china-stolen-or-purchased

    Here’s another Harvard law professor who sees things the way I DO and not as Bartholet sees it: http://www.thenation.com/issue/december-20-2010

    • You’ll have to explain to me what “Some are in pen adoptions from the start nowadays! Adoption does not destroy the natural parents – except on paper! They still exist” means. If a parent voluntarily gives up a child for any reason, that child has no parents. Child stealing is a different matter and needs to be addressed without shutting down legitimate adoptions. Any parent who sells a child should lose the child anyway…obviously. There is nothing magic or sacred about natural parents who are unwilling or unable to care for their own children.

      Thank you so much for the links—I’ll check them out.

    • Well. I read Prof. Williams’ essay. Pretentious, politically correct gibberish that does not address the problem, and that is, as is typical for The Nation, anti-American propaganda, full of politically correct newspeak. I’m not even sure what she is arguing. No orphan should languish because of that kind of reasoning.

  10. Jack,

    Your arguments make no sense. Chilfren rem0oved by the state for abuse are not the issue here at all. Bartholet is promoting INTERNATIONAL adoptions. It is international adoptions that are ripe with child trafficking – child stealing, kidnap[ping and forged papers. Child stealing is exactly what Bartholet justifies!!

    Typo: “Some are in OPEN adoptions from the start nowadays!”

    You are offensive to all adoptees and their original families, as well as many adoptive parents to claim that once a child is relinquished he is an orphan.

    You are offensive and you are WRONG!

    • Just repeating that a statement is offensive and wrong doesn’t really advance the argument. There are orphans for adoption who have been removed by the sate for legitimate reasons. There are those who have been abandoned and given up for adoption by parents who cannot care for them, in lieu of abortion—a good choice. There are those who lost their parents.

      There is no reason not to facilitate the foreign adoptions of these children, who outnumber the children taken illicitly. Your arguments sound like rationalizations covering objections to foreign adoption as a matter of nationalistic principle.

    • Even with the typo fixed, I don’t grasp your point. What’s wrong with open adoptions?

  11. Shawn Rodda

    As the mother of 2 children adopted from Ethiopia, this is obviously a very tough issue for me. I see both sides – I do not want Ethiopian mothers to be in any way coerced into giving up their children. However, I’ve been to ET 3 times now, and every time I go my faith in the system is restored. I met my son’s birth mother and I truly and honestly believe this is what she wanted for him. Yes, it is horrible that she must make this uncomprehensible decision. But the decision was absolutely hers. I also have spoken at length with the judge in Ethiopia who approves the adoptions. She assured me that she tells every birth parent that this is permanent, the kids are not coming back (unless they choose to) and that they may never see their children again. Many birth parents then say no and the petition for adoption is denied. Many say yes and the adoption goes forward. The US embassy is taking great lengths to make sure that the adoptions are legitimate. I think this is the best route – heavy heavy oversight to make sure things are done right, but kids still get homes.

    • Thanks for the perspective. Hug those kids for me.

      • I’m an adoptive parent too (Kazakhstan). Might I point out that children in orphanages can be adopted internationally OR within their own countries? Therefore, it can’t inherently be an international child-stealing heritage-denying market. The child, once placed in the orphanage, may also be adopted within their own culture and remain in their birth country. In fact, Kazakhstan’s policy was that the children had to be available to local parents ONLY for six months. Only after that period were they available for international adoption. We got our son because no one in his own country stepped up.

  12. My prospective daughter is one of those UNICEF is working to keep away from us. She is a full orphan, no parents, and we have been processing paperwork to adopt her (she is between 9 and 12). Unbelievably, the Southern state of Ethiopia gathered her up, along with the other Southern children in an Addis orphanage, because that region wants to keep their children in country. Why? No one has wanted her and we do. The South is not allowing any adoptions out of country right now. There is a famine there! Why can’t we bring her here? Mireh Riben, tell me how UNICEF’s policies protect her.

    • Why, it is protecting the principle of cultural, social and genetic integrity for Ethiopian children generally. The fact that doing so sacrifices the well-being of actual children is irrelevant. Don’t you understand? (No, I don’t get it either.)

  13. Angie

    The abandoned babies are still there but the private orphanages can’t afford to stay open. The money provided by adoptive parents to these private orphanages helped take care of children who weren’t able to be adopted. Without that they really had no other options but to close. Where are the abandoned children in Guatemala now. They are in drainpipes and dumps and cardboard boxes. They are in unfunded government orphanages providing no education, no nurturing and no love. And the thought of those children being denied the possibility of a loving family due to the corruption of a government, some (but certainly not all) unethical lawyers and a very questionable UNICEF makes me very sad.

  14. L.

    Wow, anyone who believes international adoption should not take place should send their children to live in an orphanage for a week…or even just visit one for a day! Comparing orphanages to puppy mills is appalling to me. I do believe the potential for corruption and “selling” babies exists, but the reality is there are over hundreds of thousands abandoned children in need of homes around the world and a country’s borders should not be a reason to bar a child from knowing the love of a family. If UNICEF has it’s way there is absolutely no hope for most of these vulnerable children.

  15. Holly F.

    I think there is a “lost in translation” problem here. I was linked to this article from a Reeces Rainbow post. I encourage those defending UNICEF to check out Reecesrainbow.org. This site raises funds to assist with international adoptions of children with Down syndrome, HIV, Aids, Fetal Alcohol syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and many other much more rare syndromes. Their parents view their diagnosis as a personal shame on themselves. They do not want the children, they do not sell them. A very few of them ever visit the child in orphanage. They just want the child gone. If it weren’t for money, EVERY SINGLE one of these children would have a home with a loving family receiving medical care. But at a minimum cost of $25K, it is not doable for many of the families wishing to adopt. If the children remain in the orphanage until the age of 5/6, they are transferred to a mental institution.

    In order to highlight the violation of human rights in many of these orphanages: 9 year old with Down syndrome. She weighs 11 pounds and stopped producing growth hormone at about 2 years old. She wears baby clothes. She could not stand to be touched, was still drinking from a bottle (more like gulping and trying not to aspirate), and bites herself for stimulation. She is now with her American family. After one month, and with the help of feeding tube, she is 14 pounds. She accepts touch, takes small amounts of food by mouth, has finally grown hair. Her bones are brittle like an elderly woman, she is recovering from scurvy. Should she have kept her heritage? What is her heritage other than starvation…for love, for food, for stimulation? You can meet the amazing Katie at: theblessingofverity.com.

    12 year old with Down syndrome. He fits in a baby walker. He also stopped producing growth hormone due to severe neglect. His family is raising money to bring him home. http://atorchforteagan.blogspot.com/ I invite others to put their money where their mouth is and help bring him home.

    There are hundreds of stories just like this. And worse ones. Children dying alone…never being touched or loved. http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=afcudccab&v=001BowwB-ubI_GiU7RaLho3RdVcpcuisr_tf8ye10eGtFhhJFHC9pD-LLLYj1Y6SJcyJ6WtO3dsgnulCt3KlarxgWCeUOSs5KheUs1zO0oQO9RusV51UH5WEw%3D%3D I’m sure this child is now dead. Simple hydrocephalus…in countries with medical care, a simple shunt would have saved his life. Instead, his head became swollen to the point of actually breaking open. UNACCEPTABLE! What is his heritage? Death?

    I am passionate about this but I do understand that there is a problem with baby selling and corruption. That corruption does not change that there are children dying right now of neglect. Human rights neglect. If UNICEF does not want to promote international adoption, then they need to promote (money) education of parents and country, laws to protect the orphans, to better the orphanages, and medical care.

    • Thanks for this, Holly. Obviously, I think you have exactly the right perspective. I’m going to make this the comment of the day, and Thanks also for bringing this issue back to everyone’s attention. It is so important.

  16. I appreciate your reporting on this.

  17. Mel

    UNICEF’s stand on international adoption screams of cultural “cleansing” to me. Leaving a child in their own culture, to preserve their heritage… what heritage? They grow up knowing that no one wanted them, they are left in orphanages and institutions because their parents and their own country didn’t want them. Special needs children are garbage to the people of their own country in most instances. They do not have the medical technology or resources to care for them properly so they are left to languish. Even if a family did want to keep or adopt a special needs child, their culture frowns on it, they are outcasts. Is that really the “heritage” that should be preserved? When a loving adoptive family chooses to bring an orphan into their family it is definitely changing the life of that child. There is corruption everywhere, there is dishonesty, and child trafficking, but in a very large percentage of cases, adoption happens because there are children who need to be loved, accepted, and given the chance to grow into productive adults. Our family adopted a child from Ukraine last year. His birth family abandoned him at the hospital because he has Down syndrome. He is a bright, adorable, and loving little boy who might never fully understand the effects of living his first four and a half years in an orphanage. His basic needs were taken care of, food, shelter, and clothing. Because of his Down syndrome, and because of the limited education on the subject of special needs children that is given to the people who cared for him, he was never taught to speak, read, write, or even to identify colors or numbers or shapes like a typical child of his age would have been. They believe that his special need makes him unteachable, yet, he is toilet trained, can feed himself, dress himself, bathe himself, and clean up after himself, all tasks that made their jobs easier. If he is unteachable, how did he learn these skills? He has been home with us for over a year now, he is a healthy, happy little boy who learns something new everyday. He still isn’t able to speak, but can communicate through sign language, and is sure to get his point across when needed. He knows that we love him, we value him, and we will provide for his needs. We will keep his own culture as a part of his life until he makes the decision that he doesn’t want that. He is a dual citizen and if he ever wants to know more about his birth family, we have the information that can be used to contact them. All of his days in the orphanage, no one, from his family or his country inquired about him. How can people believe that is a good thing?

  18. This is such an interesting topic. How many people just assume UNICEF has good intentions without asking them to be held accountable to incorrect ideologies. There is no doubt to me that they do good things that benefit children. But, they also do things that perpetuate stigma and ethnocentrism. It becomes a convenient ploy to only say that we should divert to the parents of the child’s home country, and allow man made borderlines to determine what is best for the child’s well-being. Death is not best for a child. Period. It saddens me that organizations with such influence, would take such a firm and harmful stance, while other organizations respect the dignity of children and promote LIFE. If that is accessible in their biological country, than that is great, but as someone who has been directly affected by international adoption, it can also be a miracle to watch a family unfold across typical cultural norms. Children need families. They are not meant to be in an orphanage kept away from the opportunity to live in a home of love. While corruption is an issue that I see being fought daily, it should never stop the act of adoption (internationally or locally) from taking place, especially when we are giving the child the consequences of a corrupt system more often than we are holding those who are corrupt accountable.

  19. Cara Rossbach

    Dear Bloggers,
    I have been on many sides of this issue. I have worked in the orphanage in India, where 300 children were cared for by 4-10 people depending on the given day. I have worked in the foster care homes where parents provisionally have 4-10 children under their care, and I in the situation of a family that would like to adopt internationally. All that I say is based on one assumption. . . . . most kids who we term as “orphans” have some family member living. A parent, grandparent, someone. That person has realized that they cannot provide physically, emotionally, or educationally for the child. So they have decided to look for other care options out of some care for the child and also some amount of self preservation. The choice for them to grow up outside of their original environment has already been made. Social pressures would keep kids in the culture who could be raised by their parents. Seeing street children, adopted children, orphanages and foster care, simultaneously over a 3 year intensive period has made me an advocate for adoption, both inside and outside nationality. The orphanage workers have the best intentions. . . . but there is undeniable neglect that surfaces as skin disease, low immune systems, poor nutrition, poor progress in school. . . the list goes on. A child is NEVER better off in an orphanage, even the very best one. I should explain why I believe that. I worked with street children in Bombay simultaneously to working with orphans. Those street kids had better and more caring interaction with adults than the kids in the orphanage. Kids in the foster families did have it a little better. But it was still a temporary situation which meant that the kids seldom felt secure enough to go on with their developmental stage. The foster parents spent way to much time trying to satisfy the oversight committee, time and emotional resources that should have been and would have been spent on these kids if they knew for sure that they were going to be family to these kids for the duration of their lives. I’ve also nannied or babysat several internationally adopted kids. The longer their history in an orphanage, the more there was for the family to overcome. But these parents had a greater commitment to their kids and the child’s welfare than most of the other families I was babysitting for at the time. The over half of the kids I knew personally were interested in their country of origin. I am convinced both by the research I have read and by the years of personal experience that adoption is almost always better than foster care, which is better than orphanage care, and that international adoption will do more good for the country and culture of origin as well as for the child, in most cases when we are talking about the third world. The question I ask to people who advocate orphanages or many foster care environs for children in the third world is: Have you ever lived side by side with these kids for a week? A month? A year? Every child longs to belong. Permanence adds peace and possibilities.

  20. Laura

    Ask my Russian-born children how much their “culture” took care of them. Ask them how much they even know about their culture. I can never buy the argument that children are better off in their culture and country of origin over an adoptive family any day. They were considered “orphans” because their birth mother voluntarily terminated her parental rights, so the children would have the option of being adopted. For those who question what “orphan” really means, it does not mean that birth parents or family do not exist. It means there is noone else to care for them. They were listed for six months, as required, on the Russian adoption registry – nobody wanted them. And their culture cares so little for children in the orphanges, that they do not even deem them worthy of receiving the same education as their non-orphan peers, or of even learning about their own culture. They had no cultural pride, could not wait to get out of their country. We do honor their culture of birth, but it is not something they are even familiar with – we know far more about it than they do!

    So, tell me again how UNICEF’s goals to keep children in their culture versus allowing them to be in a family is worthy. I just don’t buy it. There is far, far more to this issue than is even mentioned in this post…how UNICEF handled children separated from families in Haiti after the earthquake is one. Placing them in tent cities versus allowing them to go to the orpanages that were equipped to care for them…all to prevent adoption, because, after all, if a child goes to an orphanage then they are going to definitely get adopted, right? Not true…the legitimate agencies and orphanges go through a lengthy process before children are even made available for adoption…hence the reason Haitian adoptions were stopped initially after the earthquake! I urge everyone to actually do some research on legitimate adoption before posting…yes, there is corruption, but not in every situation. And ALL adoption should NOT be stopped because of a smaller number of cases of corruption.

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