Comments of the Day: “UNICEF’s Unethical War Against International Adoption”

A Rumanian child in an orpahanage for "incurables," circa. 1990, enjoys his "heritage."

A post that is a year old recently attracted two important comments, thanks to a link to the essay from another website. The topic is international adoption, an issue that I have a special interest in as the parent of an adopted son who was born in Russia. I have seen first hand the conditions described in these posts, and when I wrote the original article, I was unaware of the substantial movement opposing international adoption, a misguided effort with tragic consequences to the children these people supposedly want to protect. I am aware of it now. It is an especially tragic example of what happens  when tunnel vision and ideology causes individuals to lose perspective and objectivity.

I am taking the unusual step of pairing two comments as the Comment of the Day.  They arrived together, and compliment each other well. You might want to read the original post, “UNICEF’s Unethical War Against International Adoption.”

Here are the Comments of the Day, by Mel and Holly F.

From 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. [The countries] 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 every day. 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?”

From 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 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 ages of 5 or 6, they are transferred to mental institutions.

In order to highlight the violation of human rights in many of these orphanages, consider these examples:

  • A 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 here.

  • A 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. You can learn more here. 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.  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.

9 thoughts on “Comments of the Day: “UNICEF’s Unethical War Against International Adoption”

  1. Thank you! I didn’t even realize that the original was over a year old. I have shared on my social sites and RR has a huge following so I’m sure you will be seeing even more traffic as the story makes the rounds to the adoption families.

    The link for Katie isn’t working. I hope you allow me to share it again. She is a success story in a world of so few success stories. I see her story touching people in a way that hasn’t happened recently. Verity means truth…which is often what we turn our faces away from when it is presented in photos like the one above. People cannot stand to look at videos of orphanages, mental institutions, and neglected children….the truth is too harsh. But once our eyes have been opened, there is no excuse.

    Best wishes to you and your family, especially your son, who was welcomed to LIFE when you adopted him!

    • Thank you Holly for sharing. We too were recently woken up to the atrocities that are occuring through Katie’s story. We will continue to support other families working to adopt from this same orphanage where many children are very malnurished. We have a 31 month old child with Down Syndrome who is absolutely amazing. She has enriched our lives more than we will ever hers. We are blessed to be her parents. My parents were living in Russia when my daughter was born and the response of their Russian colleagues who are good people were where we were sending her. It is their culture to send these children away as if they don’t exist. Educating them is what will lead to the eventual acceptance of children with disabilities. We must remember that the same things occurred here not too far in our past. Diversity will make us stronger and people with disabilities really have the ability to change our lives.

      • Hi Heather! My youngest child (age 3) has Down syndrome also. While I hope to adopt one day, my husband is not yet on board.

        The problem I’m seeing with supporters and opponents is that some are talking about human trafficking while others are talking about legitimate orphans. There is also an obvious divide between typical functioning children and those with children with special needs. As you mentioned, children with diagnoses such as Down syndrome are not kept by their parents due to lack of eduction and a social stigma. To correct that problem would decrease the amount of children with special needs (the ones most likely given up) in orphanages. Unfortunately, at this time, those are the children that need their human rights protected the most. An orphanage may provide the necessities to children without special needs but generally, if a human is thought to be worthless, the horrible treatment will follow.

        I have no evidence to back it up, but I would assume that human trafficking happens more often in the cases of children WITHOUT special needs. When a family chooses a child with special needs, it is likely they have a child already with the same diagnosis or at least have experience with children with special needs. It is too much work to adopt a child with special needs to adopt for anything reason other than love. So I’m sure there is much less corruption. UNICEF would do well to note the difference between orphans with and without special needs….it can be a matter of life and death. And if life is the main goal, does heritage really matter? Which is not to say that I would not, upon adopting a Russian or Chinese child, teach them of their country of origin, but the main goal would be physical, psychological, and affectionate care.

  2. I am exporting this comment from today on the original post that comes from 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.

    “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.”

  3. I think these policies, like policies on adoption in this country, are all based on the interests of someone other than the children. In this case, it is the pressure groups who equate international adoption with imperialism and the self-righteous who feel they have the right to tell poor parents how they should take care of their children. In the US, it is the interests of the birth mother and those who feel that the birth mother is always the best person to raise a child. Despite the fact that they often speak for or about the best interests of children, they don’t really care about the actual fate of the children. They only care about an ideology, what happens to actual people is not their concern.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.