Monthly Archives: July 2013

CHIFF: Not all Chafe

CHIFFSen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is the chief advocate of a bill known as “Children in Families First,” or CHIFF for short. CHIFF calls for redirecting a $60 million portion of the $2 billion the US is spending on vulnerable children internationally towards exactly what I have been advocating on this blog: establishing a central body dedicated to building capacity and consensus around international adoption. The focus, according to the CHIFF website, would be on establishing a functional international adoption system that protects vulnerable children from abuses they face within the now-broken system.

The downside to CHIFF is that it places this body within the Department of State. I firmly believe such a central organization should be outside of the confines of government. Already, CHIFF has vocal dissenters within the House who believe establishing more bureaucracy to an already-slow system is not the answer.

A compromise between democrats and republicans who are concerned about balancing budget woes against distant, unseen children should not be the wellspring of progress in international adoption. Progress should spring from a group firmly grounded in the consensus that every child deserves a family because it is their human right.

The ideal solution would be a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization with both a think tank side and an active watchdog side that establishes standards for international adoption programs and reports on specific adoption agencies within countries who are or are not adhering to these standards. Not only could such an agency get grants like a portion of the $2 billion CHIFF wants to redirect, but it could get grants from other countries’ governments and wealthy individuals as well.

Landrieau’s bill is a solid start. It’s the most progress we’ve made in this direction to date. I fear that if it fails, momentum towards solving the orphan crisis will sputter. But if it’s a success – it could make a meaningful impact. For that reason, I support the bill, and I think you should too.

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Sex Selection Bans and Orphanhood

When a woman aborts based on the sex of the fetus, it is called a “sex selective abortion.” While the phenomenon exists in the United States, it is notable for its prevalence in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe where there is a preference for sons. In those regions, sex selective abortion has dropped the ratio of girl babies to boy babies from the usual rate of 100:95 (for every 100 boy babies, 95 girl babies are born) to as low as 100:86.

Governments aren’t ignoring the issue. The Indian and Chinese governments have enacted bans on prenatal sex testing.

But here’s what’s fascinating about sex selective abortion and the related bans. Sex selective abortion took hold as access to sex-identifying technologies (think ultrasound) increased. Without these technologies, women carried babies to term whether it was male or female, and then we ran into problems associated with “unwanted girls”… high rates of abandonment, contributing to today’s orphan crisis, and infanticide.

Traditionally, India and China have topped the list of the worst rates of female infanticide and abandoned girls. In the early 2000s, most of China’s orphanages were filled with girls.[1] Today, the sex ratio seems to be evening out, with equal numbers of girls and boys entering orphanages.[2] I wonder what the numbers look like in India.

Studies show that greater access to abortion means less infanticide.[3] This must hold true for orphanhood as well – if an “unwanted girl” isn’t born, she can’t be condemned to an orphanage.

There’s no doubt that where selective sex abortion allows sex inequality to thrive we need to do something to eliminate it. It remains to be seen whether bans on prenatal sex testing are a good first step. But in the mean time, it’s worth exploring the link between selective sex abortion and the orphan crisis.

Special thanks to Prof. Sital Kalantry, Clinical Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School for presenting her approach on how to evaluate the laws banning sex selection in the US and India using a contextual feminist framework.

[1] “The mystery of China’s orphans” by Beth Nonte Russell, 2/1/2007, at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/01/opinion/01iht-edrussell.html?_r=0

[2] “The Changing Face of China’s Orphans” by Amy Eldridge, 1/14/2013, at http://www.lwbcommunity.org/the-changing-face-of-chinas-orphans

[3] “Does Abortion Cause Infanticide?” by Jay Livingston, PhD, 5/19/2013, at http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2013/05/19/does-abortion-cause-infanticide/

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A Bit of Progress

WARDELL-popupSaturday's NYT article “Forget their Dad; Just Listen to Them” was a refreshing take on adopted families – because it wasn't a take on adopted families at all. Pictured were Theo and Sasha Spielberg, featured in a piece about their band, Wardell. The author described the duo as “the children of Steven Spielberg, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker and producer, and his wife, the actress Kate Capshaw.”

After hitting us over the head with the obvious description of Spielberg, I fully expected them to kick a dead horse with the fact that Theo is adopted. But that fact was refreshingly absent.

One might think that the piece had nothing to do with their heritage, and everything to do with their band, so why mention the adoption at all? The unfortunate answer is that society cares whether a child is an adoptikid or a biokid.

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This article about Sandra Bullock dressing up for Halloween with her son does not fail to mention, 3 paragraphs in, that Louis was adopted. This article about Charlize Theron mentions that “she ran errands with her adopted little boy in Los Angeles.” And here's article is just plainly titled, “Katherine Heigl's Day Out With Adopted Daughter Naleigh.”

If every time someone introduced or talked about you, they also mentioned some benign characteristic, you'd be self-conscious about it. You would feel set apart because of it. When the media portrays families as different because they are [fill-in-the-blank], it contributes to the a myth that that trait somehow has a stigma about

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it. We don't say “Ellen's same-sex wife, Portia,” or “Elton John's gay husband David.” If you think marriage is different than reproduction, well we also don't say “Mariah Carey's in vitro fertilized twins.”

Let's work on celebrating and accepting the way individuals choose to form families by saying “daughter” instead of “adopted daughter.”

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Adoptionomics

Megan Twohey's exposé on rehoming adopted children exposes the negligent practices of adoptive parents who list their children on online forums in the hopes that another family will take the children in. The story repeatedly emphasizes that there is no state or private entity policing these online boards. Accordingly, adoption advocates have called out for more regulation. One advocate, Bill Blacquiere of Bethany Children Services, told the media he “believes there is a need for legislation” in this area.[1] Before agreeing with this knee-jerk reaction, we need to take a step back and examine what caused this problem in the first place.

These “black markets” in rehoming are the consequence of a stringent, nontransparent, and expensive adoption process. And these inefficiencies are the result of overregulation on the front end of adoption – effectively requiring adoptive parents to get a license to parent, a requirement we would never dream of imposing on bioparents. Elementary economics will tell you overregulation will lead to black markets, and that is exactly what has happened here. Rehoming is a quick – sometimes the same day – and free way to become a parent.

The message here? People who want to become parents, whether it is biologically, assisted by technology, or through adoption, do not want to go through a licensing procedure, wait 3 years, and spend $30,000 to do it. So they will create and turn to dangerous, unpoliced forums like rehoming boards, to accomplish parenthood. The more barriers we put in their way, the more creative they will become in getting around them, and the more dangerous it becomes for the children involved.

So when Mr. Blacquiere boasts that his agency is ahead of the regulation game by requiring 30 hours of training (20 more than is required by the Hague Convention), he is only feeding into the broken system. If he meant these boards need to be policed and regulated, then he is just helping generate an even more hidden system that will end up with even more devastating consequences for children than the current one. However, if he means there needs to be more deterrence in the form of penalizing parents who do not used a licensed intermediary to place children, then he has a point.

Back to economics. We have to ask ourselves who stands to gain from the changes people are calling for. If your agency is paid for a certain number of hours of training, wouldn't you advocate to require three times the amount too?

 


[1] http://www.onenewsnow.com/culture/2013/09/13/adoption-service-suggests-tougher-rules-for-internet-social-media#.UjuiqmQ4Xnw

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Abusive parents exist everywhere

Often when I talk to folks who say they've considered adoption, they tell me they thought about it, but then they heard some horror story that stemmed from adoption. I always wonder when I hear these horror stories how fair we are being in attributing the horror to the adoption, and not to the parents themselves. I've heard a lot of parent-child horror stories in my life, and it seems to me that the parents are always to blame, and the children are never to blame.

Consider the recent convictions of Carri and Larry Williams.[1] They abused their son and daughter, beating them, starving the daughter, and forcing her to use an outhouse. Eventually the daughter died of hypothermia after being locked outside through the night, in 40 degree weather.

Next, consider the case of Filiberto Garcia and Tracy Roach who are charged with killing their 13-month old by starving her to death.[2] Or the case of Carlos Rivera and Carmen Ramirez, who starved their 3 year old, who died weighing 11 pounds.[3] Or Jamie Beck and boyfriend Michael Naples who are charged with the death of Beck's 17-month-old who died of blunt force trauma to the head.[4]

Parents who abuse children… abuse children. They do not discriminate between internationally adopted children and biological children.

I'd also like to point out here that the reason we screen adoptive parents is to prevent the kinds of abuses endured by Hana Williams, Carri and Larry's daughter. But screening didn't help in this instance. And clearly parents like Garcia, Rivera and Beck need to be screened as well, but we put them in another more trustworthy category of biological parents. A badge they clearly don’t deserve.

The screening system is broken. Actually, to say that means it actually ever worked. We have a justice system for parents who abuse their children, let's use it! Trying to prevent crime by parents is a noble effort, but let's do it for all parents, not discriminatorily for adoptive parents only.


[1] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-09-09/news/sns-rt-us-usa-adoption-homicide-20130909_1_homicide-charge-adoptive-parenting-book

[2] http://www.wistv.com/story/23425194/pair-charged-after-infant-daughter-dies-from-malnutrition-dehydration

[3] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57602314-504083/pa-parents-charged-with-starvation-murder-of-3-year-old-daughter-who-weighed-11-pounds/

[4] http://woodstock.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/mother-former-boyfriend-arrested-in-woodstock-babys-death

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The Myth of the Genetic Tie

In the context of having children, there is a romanticized concept called the “genetic tie.”[1] When my parents considered adoption, my dad dismissed the idea because he felt he could never love an adopted child as much as his biokids. There is a scary brainwash element to this notion – that the “genetic tie” is the reason parents love their biokids, or the reason biosiblings love each other. Because we have given the “genetic tie” a seat at the head of the table, right next to “love,” reproduction has been valorized as the primary, normal condition and foundation for parenting, relegating adoptive parenting to second place.[2]

The “genetic tie” is a myth. In reality, you and I share 99% of our genes, guaranteed. But you and I are not tied – at least, not in the way I am tied to my family. I may share more genes with my parents or brothers, but the miniscule difference doesn’t account for why I am “tied” to them. I am tied to them by our shared experiences – shared parents, a shared home, and many happy (and not so happy) shared memories.

From a purely biological and scientific perspective, the genetic contributions from a particular inseminated egg do not actually contribute much to individual distinctiveness beyond species specificity.[3] From a sociological perspective, most people are more attached to their grandchildren than their nieces and nephews, who share the same “percentage” of inherited genetic material.[4] And on an individual level, it is incontrovertible that parents love their adoptikids “with all the necessity and wholeheartedness of biological kin” – to question this is to misunderstand what it means to be a parent.[5]

Despite these facts, I suspect people like my dad presume that biokids will be “easier,” by virtue of being more recognizable. Charlotte Witt points out that family resemblances are part of a family’s mythology, serving multiple purposes of bonding family members, explaining behavior, and assigning blame; “a family resemblance is not simply a matter of having blue eyes, but having blue eyes like Aunty Ginny; not simply being moody, but being moody like Mom.”[6] But the heritability of characteristics isn’t just genetic – another “vehicle for transmission could be parents teaching their children to have a certain characteristic, like moodiness, thriftiness or a wacky sense of humor.”[7] Resemblance isn’t all nature; in fact, most of it is nurture.

The reality is that shared genes won’t guarantee ease in parenting. Take my family – two parents, two sons, and a daughter. My parents, neither of whom have addictive personalities, went through years of distress as one of my brothers struggled with addiction. Both my parents have masters degrees, so it wasn’t easy for them to get on board with either of my brothers’ decisions not to graduate from college. None of us are funny like my middle brother, and while three of us are extroverts (my parents and middle brother), my oldest brother and I are introverts. Do we resemble each other? To be honest – not really. But are we a family? Yes.

Families like mine, in the sense of how varied we are, exist everywhere, whether they are composed of biokids, adoptikids, or both. We just happen to share a fraction of a percentage of genetic material more than we do with non-family members. But that didn’t give us any advantage in respect to “ease” of being a family – understanding, supporting, and loving one another. To move forward as a society, we have to abolish the myth that the “genetic tie” has anything to do with what really makes a family a family.

 


[1] For an in-depth exploration of the genetic tie in the context of how it marginalizes the institution of adoption, see “Methods of Adoption: Eliminating Genetic Privilege,” by Jacqueline Stevens, in Adoption Matters, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt (Cornell University 2005)

[2] “A Child of One’s Own: A Moral Assessment of Property Concepts in Adoption,” by Janet Farrell Smith, in Adoption Matters, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt (Cornell University 2005)

[3]

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“Methods of Adoption: Eliminating Genetic Privilege,” by Jacqueline Stevens, in Adoption Matters, edited by Sally

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Haslanger and Charlotte Witt (Cornell University 2005)

[4] “The Moral Psychology of Adoption and Family Ties” in The Morality of Adoption: Social-Psychological, Theological, and Legal Perspectives (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2005)

[5] “Accidents and Contingencies of Love,” by Songsuk Hahn, in Adoption Matters, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt (Cornell University 2005)

[6] Charlotte Witt, “Family Resemblances,” in Adoption Matters, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt (Cornell University 2005)

[7]

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Charlotte Witt, “Family Resemblances,” in Adoption Matters, edited by Sally Haslanger and Charlotte Witt (Cornell University 2005)

 

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International Adoption: FAQs

From Megan Twohey’s exposé on re-homing adopted children, some helpful FAQs about international adoption. (Economics tells us that an overregulated market will drive people to unpoliced and dangerous fringe markets[1]. Megan’s exposé shows how international adoption is not immune from this principle. Megan exposes the fringe markets that allow parents pay far less than they would in the regulated system to adopt a child, and their devastating consequences.)

How does an American family adopt a child from abroad?

• Ninety countries belong to the Hague Adoption Convention, a set of safeguards for international adoptions. As a member, the United States requires parents to take 10 hours of training before adopting from another member country, such as China. (There’s no requirement when adopting from a non-Hague country, such as Ethiopia.) When Americans adopt children from U.S. state foster-care systems, more training is required: typically 30 hours.

• In about half the cases, involving kids from Hague countries, the adopting parents go through a federally accredited U.S. adoption agency that works with authorities in the foreign country. In the other half, involving non-Hague countries, families might go through an American adoption agency or work directly with facilitators in the child’s home country.

• Some international adoptions are approved in a foreign court; others in a local U.S. court. In foreign-court adoptions, no authority checks on the child in the new home. In U.S.-court cases, the family may face monitoring by a social worker for around six months.

• Some countries require periodic reports on the child’s well-being in their new homeland. Violators face little risk. A foreign country can cut off the agency involved, but has no recourse against the adoptive parents. An agency can sue a family for breach of contract. But that rarely happens.

What help is available for a family struggling with a troubled foreign adoptee?

• Not much. Some agencies provide post-adoption support to families, but they aren’t required to, and many don’t.

• Many U.S. states provide help to families who adopt troubled children from the state’s own foster system, such as counseling or temporary placement outside the home (“respite”). But this support usually isn’t available with internationally adopted kids.

• Private alternatives, such as residential treatment centers, are available, but they can cost thousands of dollars a month.

What if a family wants to send its adopted child back to the agency?

• If the child is from a Hague country, and the adoption is still pending approval in a U.S. court, federal law requires the agency to maintain legal custody of the child until it finds another family.

• If the adoption is final, the agency has no responsibility to help. Most don’t help parents offer a child for re-adoption.

• Parents can try to relinquish a child to a state’s child-welfare system. But this is difficult. In many states, these parents must be investigated for abuse and neglect. If the state takes the child, often parents must pay for the child’s care until he or she is re-adopted.

How can a family find a new home for their adopted child?

• A few U.S. adoption agencies assist with “re-homing.” They will help find a new family for the child, but don’t take legal custody or monitor the transfer. This is a gray zone: The agencies say they are simply facilitating private direct adoptions between two families and their lawyers.

• There are Internet forums, such as Yahoo groups and Facebook pages, that facilitate re-homing. This is a gray zone, too, and it is the focus of this series. Families place informal ads for children needing new homes; adults advertise a desire to take in a child. This activity may violate state laws that

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prohibit anyone except licensed child-placing agencies from facilitating an adoption or advertising a child’s availability. After connecting online, families can move forward with a re-adoption or a transfer of guardianship.

What kinds of re-homing are possible?

• The families can seek a formal re-adoption. This requires court approval – and affords the most protection for the child. The original adoptive family must

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terminate parental rights. The new family submits to a criminal background check and additional vetting by a social worker.

• The families can try to transfer guardianship in court. The original adoptive parents don’t terminate parental rights. The new guardians may have to undergo a background check.

• The families decide to transfer custody of the child in a less formal way, with no court involvement. The original adoptive family signs a piece of paper granting the new family power of attorney over the child for a period of time. Once notarized, this document allows the new family to enroll the child in school and secure government benefits for the child. In many cases, this is a gray zone: The transfer takes place out of the view of the child-welfare and court systems. The document isn’t officially recorded anywhere. This is a preferred method for families seeking a temporary, out-of-home placement for the child – often called “respite.” In other cases, it is used to transfer custody of a child for years at a time.

Are there laws against informal custody transfers?

• There’s a partial safeguard, and it’s weakly enforced. When a child is transferred across state lines for re-adoption or new guardianship, the families must secure the approval of authorities in both the sending and receiving state. Failure to do so violates the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children – a legal agreement among the U.S. states. If authorities learn of an illegal transfer, they can remove the child from the new home. They also can take legal action against the adults involved, but this rarely happens.

What is the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, and how does it apply to custody transfers?

• The compact, often called the ICPC, is an agreement adopted as law by all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Generally, the ICPC requires that authorities in both states be notified when custody of a child is transferred from one state to another. If authorities aren’t informed, the adults involved in the transfer have violated state law in both states. The catch: How – or even whether – authorities enforce the law differs by state. In some states, violations are considered crimes, typically misdemeanors. But other states aren’t explicit about how violators of the ICPC should be punished.

 

[1] For an application of this basic economic principle to adoption, see “The Regulation of the Market in Adoptions,” by Richard Posner, 67 B.U.L. Rev. 59 (1987)

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STUCK

Stuck is a documentary about the international adoption crisis. It profiles four children stuck in a broken system — stranded in orphanages abroad — even though four American families had been matched with these children to adopt them. Not only does the film point out the need to reform a system that already exists, I think it is the perfect example of why we need to change the way we think about how we become parents. The film “offers an unflinching look at the reality for other children, who in this broken system are left behind.”

We need to adopt a more thoughtful approach; we must begin to really consider the responsibility inherent in making reproductive decisions. We must consider the fact that as bioparents, when we have a child, we are making a choice not to adopt one. Each person who could have adopted instead of bioparenting must accept that he may have abandoned a child to an orphanage, the streets, child labor, or sex trafficking. You don't have to decide whether you agree or disagree with me; only consider what I have said, and watch with an open mind: STUCK.

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The Plight of Orphans and Vulnerable Children

In 2001, when the number of orphans (counting both single and double orphans) was 34 million, forecasts put the number at 62 million in 2010.[1] The number today is actually closer to 145 million.[2] Disease, violence, natural disasters, and economic strife have led to these distressing numbers that don’t even include children who have living parents but are forced to live on their own, in orphanages or worse, on the streets.

While there are parentless children in every country, orphans are concentrated in countries plagued by natural disasters, HIV/AIDS, exploitation, famine, and civil conflict.[3] Natural disasters destroy infrastructure, create heightened risk of waterborne diseases, “eliminate sources of food and income … and may result in disability or death of family members.”[4] Before Haiti’s earthquake, there were about 380,000 orphans, while today’s estimates range from tens of thousands to one million.[5]

HIV/AIDS is another major cause of orphanhood. By continent, Asia is home to the greatest number of orphans, while Africa has the most orphans per capita, due to HIV/AIDS.[6] In sub-Saharan Africa, 25% of all orphans have lost parents to AIDS.[7] By 2005, 40% of deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa were in the parental age range of 20-39 years, up from just 10% in 1990.[8]

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In Thailand and Tanzania, 30% of orphans lost parents to AIDS, even though the adult prevalence is less than 2% and 5.6%, respectively.[9]

Once orphaned or abandoned, children fare poorly. Some hold jobs; but far from promising welfare, many employers take advantage of orphans’ vulnerability. The International Labour Organization issued a report in 2004 that cited 218 million working children between 5-17 worldwide.[10] At least 126 million of these children are in hazardous and exploitative full-time jobs,[11] and 5.7 million of them are in forced or bonded labor.[12] About 1.2 million of these children are sold into their slavery positions.[13] Many are orphans, as orphanages are too crowded to accommodate the large numbers of children who are sent their way.[14]

In 2002, an Ethiopian study found that 75% of child domestic laborers in Addis Ababa were orphans, and that 80% of the laborers were considered slaves, working more than 11 hours per day, 7 days a week.[15] In 2000, 38% of children working full time in Tanzanian mines, under life-threatening conditions, were orphans.[16] These children “clearly linked the situation of having nobody to take care of them with their involvement in child labour [sic].”[17] As one orphan reported, “After my parents had died there was nobody to take care of me. I stopped going to school for some time, it was only later that my uncle came to collect me and brought me here [to work in the mines], but I was told that I have to work to support myself because he also has a family that he has to take care of.”[18]

Famine/drought and conflict are enormous contributors to crushing child vulnerability, and its likely that these tragedies disproportionately affect orphans.[19] In African and South Asian regions suffering from chronic food shortages, over half of children’s growth is stunted.[20] Famine impairs thinking, the ability to respond to environmental stimuli.[21] Somali famine led to an increase in the number of orphans. Violent religious clashes in Sudan and wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina[22] and Croatia[23] had the same result. Child refugees are among the most vulnerable populations in the world.[24] As of 2006, there were an estimated 9 million.[25] Worse, war doesn’t just “leave many children orphans, it also often turns orphaned children into soldiers.”[26]

Children who are not enslaved or living in the meager shelter most orphanages provide languish on the streets, where they are at daily risk of malnutrition, disease, physical abuse, sexual abuse including prostitution and pornography, drug abuse, HIV infection, recruitment into criminal activity, and often murder.[27] A 2002 Zambia study found the average age of prostitutes to be 15.[28] Almost half of the child prostitutes – who were having sex with an average of 3-4 people per day – were double orphans.[29] In Guatemala, 93% of street children have STDs, and 90% use drugs.[30]

Orphans also die in the name of social cleansing, a eugenic ideology holding that certain populations – usually a specific ethnic, racial or religious group as in the case of the Holocaust or Rwandan genocide[31] – taint society and must be eliminated. Some countries apply the “notion of social cleansing … to street children even when they are not distinguished as members of a particular racial, ethnic or religious group.”[32] In 1994, over 2,000 homeless children were murdered in the streets of Colombia.[33] Street children in Honduras are “often tortured and killed by Honduran police officers.”[34] Brazilian security officers kill 1,000[35] out of 7 million[36] street children a year. Short of murder, abuse of street children has been reported in India, Kenya, Egypt, Guatemala, Albania and Sudan.[37]

Those who do end up in orphanages do not fare much better; observers refer to the conditions in orphanages around the world as tantamount to infanticide. In China, for example, baby girls languish in state-run orphanages, many eventually starving to death.[38] They do not cry, “because they have learned that no one will respond and care for them.”[39] Babies in Chinese orphanages die at a far higher rate than any other country.[40] Many are deliberately killed, reported in one study as “an apparently systematic program of child elimination in which senior medical staff played a central role.”[41]

In other countries, children are in slightly better care, but still end up “seriously backward in terms of motor skills, such as holding their head up or grasping a toy, as well as emotionally deprived, even frightened or traumatized … [either] desperate for human contact [or] clearly distraught by it.”[42] They “lie in cribs soiled and vanquished [as infants]. As toddlers, they stand among railings, rocking side to side, cruising unsteadily along the railings of their large pens in soundless rooms. The smell of unchanged clothes saturated with stool and urine pervade the room.”[43] Eventually, urine soaked rags instead of diapers lead to bleeding sores.[44] Children “spend aimless hours in [dirt yards] of their fenced institution, or roaming the peeling corridors of a dormitory that reeks of sewage and mold.”[45]

The healthcare available to children in orphanage systems has been described as “what would be considered malpractice in the United States.”[46] Like “animals,” children at many orphanages “are covered with flies.”[47] The poor sanitation, hygiene and pollution exposes institutionalized orphans to the highly contagious hepatitis B virus,[48] along with scabies, pneumonia, jaundice, rickets, and salmonella.[49] Millions are at risk of developing ailments like “asthma, central nervous system pathologies, developmental delays, failure to thrive, anemia, rickets, fetal alcohol syndrome, malnutrition, parasites, exposure to syphilis, and tuberculosis, infectious diseases, [] motor problems,”[50] or cataracts.[51]

These conditions are “essentially the state of millions of children all over the world living in orphanages.”[52] Fifty years of research into these institutions show the same thing over and over: “institutions systematically abuse children. Children die at high rates in poor institutions, and even the best institutions destroy children’s life prospects by damaging their intellectual and emotional potential.”[53] Children lose one month of growth and development for every three months spent in these institutions.[54]

No matter what their situation, children, many of them orphans, are dying all over the world, most “for the lack of the means of subsistence” and disease.[55] The major killers of children under 5 are undernutrition, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria. A 1989 report stated that an orphan had only a 50% chance of surviving beyond one year.[56]

The UN estimates that 7.5 million children under 5 die every year in the developing world, but doesn’t report specifically on how many are orphans.[57] Orphans have higher mortality risks than non-orphans, but there are few studies on orphan mortality.[58] A reasonably conservative estimate of the number of orphans under 5 that die annually might be 4 million, given

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that 7.5 million children under 5 are dying annually, there are 145 million orphans today and orphans are at greater risk of death than non-orphans.[59] Whatever the number, these statistics on mortality don’t include the millions of parentless children who are “merely” suffering from famine, exploitation, civil conflict or disease, or those who will die before turning 18.


[1] UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) A Joint Report on Orphan Estimates and Program Strategies (2002).

[2] Olsen, supra at 516.

[3] Liu, supra at 211.

[4] USAID, Highly Vulnerable Children: Causes, Consequences and Actions, 7 (2007).

[5] Haiti’s Children and the Adoption Question, New York Times (2007).

[6] Olsen, supra at 504.

[7] Kate O’Keeffe, The Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000: The United States’ Ratification of the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, and its Meager Effect on International Adoption, 40 Vand. J. Transnat’l L. 1611, 1633-1634 (2007).

[8] UNAIDS, 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic Executive Summary 23 (2006), available at www.unaids.org/en/HIV_data/2006GlobalReport/default.asp.

[9] Making the Right Choices in the Asia-Pacific Region: Protecting Children and Young People from HIV and Its Impacts at 183; Wardle, supra at 331; http://www.avert.org/africa-hiv-aids-statistics.ht

[10] Most of those positions were held by boys. Wardle, supra at 327.

[11] Id.

[12] USAID, supra at 7 .

[13] Wardle, supra at 327.

[14] O’Keeffe, supra

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at 1635; personal observation in Kenya and Fiji.

[15] UNICEF, Africa’s Orphaned Generations, 30 (2003).

[16] J.A. Mwami, A.J. Sanga & J. Nyoni, Investigating the Worst Forms of Child Labour No. 15 (2002).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Subbarao, Kalanidhi, The Response of the Educational System to the Needs

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of Orphans and Children Affected by HIV/AIDS, 75; The World Bank, Reaching Out to Africa’s Orphans: A Framework for Public Action, 2 (2005).

[20] Joel Cohen, 7 Billion, New York Times, A19 (2011).

[21] Kalanidhi, supra.

[22] Stacie Strong, Children’s Rights in Intercountry Adoption: Towards a New Goal, 13 B.U. Int’l L.J. 163, 170 (1995).

[23] Liu, supra at 188.

[24] USAID, supra.

[25] Id.

[26] Wardle, supra at 330.

[27] Kalanidhi, supra at 7; Wardle, supra at 327; O’Keeffe, supra at 1635.

[28] UNICEF, supra at 30.

[29] Id.

[30] Wardle, supra at 327.

[31] See generally T. Markus Funk, Victims’ Rights and Advocacy at the International Criminal Court (2010).

[32] Wardle, supra at 326.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Dan Berger, Improving the Safety and Efficiency of Foreign Adoptions: U.S. Domestic Adoption Programs and Adoption Programs in Other Countries Provide Lessons for INS Reform, 5 Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 33, 37 (1995).

[36] Liu, supra at 187.

[37] Wardle, supra at 326.

[38] Michelle Van Leeuwen, The Politics of Adoptions Across Borders: Whose Interests Are Served? (A Look at the Emerging Market of Infants from China), 8 Pac. Rim L. & Pol’y J. 189, 195 (1999).

[39] Howard E. Bogard, Who Are the Orphans? Defining Orphan Status and the Need for an International Convention on Intercountry Adoption, 5 Emory Int’l L. Rev. 571 (1991).

[40] Rebecca Worthington, The Road to Parentless Children is Paved With Good Intentions: How The Hague Convention and Recent Intercountry Adoption Rules Are Affecting Potential Parents and The Best Interests of Children, 19 Duke J. Comp. & Int’l L. 559, 574 (2009).

[41] Id.

[42] Intercountry Adoption Process, 6 (1991).

[43] Betrayal of Body and Soul: A Tribute to Ben, by Aronson, Jane, in New York Times (‘Nov 28 2007)

[44] Bogard, supra at 571.

[45] Id.

[46] Donovan Steltzner, Intercountry Adoption: Toward a Regime that Recognizes the Best Interests of Adoptive Parents, 35 Case W. Res. J. Int’l L. 113, 129 (2005).

[47] Liu, supra at 187-188.

[48] Jorge Carro, Regulation of Intercountry Adoption: Can the

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Abuses Come to an End?, 18 Hastings Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 121, 137 (2005).

[49] The Intercountry Adoption Process, supra.

[50] Steltzner, supra at 128-129.

[51] The Intercountry Adoption Process, supra.

[52] Jane Aronson, Betrayal of Body and Soul: A Tribute to Ben, New York Times (2007).

[53] Haiti’s Children and the Adoption Question, New York Times (2007).

[54] Melissa Faye Greene, The Orphan Ranger, The New Yorker 41 (2000); but doctors “are often delighted by how quickly adopted children catch up.”

[55] Henry Shue, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy (2nd ed. 1996).

[56] Worthington, supra at 574.

[57] Danzhen You, Gareth Jones and Tessa Wardlaw, Levels & Trends in Child Mortality: Report 2011 16 (2011), available at www.UN.org (last accessed Dec. 6 2011).

[58] Mika Ueyama, IFPRI Discussion Paper 00710, Mortality, Mobility, and Schooling Outcomes Among Orphans: Evidence from Malawi 2 (2007), available at www.ifpri.org (last accessed Dec. 6 2011).

[59] Most children who contract HIV in utero, during delivery or through breast milk die before turning 5, so this must also make up a large percentage of Sub-Saharan under-5 deaths.

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Overregulation of International Adoption is Hurting, not Helping

My last post was about how Russia followed its ban on Adoption of Russian children by Americans with a ban on adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples and by single people living in countries that allow marriage equality.

Russia is fooling itself if it thinks its protecting children by heavily regulating adoption. Reports are now coming out of two countries that have overly stiffened adoption regulations: Guatemala and South Korea. Like these countries, Russia will soon find that it is creating more of the problem it intends to solve – parentless children.

Last year South Korea passed an adoption reform that requires mothers to register the birth of their baby and spend a minimum of one week with the infant before putting it up for adoption. In 2012, before the law was passed, 62 infants were abandoned. That number has rocketed to 152 abandoned during the same period this year.

Although the Hague Convention puts a preference on domestic adoption over international adoption, trying to encourage this effect with draconian laws and international adoption quotas won't work. South Korea is a prime example, where “Confucian values make many families reluctant to raise a child from outside their bloodlines,” and “where it remains taboo for women to birth or raise children out of wedlock.”[1]

 

Street children in Guatemala City. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Street children in Guatemala City. Photograph: Graeme Robertson

Guatemala shut down international adoptions completely in 2008 amid reports of stealing children from mothers, child trafficking and financial abuses within the system. Five years later, the same abuses are taking place, only now on a truly black market, since there is not even the façade of international adoption. One study reports that 93% of Guatemalan OVC living on the street have sexually transmitted diseases, and 90% are drug users.[2] Meanwhile hundreds of orphans mid-adoption languished in orphanages for 5 years before the countries finally agreed to approve the adoptions.

Guatemala and South Korea are prime examples of countries that need to reopen their adoption systems and take part in an international oversight system that would provide transparency to the movement of children.

Two things can actually change the numbers of parentless children who are abandoned and too often doomed to such fates as neglect, child pornography, drugs, or death. The first is fostering economic development in sending countries and by internal change that makes single or young parenthood less stigmatized and more supported. In 1967 Ireland, 93% of children from unwed parents were placed for adoption. Today, that number is less than 1%.[3] But Ireland's change took more than 50 years to come to fruition.

The second option is a viable, realistic solution: international adoption. “Intercountry adoption provides a short term solution by presenting these children with a chance to thrive in a 'real' family setting.”[4]

Over-regulation in international adoption does nothing but perpetuate the orphan crisis, and shutting international down completely is the worst thing we can do for OVC. Russia will soon find itself in the same bind as Guatemala and South Korea. The best thing these countries can do is to open adoption to foreign countries, and get on board with an international oversight organization to minimize corruption.

 


[1] “Change in Korean Adoption Law Followed by More Abandoned Babies,” by Steven Boroweic, available at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303442004579121030310275014.html

[2] “Parentlessness: Adoption Problems Paradigms Policies and Parameters,” by Lynn Wardle, at p. 7. Available at http://www.law2.byu.edu/page/categories/marriage_family/past_conferences/oct2004/lynn%20wardle.pdf

[3] ” Adoption patterns have changed a lot in recent decades, forum hears,” by Carl O'Brien, available at http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/adoption-patterns-have-changed-a-lot-in-recent-decades-forum-hears-1.1544310

[4] “A Modest Proposal? The Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption,” by Lisa M. Katz

 

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