Educate, Don't Regulate.

Yesterday's article, “Want to adopt from Syria? Adoption agencies urge people to 'slow down'” is a great read if you're wondering about possibly adopting from war-torn Syria to help children who have lost their families. There are many causes of orphanhood, including the devastations of natural disaster and war. In 2010 the earthquake in Haiti orphaned tens of thousands of children.1 Today the civil war in Syria has affected over 5 million children. Millions have had to leave school or flee to other countries, and more than 10,000 children have died as a direct result of the conflict.

NOUR KELZE / Reuters. A Syrian refugee child stands outside a tent in the southeastern city of Kilis, near the Syrian-Turkish border, on March 2.

NOUR KELZE / Reuters. A Syrian refugee child stands outside a tent in the southeastern city of Kilis, near the Syrian-Turkish border, on March 2.

Images of children during times like these are heartbreaking. As Lisa Belkin described during the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, “they reminded me so much of my own 10-mont-old, except these orphans don't have food and water. … They sleep in the same position, play in the same way and cry in the same way as my baby, but I've been hearing stories of severe dehydration, lack of formula and

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other basic supplies. … I can just drive to the nearest supermarket to provide for my baby, we have food in abundance, but the orphans in Haiti don't have even the accessibility to basic needs. It makes me want to adopt – something I never, ever thought would remotely enter my mind.”2


During times like these, international adoption is particularly vulnerable to corruption. Many children become separated from parents or relatives who are still alive and would not consent to an adoption. But amid the chaos of conflict, systems that might be in place during times of peace won't function to effectively ensure that a child is truly adoptable; that there is no family willing to raise her. Adoption “middle men” may see monetary opportunity in playing on Americans' sense of wanting to help through adoption.

One (undesirable) way to address this problem is through ultra-strict regulation, like the current system in Syria. Syria does not allow international adoption of Muslim children, effectively making it impossible to adopt from Syria. No adoption means no corrupt adoptions (ignoring for the moment the black market adoptions that surface as a result of a total ban on adoption at the state level). But it also means orphans who suffer as a result of hunger, violence, fear – needlessly dying from preventable and treatable diseases.

A better way to address the problem is by educating people who see heart-wrenching images of children and want to help. People need to understand that the most important thing these children need is not necessarily a new family; they may already have one that is prepared to care for them if they can only be reunited. People also need to know that adopting in the midst of a crisis runs the risk of an adoption being corrupt.

Ideally, one day there will be watchdog organizations to ensure that children who are adopted no longer have any family to go to in their countries of origin. But until then, people who are confronted with journalistic images of solitary children shouldn't assume that adoption is the best way to help.

1Haiti's Children and the Adoption Question, New York Times (Nov. 25 2007)

2Adopting a Child from Haiti, by Lisa Belkin, New York Times Blog (Jan 25 2010)

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