Jan 9, 2008

Ethical Dilemmas and international adoption

I haven't posted about the adoption lately. We've got all our papers turned in, we're just waiting at this point. But I thought I'd post about a more general topic; what's going on in international adoption right now, what's good about it, and what's scary.

International adoption has boomed since people like Angelina Jolie and Madonna have brought it into the media. This is good in some ways; there are millions of orphans in need of adoption in various third world countries. More parents means more kids don't die on the street, more kids get raised and given educations and opportunity in this world, more kids get treated for their serious (or just continual,) illnesses, more kids get a Mom and Dad whom they can bond with and love, and heal the grief and loss that they've already experienced.

But it also means that more money is involved. Anytime a bunch of rich Americans or Europeans takes interest in something and is willing to pay for something to happen, the opportunists come out of the woodwork.

Here's what's troubling me lately: the overall trend of international adoption is shifting. Russia and eastern Europe used to be the big adoption country. Then, Romania stopped adopting their orphans out. Then Russia ran into problems (I'm not exactly sure what they are, but I know that the process has significantly slowed, even stalled). Then Kazakstan, another Eastern European country.

A lot of these parents (some already most of the way through the process before it was halted) then turned to China for adoption. The China adoption process was flooded within a year. My aunt brought her baby girl home from China two years ago with just a 9 month wait for referral; now the wait is more along the lines of 2-3 years if you want a young, healthy, infant. That's how crazy it has become.

China responded by making the guidelines for adoptive parents much, much stricter. For instance, you can no longer adopt from China (a young, healthy infant) if you've been on antidepressants, if you're overweight, if you're over a certain age (younger than the cutoff was before).

So these parents went another direction: Guatemala. The Guatemalan process was then flooded, and those opportunists I talked about, which for some reason don't seem to plague the China/Eastern European adoption process nearly as much, came out of the woodwork.

Adoption "Lawyers", would solicit babies from impoverished mothers and bring them to orphanages. THey would pocket half of the adoption fees that American parents paid, and give a small percentage of them to the birth families/mothers. Very very wrong. Very very unethical. The sad thing is: while a large percentage of adoptive parents would be devastated if they knew their adoption was illegal, a great many adoptive parents are so desperate for a baby, they really don't care. They close their eyes to the red flags and warning signals.

Two months ago, Guatemalan adoptions were completely shut down.

That's what happens, people, when we're willing to pay into a system that is unethical, when we're willing to sacrifice ethics in order to be spared a few months (or even a year) of waiting.

Now, these families (some of them almost through the process with Guatemala, or on a Long waiting list with China), are turning to Ethiopia. For a long time, only six or so agencies operated out of ethiopia. In the last two years, an additional thirty agencies applied for license to do adoptions out of Ethiopia.

My agency is the first agency ever to do adoptions out of Ethiopia. When I initially applied, I was told that the wait for babies and toddlers was 18-24 months. This was just as the usurge in Ethiopian adoptions began.

Recently, I have read about newer agencies who are able to refer a baby/toddler age child to a prospective couple within weeks to months. I've also read/heard about agency directors taking policemen and city officials out to dinner at expensive restaraunts, and being promised any abandoned babies/toddlers that they find. I've read about agencies going out to the outer countryside and bringing back busloads of young kids. I've read about birth mothers being paid off by agents to relinquish their child...

in all fairness, I don't think that it's all necessarily the fault of the agencies... they have to hire in-country staff, and they do their best to make sure things are on the up-and-up. But I don't doubt that there are some cases where a blind eye is turned in favor of procuring the babies and toddlers that Americans are so desperate for.

The thing is, you could make the argument that the end benefits the means... these kids are impoverished and need help and would possibly outherwise starve or become 12-year-old mothers, etcetera. But we all know right from wrong. We all know the value of birthfamily, and what sorts of devastating consequences do you think there will be later, when an adopted child finds out that his/her adoption wasn't necessarily legal? That his mother had been exploited in order so that his adoptive parents could have a child?

It's wrong. I'm worried. Ethiopian adoptions are a mess right now. My advice to you people who are thinking of adopting is: Do lots of research. How long has your agency been operating? What is their standing with the Ethiopian government, are they respected or watched carefully for violations of standard? Do they promise quick babies and toddlers? Do they give you an opportunity to meet birth families/parents if they are still alive, and if the parents are dead, do you get information about them? What is your agency's protcol for finding abandoned children/babies? How do they take care of them until the adoptive parents come to pick them up?

And finally, does your agency engage in any other humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia, aside from just doing adoptions?

I can fully reccomend my agency, Americans For African Adoptions. Another one I'm pretty sure of is Adoption Advocates international. Both of these agencies have operated sucessfully out of Ethiopia for 20+ years, both of them engage in humantiarian projects, and both directors will try and talk you into adopting an older child. (to me, this is the clincher, the sign that they really want to help the children, they're not providing a baby service to rich Americans.)

I'm sorry if this post is disturbing... but you can understand, how disturbing it is to me, as a prospective adoptive parent, to have the country I have chosen turned upside down the way it has been of late. Pretty soon, Ethiopian adoption will develop a bad reputation the way that Gautemala has, and people might see me in the street with my kids and wonder if I stole them or not.

It makes me sad... it makes me happy.... it's an emotional rollercoaster lately, this adoption.


Amber said...

Hi there. You raise some valid points, but I will take issue with one thing you said. The "baby service" comment was harsh, in my opinion. I am in the process of adopting from Ethiopia as well and I can say that desiring an infant or toddler is not a bad thing! We are actually seeking to adopt an older child, but we have considered limiting ourselves to an infant (not because of preference, but because of adjustment issues with our two children). I think comments like that can be very hurtful to couples who want to do a grand thing by expanding their families through adoption, but who may have legitimate reasons for wanting an infant or toddler. Having said that, I actually agree with everything else you said and I thank you for expressing your opinion.

Anna said...

It has been very frustrating for us to be told an adoption of an infant boy would be ten months, and now the wait is up to sixteen months. That said I know the agencey cant do anything about it. We are using Wide Horizons and feel they are incredibly ethical. I think the biggest problems have been allowing so many new agencies to enter the country and become licensed. If they had kept it at ten agencies per country (usa, australia etc) I think that would have been the easist to control outside political and financial interests.
Every family has the need to prepare for whatever age child is right for your situation. I dont think anyone outside of your family can assist with that. For us if we had wanted to adopt a child over three we would have continued with our state license.
Adopting an infant boy is the choice that have made that is right for us. Whenever it may happen :)

NoSurfGirl said...


we have also requested a young girl (4-5) and an infant boy, so I understand the schizophrenia involved in that. I question myself, too, but ultimately I know it's what's best for my young family. I want to make sure you know I don't think it's wrong to want babies, what's wrong is to want babies, as fast possible, at any price. And unfortunately, some prospective adoptive parents are just that... and some agencies are willing to cater to that desire. I don't know which ones, specifically. If you can vouch for your agency, by all means, vouch for them. It's good to know what ehtical options are out there.

Anna... it's been frustrating for us, too. Good things come to those who wait... that's what i repeat in my mind every time I start getting frustrated.