Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Baby Thieves

Really? I am stunned.

I occasionally tune into Ethiopian blogs that occasionally (or constantly) fret about the possibility that Ethiopia's adoption process is corrupt, that people are harvesting children (which is when adoption agency employees go to remote villages and say, "Who wants to give their baby a better life in America?! Line up here!" Etc. (It's wrong and illegal to do it.)

I just have always thought that no system is always perfect (not that I would ever excuse such tactics or anything underhanded or sneaky, but that things go wrong because they always go wrong, and then you fix them as soon as possible and as completely as necessary and you continue on) and ... just, there are SO many orphans in the world. Nobody needs to trick birthparents into giving them away.

But, and yet, people have. Maybe not in Ethiopia, but in Vietnam, in Cambodia, in Guatemala. And apparently, at least one organization (damn Christian World Adoption!) is, at the very least, doing some things that have twice (that I know of) led journalists to believe they're lying and stealing and behaving badly. In Ethiopia.


We are waiting to adopt our second Ethiopian child. We are, like, eighth on the waiting list.

So. We received a notice today from our agency detailing the US Embassy's newest policies regarding orphan declaration. It looks like it will slow things down for us, but I'm for that. Slow it down, do extra research on the child's history, and make sure it's all perfect. Eric and I are in this process to help, not to grab for a child that has a place with someone else -- our dream would be that there is no orphan for us. And until then, we and our baby will wait a little longer to be together, and it will be for the best. But the DOS letter's first line is: The Department of State shares families’ concerns about recent media reports alleging direct recruitment of children from birth parents by adoption service providers or their employees. (This is the aforementioned child harvesting.)

I wanted to find out what recent media reports these were. I knew of one of them, about CWA, and whether the reporting (from a film crew in Australia) was rooted in fact or not I could not tell, but there were so many things that were factually wrong and it was sensationalized enough that I thought the whole piece was basically not credible. The DOS letter isn't clear if reports that led to the new State Department policy concern practices in Ethiopia -- my guess is that they're about Haiti. But anyway, a little bit of research brought me to other blogs where waiting parents are in a panic -- apparently this is how it started in Vietnam and in Cambodia months before those countries were shut down.

This is not how we want this to go -- and not for the sake of me being eighth on the waiting list, either. I worked for several months across three years in an orphanage in Cambodia in the years after the adoption ban was in place. There are children collecting in orphanages with no hope of forever families or of any kind of future in Cambodia. There are toddlers by themselves on the streets of Phnom Penh, begging for food. In Cambodia, I know the issue that pushed it over the edge involved agency employees who were giving money to birthmothers. Of course, that's just wrong wrong wrong, but being in Cambodia, I can see how it could happen innocently enough -- imagine a single mother with four kids, she has a baby and gives it up for adoption. She's struggling to feed the kids she has left. I think anyone might think, well, if I help her now, maybe she won't need to give up any more of her children.

Of course you can't. You can't help. But I think it's pretty possible that the Cambodian situation was borne of something like this (this is what I was told, anyway, by people who ran the orphanage where I volunteered, who knew the American who went to jail. Yes, went to jail.) In fact when we go back to Ethiopia Eric and I intend to find Dessi's birth mother and to connect with her and to let her meet Dessi if she would want to. We have toyed with and dismissed, though, the idea of sending her to school or trying to help her. Which is so right and just so wrong, too. How am I going to explain to my soon-to-be-12-year-old daughter (this being Dessi; I'm planning ahead) that we never did anything to help her birth mother? I don't know. It's hard to explain to myself, really.

I just can't believe the situation in Ethiopia is so corrupt or so far gone that it would come to a ban. But ... And ... I'm torn between knowing that the vast majority (like, 99 percent? I really believe it's something like that) of those children really do need homes and knowing that our agency (Children's House International) and their people in Ethiopia (the Thomas Center and the loving and amazing Abdissa, whom I just KNOW is a straight shooter) ... I'm torn between feeling safe in the path we are on and feeling ... just yucky. And just not sure what's going on. And wishing someone else but my mother-in-law read this blog anymore so that someone would leave a comment and say what they know or what they think about it all.



For the past five minutes I've been sitting quietly, thinking. The bottom line is that anything unethical immediately needs to be corrected, but the fact that something has gone wrong somewhere doesn't mean the whole system (or even a double-digit percent of the system) is rotten. Ethiopia absolutely needs a way to place children with adoptive families. It's easy to be reactive about this, but Eric and I have done our homework and we absolutely trust our agency and their representatives. As lame / not-enough-ish as it sounds, we have done what we can to ensure our involvement does not contribute to anything but the good. We absolutely know that there are abandoned children who need homes. I would never voluntarily get off of this path of international adoption.