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.


Danni and Tommy said...

Thank you for this post. I needed it.

I agree with everything you wrote.

I wish I had something insightful to add, something helpful... something, but I don't.

Rogue Woman said...

My husband and I are just thinking of starting a family but eventually I would also like to adopt a child. Thanks for posting all about your little girl, she seems so happy, and I cannot wait for that next phase of my life.

Cindy said...

So...I have also though a lot about this subject. I do believe that there are really, really ugly things happening in Ethiopia. I also think that they are almost all due to Christian World Adoption,Better Futures (for sure), Celebrate Children, International Adoption Guides and probably Hope International too. The first 2 agencies are doing things that are not only unethical but completely immoral. They are subjugating the Ethiopian people in order to make money. They are in effect stealing the histories of these children. I do think that if the full extent of their actions were brought to light then the country would need to be closed.As a family that hopes to bring home one more child from Ethiopia I hope that that is not the action that is taken. We have also done our homework ad worked with ethical agencies so I guess I hope that the positive outweighs the negative in the end : )
You said you wanted a response...I hope you meant it! LOL.
Thanks for the great post. I think it is great that people are discussing the harder side of things.

Kristin said...

I am so bummed to find all this out. This just when David and I are really trying to find a way to bring some older boys home to our family (I hinted at this in my post today...) I know Wide Horizons and Celebrate Children's Internationl/Miskaye are all above board but I am sure the last commenter is right that there are agencies who are not ethical and that it awful. With over 5 million orphans they just CAN'T shut Ethiopia down, the need is staggering. It is tragic that a few bad people can potentially ruin things for hundreds of thousands.... Ugh.
Just curious, what is the orphan situation in Senegal? Are there many children in need?

Carina said...

There are evil people in this world. Evil people who do inexplicable things. That only makes it more imperative that we try to do good wherever we can. You are doing good. You know your heart. You try to follow a clear path. You should feel peace with that.

Katy said...

It makes me want to puke, cry, and scream all at the same time.

How do you explain not being able to help Dessi's mom? I have no idea. Just the facts, I guess. That's my plan. And no matter how I frame it, no matter what I say, it will never be good or okay. There is no answer to how am I going to make this okay for my girl(s). It's a sad sad thing.

Zoe said...

My prayer is that Ethiopia can put enough safeguards in place to correct the corruption going on so it doesn't have to close.

I don't know why it's so hard to pull the plug on certain agencies once there are a few verifiable stories about their practices, but apparently it's not so simple. And even the agencies with the bad reputations have APs that have had good experiences with them and will go to bat for them. I am shocked at how many adoptive parents I meet only to discover that many of them didn't do much research before choosing an agency.

This process is a roller coaster ride.

Christy said...

I've thought about your post for some time and then it took some time to find a minute or two to sit down and respond. When I journeyed to Ethiopia I was not able to meet Elias' birthmom. Abdissa said she could not be found and is possibly homeless. I was actually in contact with two investigators in Ethiopia who were interested in helping me find her. During that time is when the first story, "Fly Away Children" came out. It really shook me hard for so many reasons.

I decided not to search for Eli's birthmother for many of the reasons you stated. What if I found her and she was in a dire situation and I ended up having to support her somehow financially? What if she was in a dire situation and I didn't support her? How could I look my son in the eyes? What would I tell him if he found out? The main reason is the most selfish one. What IF I found her and she said she gave him up because she was coerced or she thought it was temporary? What if she wanted him back? I know I could never do that. What if my son found out that I knew the truth and did nothing? I decided not knowing is better. I think when he gets older we can decide together if this is something we should do.

It is so unfortunate that agencies like CWA are motivated my the dollar and not the welfare of these children in need. If Ethiopia were to close down they would just move on to the next country then the next.

I wish you the best in bringing home a sister for Dessi!!

Oh yeah, I visited the Lighthouse orphanage in Phnom Penh. Is that the one you happened to volunteer at?