February 7, 2013

The Dark Side of International Adoption

Adopted child

Is international adoption always good? (Photo Family Focus Adoption)

By Mikhail Bell (@Bellsworld)

Regent University’s Center for Global Justice, Human Rights and the Rule of Law, has raised the profile of human trafficking and child protection, such adoption, issues within Christian and secular circles. On January 11-12, the Center hosted its latest engagement of modern social issues with the second annual Seeking Justice of the Least of These symposium in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Appropriately delivered during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the message urged both compassion and caution for future parents of adopted children from abroad.

Over the past few years, international adoption has become en vogue among Christians. Citing verses such as James 1:27, which calls for us to look after the “widow and the orphan,” believers are encouraged to “rescue” children from unfortunate circumstances and into their loving home.

As Dr. David Smolin, Director at Samford University’s Center for Children, Law and Ethics, noted it takes more than good intentions for Christians to successfully add another person to the family unit. To stunned silence, the researcher asserted that there is no biblical mandate for adoption. Scriptures referencing the” widow and orphan,” he pronounced, instead refer to a fatherless family unit, which in ancient times, left the surviving dependents economically vulnerable. Thus, the command is not to adopt the child and leave the widow but to make provisions for both.

As Solomon famously opined, there is no new thing under the sun – not even adoption. Just as Christians are opening up to adoption, however, it seems like countries are barring the doors shut. In late 2012, Russia announced that it intended to halt all international adoptions to the United States. While American sources claim the Kremlin is retaliating after Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, a survey cited in The Washington Post indicated that 56 percent of Russians supported the move.

A Brief History of Adoption

According to Dr. Smolin, who is himself the parent of two adopted girls from India, families must account for cultural context.

Adoption in ancient Rome bore social and legal implications due, in part, to the patria potestas. This head of household possessed absolute authority over family decisions, even whether a child would live. While offspring did not age out of the patria potestas structure, adoption placed a child under the authority of another patriarch through a two part process. The mancipatio, whose root gives us the word emanicipation, was a symbolic sale that occurred three times. The father would sell and buy back the son from the guardian twice. On the third exchange, the father would not purchase his son. Nero, who succeeded Emperor Claudius, was adopted and became emperor after, Agrippa, disenchanted his mother had her husband assassinated.

In Japan, age is not a barrier to adoption. In fact, maturity is sometimes a benefit as moguls graft heirs into their fortune to perpetuate their lineage.

Trafficking Children for Adoption

The combination of private adoption agencies, under-resourced regulators, and eager American parents can create the perfect storm for illegal adoptions. The private entities are paid per successful adoption. Consequently, agencies have a massive financial incentive to increase the number of children available to interested parties from abroad.

Following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, there were verifiable concerns about child trafficking in that nation. In January of the same year, I attended a briefing on Capitol where panelists identified adoptions as a primary source trafficking incidents. In at least one case, Americans reportedly flew to Haiti on a private jet, collected a small group of children and flew back to the Northwestern United States.

In Ethiopia, home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, adoption is a bittersweet issue. Following a boom in Chinese adoptions during the 1980s and 1990, the East African nation has become a hotspot for international adoption. Couples seeking a child can easily find one here, where adoption times are among some of the lowest in the world. A 2012 Wall Street Journal article indentified a threefold increase in adoptions from Ethiopia between 2004 and 2010. However speedy approvals are a welcome invitation to child traffickers and other unscrupulous actors. Authorities in the East African nation surfaced their concerns in 2011, when they accused U.S. agency personnel of facilitating child trafficking through adoptions.

While Christians and couples should consider adopting, the Regent University panel perspicaciously addressed hidden costs that both the child and new parents should consider before starting this process.

3 Responses to The Dark Side of International Adoption

  1. Jennifer Schmitt says:

    While situations can make the “perfect storm for illegal adoptions”, those cases are certainly rare. The United States signed the Hague Convention in 1994, to ensure against such illegal adoptions. Certainly parents should be aware, but it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring a child into the U.S. vis international adoption, without proving legal circumstances surrounding the child’s availability.
    To correct your facts, adoptions from China were certainly not “booming” in the 1980’s. China didn’t open its doors to international adoption until 1992.
    While there might not be a biblical mandate for adoption, the concept of adoption is certainly biblical. And while it might be desirable to provide for both the widow and orphan, most of the children available for international adoption are in orphanages, so are both fatherless and motherless.
    I agree that “it takes more than good intentions for Christians to successfully add another person to the family unit”, including awareness of possible health and post-institutional issues, but adding a person to a family unit via biological means shouldn’t be taken any more lightly. I also find it offensive that you call into question Christians’ motivations for adopting internationally. Adopting because it’s “en vogue?” Really?Based on the number of international adoptees that I see in most churches, I would say that it’s more “en vogue” not to adopt internationally!
    As a parent who has been blessed beyond measure by all of our children, those were born to us, and those who were adopted internationally, I’m disappointed to see such a negative and suspicious light cast on the world of international adoption. I would like to see the church support adoption, rather than find reasons not to.

  2. @Jennifer, thank you for your comments as they raise several legitimate points:

    Concerning Chinese adoptions, the one child policy created a need, to which many qualified parents responded, for same homes among this hit hardest by the ban. While intercountry adoptions did not start in the 1980s, the “boom” in China, it seems, resulted from this policy decision.

    The article addresses Dr. Smolin’s concern that well-meaning families are unprepared for adopting a child and navigating the extralegal activity that sometimes occurs. Thankfully prominent Christian groups are re-introducing the idea of adoption to the church community. Ultimately, the goal should be to best meet the child’s need by placing it with sufficiently prepared family.

    I commend your willingness to invite more people into your home and am sure this will continue to be a blessing. Hopefully, this clarifies my earlier statements and addresses your central concerns.

    – Mikhail

  3. Cathy says:

    As a mother of two daughters who God brought to our family through international adoption I was more than a little taken back by the title of your piece. I found the article to cast a dark and suspicious light on a beautiful act of family formation.

    Having twice been through the rigors and “paper-chase” of international adoption, I find it difficult to believe that any family who pursues a post-Hague adoption via an accredited agency could arrive at the point of adopting a child and be “unprepared for adopting a child and navigating the extralegal activity that sometimes occurs.”

    I take offense that you would label the journey of my family as nothing more than actions taken because it is “en vogue” to adopt. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.

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