Friday, December 25, 2009

The Transnational Adoption Divide: Pro and Con

In the aftermath of the arrest of Guatemalan adoption attorney Susana Luarca (aka Susana de Umana aka Susana Maria Luarca Saracho, Kevin, the moderator of Guatadopt email list writes of being caught in the middle of many debates on the issues:

I am an adoption advocate. I believe in the institution of intercountry adoption. I believe it to be a wonderful thing that is one tiny piece of the puzzle to providing for the world’s children in need. And at the same time, it does allow the joys of parenthood to people like myself. Whether or not our primary motivation for adopting was humanitarian in nature is irrelevant. And I’m the first to admit it was not for my wife and me. I take no shame in that....
...I have come to learn is that with Guatemalan adoptions there is evil and corruption everywhere. Every side and faction seems to have its own agenda.
These are two teeny excerpts from a long piece which I hope you will read which pits those who believe in and support human rights advocate Norma Cruz against supporters of adoption attorney Susana.

The following is my reply, which may or may not be posted:

Adoption, in particular transnational adoption, is becoming as polarized as abortion with strong opinion pro and con.  I know fare less about Susana than most on the Guatadopt list and will thus not comment on it except to say that in many arrests there re plenty of those who believed and supported the criminal (think Madeoff) and family, friends, neighbors and associates shocked in disbelief that the person they knew as a kind hearted person could be capable of anything untoward – let alone horrendously shocking crimes against children.

Many of you have a knee jerk reaction to my name. I am considered by many a radical. In this divisive arena I am labeled anti-adoption. What I am is a pro-family human rights advocates with a concentration on the rights of mothers and children. I thus advocate for the right of every child to remain with or at worst know his original kin and heritage. My position on transnational adoption is in keeping with that of UNICEF and other NGOs who have no profit motive for their positions. If I am radical, so are these child welfare experts with no ulterior motivation.

What I see from that perspective are entrepreneurs both here and abroad whose livelihood is dependent upon the redistribution of children, who refute the opinions of those child welfare experts and engage in hyperbole and willful exaggeration of facts such as the number of truly orphaned children worldwide.  People like Professor Bartholet who presses for more and more adoption and the opening of countries who have shut down temporarily or longer to stem documented corruption.

Bartholet professes, in the title of one of her articles, to claim “the” human rights position is to keep internationals flowing. So extreme in her pro-adoption position is she that she does not even claim it as “a” human rights position, but rather “the.” (In this same piece she actually defends baby selling as Ok because it is done in surrogacy.)

Beyond the money-makers and those who lobby and market for them, I see too people who are desperate to parent at any cost who, as human nature would have it, hear and believe what they want to hear and believe. People who even after they hear that their own adoption may have been quasi fraudulent or the mother of their child deceived, refuse to believe or feel badly but do little about it. There are the rare exceptions such as Jennifer Hemsley. Julia Rollings, David and Desiree Smolins.  They make headlines. They work to change the system. But is the media demanding the return of the Guatemalan or Indian children as they are the demand of Goldman’s boy…the son of a white American?

Money is power. In adoption all of that is in the hands of those who adopt. The sad truth is that demand creates the supply. The truth is that the children who “languish’ and are used to tug at the heartstrings of prospective adopter sand the public are by and large not being adopted and we know it!  The “special needs” kids USED to get our government to support tax credits for adoption are being left behind here and abroad while those tax dollars are going to support transnational adoptions which may or may not involve falsified DNA, kidnapping or any other violations.

From my perspective as an advocate for mothers and children I see all the money and all the power in the hands of those with an agenda to separate those families in order to recreate their own. Even in domestic adoption, as I recently presented at the PLA in NYC, the vast majority of voluntarily relinquishing mother have no legal counsel and those who do have representation paid for by those seeking to adopt her child – a dual representation and conflict of interest not allowed in any other legal situation.

There is n level playing field in adoption. There are have and have nots. There are winners and losers. 

Now, one can argue that the end justify the means because adoption moves children from lower to higher economic status.  Each adopter needs to frame his or her own moral conscious as to how far they are willing to use that justification. The fact is that it is impossible for the most humanitarian adopters, using what they believe to be the most honorable and reputable adoption agency, to be immune to winding up as the Smolins and Rolllings found themselves.

Money greases the wheels. Without demand there is no profit in adoption, Without profit there is no corruption.  Until people are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, I see no end in site.  What I see is one scandal after another. We shake our heads and wring our hands and say “How could this happen” and then go back to our ethnocentric lives believing that in the “majority” of cases adoption is a good thing and we should not let these “anomalies” stop it.

However, EVERY adoption begins with a tragedy; a crisis that 99.9% of the time is temporary, preventable and repairable by means other than taking children form their families, their heritage and their culture to meet a demand.  We need to recognize that our humanitarian desires are misplaced in the taking of children one by one because it does nothing to ameliorate the poverty of the family, the village or the nation and that the $20-$0k spent on that one adoption could do far better in so many other ways through organizations such as SOS Children’s Village or Save The Children. And when you multiply the av. Cost of $30k by 20,000 transnational adoptions per year into the U.S. you see a bit more foreign aid and human services that could be provided.  And when you look at nations who have stopped allowing their children to be sent overseas and built family preservation and domestic adoptions programs, you see hope. 

Am I an idealist? You betcha! I think every child deserves the best…the best chance to thrive with his family not to be snatched from them because of their poverty. Kevin says he too believes poverty should not be a cause of adoption loss. We need to put our actions – and our money – where those goals are and not just provide lip service and justification to continue the flow of children to meet a demand for them.

As Kevin said “Whether or not our primary motivation for adopting was humanitarian in nature is irrelevant.” And as difficult as it is, we need to face the fact that there is no right or entitlement of anyone to adopt. We need to face the lies we love to believe – the lies that are perpetrated by those who prey on the desperation of those seeking to adopt as much as they prey on poor mothers.  They stand in the middle and make one’s person’s misery and loss another’s joy…and their bread and butter. 

I don’t know the case against Susana. I know she is a in the end a business woman and Norma Cruz is not.  Neither may be all saint or all sinner, I don’t know if any of us are. We are all human and no doubt an activist like Norma Cruz would emphasize the negatives and others emphasize the positive. Are all adoptions bad, of course not!  Are all good, of course not.

When we stand in the middle and look to the right and look to the left of this polarizing debate – with some saying children will languish in institutions without more international adoption and bemoan the slow-downed rate - I ask you to consider one factor: follow the money.

PS Being an idealist, I of course take the position tat one kidnapping is one too many. Every kidnapping allegation needs to be investigated fully and if proven, children need to be returned to their parents. I further believe that all transnational adoptions must be a last resort with family preservation number one, extended family two and domestic adoption a realistic option before it is considered and without having to compete with foreign dollars.  No adoptions - domestic or transnational - will be free from corruption as long as there is profit to be made in such placements. All who are committed to "ethical" adoptions needs to step up and commit to profit-fee adoption.

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