Will we repeat a sad history in Haiti?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Haiti's earthquake has resulted in demands to airlift many of the children to new homes and new families. A U.S. military transport brought 53 Haitian children, already in the process of being adopted, to Pittsburgh, and a Dutch plane took another 106 to the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
Concern is being raised among child welfare experts, however, that some are using this tragedy to rush in too quickly and grab up children who have family. UNICEF and other nongovernmental organizations are well aware that nearly 90 percent of children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans but have one living parent or extended family who visit and hope to regain custody.
In order to know what really is in these children's best interests, examine the motivation of those pushing for airlifting hundreds or thousands of children out of Haiti. Even nonprofit and religious child adoption agencies are dependent upon the redistribution of children to pay salaries and other operating costs. The fees paid to adopt -- up to $40,000 -- motivate their "concerns." Adoption industry lobbyists pressure legislators, who eagerly approve "feel-good" bills and "child rescue" projects, often in opposition to experts' concerns for the children and their families of origin.
Nonprofit child advocate organizations, such as SOS Children's Village, The U.N., International Social Services and the International Rescue Committee, which have no financial gain in the outcome of the children's situations, all favor extreme caution before removing children from their families, their homelands and their cultures. They advocate what is best for the children, mindful that adoption is about finding homes for children who are orphaned, not finding children to fill empty arms, and certainly not to fill the pockets of unscrupulous baby brokers.
It is also important to reflect on history. Following the Vietnam War, America enacted a mass rescue of more than 2,500 war orphans in 1975, called Operation Baby Lift. The now infamous evangelistic rescue led to a class action suit on behalf of Vietnamese children brought to the U.S. for adoption. The suit claims that several of the children labeled as orphans in fact were not. The plaintiffs seek to determine if their Vietnamese parents or extended family can be found and whether they had consented to their placements.
In 2004, the tsunami left more than 5 million homeless in and around Sri Lanka, including about 1.5 million children, most of whom, according to the U.N., "became" orphaned. With people clamoring to adopt the young victims, Save the Children stated: "Adoptions, especially inter-country ones, are inappropriate during the emergency phase ... ." Sri Lanka banned adoptions, fearing orphans would be targeted by criminal gangs and trafficked in the wake of the floods.
UNICEF expresses concern about "efforts to speed international adoptions of Haitian children in the aftermath of the disaster," when children need their families more then ever. In Haiti, it is working to find, identify and register children. It favors family reunification, and said that "international adoption should be the "last resort' for children orphaned by [the] catastrophic earthquake in Haiti." They note that "family includes uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents and more distant relatives" who should be traced before transnational adoption is considered as an option.
The ISS and the IRC concur, stating: "Any operation to adopt or to evacuate children who are victims of the earthquake to another country must be absolutely avoided." Their concerns include the psychological impact of "a sudden shift to a new country and a new family" at this time of upheaval.
Amalia Fawcett, specialist in child protection in emergencies for Plan International Australia, who was in the Solomon Islands in response to the tsunami, said, "Based on a wealth of international knowledge about child development and resilience during disasters, we know that children best recover from shock, stress and grief when they are in familiar surroundings and with loved ones. Even during emergencies, a child's right to be cared for in a family unit of some form, and a family's right to look after their children, must be preserved."
Countries, including the U.S., that have ratified The Hague Conference on International Law are obligated to its provision that "evacuation should not be confused with intercountry adoption, which is a more radical measure changing the parenthood of a child."
Unless you were already considering adoption, it is best not to yield to a sudden, almost instinctive desire to help in that manner, but rather to respect those most suited to provide a non-biased response and help them to help the children of Haiti without fear of exploitation by donating to reputable organizations.