Geopolitics and Adoption

It was only after soldiers and humanitarians returned home from war torn Europe and Asia, sharing stories of the war orphans overseas that Americans had any vested interest in international adoption. Post- World War II, as the American Government was implementing The Marshall Plan to provide aid in war destroyed countries in hopes of blocking Communism, American churches began their own plan to help save children by putting them in good, loving, American homes.  By the Mid-1950’s, the Korean Government realized a great way to solve the problem of unwanted mixed-race children born from American Soldiers was to develop Child Placement Agencies to provide available, healthy babies to wealthy American families who found themselves adopting to start their families. South Korea boasts the longest running international adoption programs in the world. war orphan 2

As Northern Vietnam moved in on Saigon in 1975, President Ford ordered babies be lifted out of Southern Vietnam, a humanitarian move to save more than 2500 Vietnamese babies by placing them into American adoptive homes. Operation Babylift became problematic as controversy swirled as to whether removing the children from the country was in their best interest and if the children removed were, indeed, orphans and adoptable. The Bui Doi, the term given to children produced from the rendezvous of African-American soldiers and Vietnamese prostitutes, became a sub-class of unwanted children within Vietnam. These children became highly sought-after adoptees.

Where there was war, there were orphans. And where there were orphans, Americans would seek adoption. In fact, by looking at adoption statistics, you can get a clear picture of the historic crisis of the world. The success of a nation’s economy could be indicated on the lack of children adopted internationally from within its borders. Ben Christopher explains, “… the fact that American adoption trends tend to track with conflict, disaster, and destitution also reflects a fairly obvious point: Americans adopt orphans from countries that are full of adoptable orphans.” In the early 2000’s international adoptions were peaking. However, the decline in these adoptions, by -75% in some cases, has left many a family waiting for their child overseas to abandon hope.

What are the factors for such a sharp decline? That answer can get a little complicated.  Countries who had once been abusing the system for economic gain have been called out, causing these countries to shut down their adoption service agencies, especially with Americans.  Scandal impacted some countries, where there are indications that impoverished, illiterate families unknowingly signed away their rights to their children, thinking instead their children were being taken to be educated and/ or given opportunity for social advancement.  These abuses have drawn international attention and response. In 1993, at the Hague Convention of Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption drew up a Forty-Seven Articles regulating intercountry adoptions with the goal of protecting the international rights of children around the globe. One hundred and one countries (States) have ratified this agreement, which begins by stating:

“Intercountry adoptions shall be made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights and to prevent the abduction of, the sale of, or traffic in children and each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin.”

These standards of adoption on the international level have had an impact on the adoptability of children around the world. But it is not only in questionable practices that the lack of supply of adoptable children have caused the decrease in numbers. In fact, the instances of questionable practices could be classified as rare. Instead, on the world stage, countries might be decreasing the adoption opportunity internationally to send a socio-economic message to the world, especially to America, “We don’t need you to take care of our children, we can do it ourselves.” It is questionable if this national pride equates to being in the best interest of children, as whole childhood institutionalism and “aging” out with no support system can lead to larger long-term problems including sex-trafficking, continuation of the orphan cycle and increased poverty and non-productivity. Further, there have been instances, as is seen in Russia, where international adoption and orphans are used as a pawn in foreign relations. Putin, has on more than one occasion vocally prohibited and stifled American adoptions of Russian orphans in response to trade sanctions.

Anti-Adoption Movement participants focus on the loss an international child adoptee sustains by being removed from extended family and community. South Korean born adoptees, now adults are returning to South Korea to exact reform. Their vision, as told by Jane Jeong Trenka, a repatriated adoptee in her 40s, is this, “”The best option is always for a child to be parented by his or her birth parent,” she said. “Then domestic adoption, and only then intercountry adoption.” Those leading the reform in South Korea, causing almost a -50% decline in American adoptions over the past decade, believe they are pioneering the way that many who have been adopted from their country of origin will follow. Vietnamese adoptees are benefitting from DNA testing to be reunited with their families of origin.

Proponents of international adoption continue to argue for the benefits of the children who are adopted by Americans and Europeans. For an individual child to be adopted into a loving and good home, provided an education and opportunities for a future is a superior choice to institutionalization and lack of familial ties. For every negative, the pro-adoption supporters, can offer multiple positives defending adoption as a tool to fight poverty and exploitation of the weakest members of the world community.

As is the case with all adoptions, domestic as well as international, there is no one- size-fits-all answer. It can be agreed that the world community agrees it is best for parents of origin to be THE parents of the children born to them. Most countries have established government lead solutions to offer opportunity through welfare programs for this to be the case. But cultural compliance in places like South Korea, mean nothing. Economic consideration is but one piece of the puzzle for why children are orphaned in America and abroad. There can be no broad stroke answer to the problems the world faces with its orphan crisis. It is naive to think that economics is the sole, or even the strongest motivator for giving up parental rights. In cultures, such as South Korea, the motivation could be to protect the honor of an extended family. In the United States, it is the power of addiction.  There is room for improvement for support of family of origin. Without hesitation there should be due diligence to ensure the children offered in international adoption are indeed adoptable, orphaned children. But 500,000 orphans in China can not be ignored. Nor the 35,000 children in Haiti. Nor the 140 million classified by UNICEF around the world. Those children need homes now, and if the family of origin, and cultural community is unwilling to provide, it seems in the best interest of the world, for those parents who have lost hope in their international adoption, to have that hope restored.

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