OUR REPORTING ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION

Corruption in international adoptions

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Experts Respond to
  "The Baby Business"


The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism asked a number of experts, practitioners, and advocates in international adoption to respond to “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.

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Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS)

Joint Council on International Children’s Services (Joint Council) appreciates the invitation by E.J. Graff and Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism to comment on Ms. Graff’s article, "The Baby Business." Joint Council fully supports the underlying tenet of Ms. Graff’s assessment. We agree that the vast majority of intercountry adoptions are conducted ethically and in the best interest of each child. Furthermore, we agree that much must be done to ensure corruption is not permitted, is vigorously investigated and aggressively prosecuted.

Any dialogue on permanency should include, if not start with, discussion of preserving families. The world orphan crisis will always victimize children through institutionalization, sexual
and physical abuse, trafficking and human rights violations unless we first address the issues which cause children to be abandoned or relinquished.

Any dialogue on permanency should include, if not start with, discussion of preserving families. The world orphan crisis will always victimize children through institutionalization, sexual and physical abuse, trafficking and human rights violations unless we first address the issues which cause children to be abandoned or relinquished. The principle of ‘subsidiarity’ found in the Hague Convention, as Ms. Graff notes, holds that first and foremost children should live, grow, and thrive in their family of birth. This principle is addressed not only by the Hague Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but it is also an inalienable human right. Discussions on how to ensure that children retain this right in an ethical and legal manner must begin with the strengthening and preservation of families.

More than pointing a finger

The title of the article leans towards the sensationalistic perspective and certain statements are not based on current practices or trends. Yet we applaud the solution-oriented approach and are appreciative for the alternatives that Ms. Graff provides in the article. Too often articles and research regarding intercountry adoption point out problems, implying that any one act of corruption means all adoptions are corrupt and the only alternative is the elimination of intercountry adoption. Ms. Graff’s recommendations, combined with other improvements, could bring us closer to our goal of eliminating corruption.

Ms. Graff outlines eight actions which appropriately respond to the legal, regulatory, and ethical shortcomings of the intercountry adoption process. In principle, Joint Council supports each of the eight recommendations. The most important is perhaps the criminalization of the purchase of children for adoption (most are surprised to find that no such law currently exists). Further, Joint Council believes the elimination of cash transactions; additional accountability for overseas staff and facilitators; the standardization of how fees are presented; additional investigative capacity at the Council on Accreditation (COA); and empowerment of the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security to stop corrupt individual practices are all actions which should be taken in order to eliminate the proportionally few adoptions which abuse the rights of birth families, adoptive parents, and children.

Although mentioned in the article, one issue that was not included in Ms. Graff’s list of eight recommendations is Universal Accreditation, which would require the U.S. government to accredit all primary adoption service providers. The standards and methods already exist under the U.S. government’s Hague accreditation process, which could allow for timely implementation. As Ms. Graff points out, the opposition to Universal Accreditation found in the early 90’s has shifted towards large-scale support. Universal Accreditation, which has been at the forefront of Joint Council’s advocacy, would eliminate the dual adoption system and provide added protections to birth families, adoptive families and children.

More than corruption
When crimes are committed or human rights are violated, the state government and world community should vigorously prosecute the perpetrator.
Unfortunately, in virtually every human endeavor, isolated individuals use human suffering for their own advancement. This can be seen in banking, commerce, and human services. For example, the UN Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq was intended to ensure that Iraqis had sufficient nutrition during economic sanctions in the late 90’s. Yet even something as basic as providing food became riddled with corruption. Criminal investigations with intense media coverage soon followed–and rightfully so. When crimes are committed or human rights are violated, the state government and world community should vigorously prosecute the perpetrator.

However, when abuses are identified in adoptions rather than targeting individual abusers, the institution of intercountry adoption is labeled as the perpetrator. Ms. Graff notes that the prevalence of corruption within Guatemalan adoptions left the authorities with no option other than to close the intercountry adoption program altogether. Instead of shutting down, why was the system not reformed? Reform would have addressed corruption, ethics, and practices while retaining intercountry adoption as a viable option for children without permanent parental care. Yet Guatemala, Vietnam, Romania, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and other countries have either suspended or ended their intercountry adoption programs rather than convict abusers and reform the system to truly serve each child’s best interest. This type of response fails to convict those who abuse children, leading to the victimization of children who could legitimately benefit from intercountry adoption. As evidence, nearly three years after the closure of intercountry adoption in Guatemala, we are unaware of any person arrested, prosecuted, and convicted. Further, some governments and inter-governmental organizations use the presence of corruption as pretense to achieve their baseline philosophy which calls for children to remain in their country of birth - at all costs to the child.

Children suffer and their rights are abused not only through corruption but also through misguided reactive policies that seek a pre-determined outcome. This type of abuse must also be included in any discussion on permanency including adoption.

More than adoption
Kinship care, local adoption, permanent fostercare, and intercountry adoption… are all part of a spectrum of services which serve to ensure children live in permanent families.
Resolving issues of corruption must also be done in a comprehensive manner with a basis on human rights. The Families For Orphans Coalition and the Families For Orphans Act seek to do just that. Despite claims that the legislation is an adoption bill in sheep’s clothing, the Families For Orphans Act seeks to bring diplomatic leadership, family-centered programming, and cooperative partnerships to the preservation of families and the finding of permanent, safe and legally recognized families for children living without permanent parental care. Kinship care, local adoption, permanent fostercare, and intercountry adoption form the basis for the legislation and are all part of a spectrum of services which serve to ensure children live in permanent families.

The Families For Orphans Coalition along with the 71 child-welfare organizations and over 5,000 individuals supporting the Families For Orphans Act would strongly suggest that passage of the Act be included in the recommendations found in Ms. Graff’s article.

A few clarifications

The title of the article, "The Baby Business," and throughout the article itself state or imply that families seek to adopt only ‘healthy infants’. The reality points in the opposite direction. In Joint Council’s Summary Report on Older Children and Children with Special Needs, the percentage of children over the age of three has climbed to over 29 percent of all adoptions, with countries such as Russia reaching over 44 percent. In addition, the percentage of children with special needs has also seen dramatic increases. In China close to 60 percent of children adopted into the U.S. have special needs and over 45 percent of children adopted from Haiti. In total, 27 percent of adoptions are for children with special needs.

Ms. Graff, in a previous article and again in The Baby Business, presents a false perception that intercountry adoptions are ‘dramatically increasing.’ The numbers of Ethiopia adoptions quoted leave the reader with the impression that 2,277 adoptions is not only too high but also increasing. Yet at the 2010 Joint Council Conference, the Department of State presented statistics showing that adoptions from Ethiopia will actually fall below 2,000 this year. And Joint Council’s projections show that from a high of 23,000 in 2005, intercountry adoption will serve less than 8,000 children by 2012.

Joint Council again offers our full support to the principles found in Ms. Graff’s recommendations and offers the addition of Universal Accreditation and the Families For Orphans Act as other means by which corruption can be eliminated and a comprehensive solution to the world orphan crisis be found. We hope that this article leads to a continued and productive dialogue on serving the best interest of each child.

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~Joint Council on International Children’s Services (Joint Council) is a child advocacy organization based in Alexandria, Virginia. Joint Council and its affiliated members have served children and families in 52 countries since its inception in 1976. Joint Council advocates for child-centric policies, raises awareness and educates governments, professionals and families with a goal of ensuring that every child lives in a safe and permanent family. More information about Joint Council is also available www.betheanswerforchildren.wordpress.com.

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NOTE: This page from the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism website offers documentation of and background about serious irregularities in international adoption. For the systemic analysis of corruption in international adoption, please read “The Lie We Love,” Foreign Policy magazine, Nov./Dec. 2008, and visit our webpages dedicated to international adoption. For ideas about fairer policy solutions, please read “The Baby Business,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2010.


© 2008-2014 Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, 02454. All rights reserved.

Last page update: February 22, 2011