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.
Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR)
Ethics, transparency, support: What all adoptions deserve
It is an unfortunate truth that international adoption is plagued by corruption. We appreciate E.J. Graff’s coverage of the issues leading to corrupt practices and her well-thought-out solutions. Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform (PEAR) appreciates the opportunity to share our comments. As an organization dedicated to reforming adoption law and policy, we would like to focus our comments on the eight proposed improvements to international adoption.
Our current system of adoption policy and regulation is too often reactionary rather than preventative, increasing the risk of corruption and adoption failure. PEAR believes that by requiring federal licensing/accreditation and oversight of agencies; criminalizing the purchase and sale of children for adoption; and severely curtailing fees by limiting to them to true costs for services and eliminating mandatory donations, international adoption has the best chance of becoming ethical and transparent.
1. Prohibition against cash transfers.
PEAR agrees that prohibiting cash transactions in payment for adoption-related services can go a long way to eliminating corrupt practices. Eliminating cash transactions and requiring receipts for all payments as well as requiring adopting parents to provide a sworn accounting during their I600 process would help clean up corruption on the foreign side of the adoption process. Untraceable sums can delay or prevent investigative bodies from connecting the perpetrators to any child-trafficking crime.
2. Hold U.S. adoption agencies accountable for all their overseas partners’ actions.
PEAR believes that adoption agencies need to be responsible for the actions of their overseas providers whether they are “supervised” or “unsupervised” under U.S. State Department regulations.
That all agencies do not thoroughly investigate documents submitted by independent parties, which can identify irregular documentation, promote the reunification of children with their families of origin, and eventually prevent the improper separation of children from their families, is unconscionable.
Fraudulent documentation—either declaring an identified child as an unknown abandoned child, or with falsified birth parent information—has been proven in Vietnam1, Cambodia2, India3, Guatemala4, Nepal5, Samoa6, Ethiopia7, and China8. Adoptees are doubly victimized by these practices. First, they denied their natural right to be raised by their willing and capable birth families; second, they are robbed of the opportunity to find or know their birth family and medical histories due to the obliteration of their identities.3. Third, limit and track adoptions’ overseas fees in more detail.
PEAR also believes that changes need to be made where there are mandatory donations required of adopting families. First, we disapprove of mandatory donations. We believe that mandatory fees create a dependency upon international adoption and encourage corruption in how children enter the adoption system. We also believe that these mandatory donations are unethical in that countries are charging a fee and being relieved of the financial obligation of raising parentless children. It is a win-win situation for the governments that often provides little benefit to the children residing in institutional care. However, as a realistic response to the existence of these fees, where these fees exist as part of a foreign government’s adoption law (such as in China), we believe that all “mandatory” donations should be payable through an NGO or government entity with full accountability for the disbursement of these funds.
Without any transparency about how much money goes directly to foreign governments and/or orphanages, PEAR is concerned that it becomes impossible to discover what percentage of adoption fees ever reaches its intended destination. It is imperative that there is complete transparency with all adoption fees, and that agencies disclose exactly where all adoption fees are spent.
4. Fourth, limit and track how much agencies can pay their overseas partners, workers, and independent contractors.
It is very difficult for those who are paid a pittance in difficult circumstances to resist the temptation of large amounts of cash, but child-welfare workers should not be motivated by profit to steal, purchase, or solicit children for placement.
5. Fifth, earmark some small amount of federal funds for CoA investigations.
PEAR believes that accrediting bodies need to be appropriately funded so they may thoroughly investigate agencies, their in-country partners, and the complaints submitted. They need to have funding beyond the application fees and adoption lobby support to do so. Otherwise, regulations are meaningless.
6. Sixth, inform the American public about individual adoption agencies’ records.
Pre-adoptive parents can be either unaware of the corruption in international adoption or in denial about it even when documented by media or other adoptive parents. Parents are hindered by the lack of unbiased and publicly provided information about the records and histories of agencies, their employees, and in-country partners. PEAR believes that the U.S. State Department should provide information about each agency’s history of orphan visa denials.
In addition, the State Department should require accrediting bodies (The Council on Accreditation and The Colorado Department of Human Services) to reveal the status of all accreditation applications. Currently, only approved and denied agencies are reported, not new, pending, or withdrawn applications. An agency’s application for accreditation can be pending for months or years, indicating potential issues, but this information is not publicly available.
Furthermore, under current COA practices, previously filed complaints are disregarded when reviewing a new accreditation application of a previously denied agency. This is counterproductive. Families need the ability to see the status of all applications so that they can file or re-file their complaints.
We also suggest that Congress amend the current regulations to allow public record of the reasons for denial of Hague accreditation. Under the current regulations, reasons for denial are kept confidential between the agency and the accrediting body. Prospective adoptive parents adopting from non-Hague countries and the public are kept in the dark as to the reasons for denial and often misled by denied agencies concerning the denials. It is impossible for prospective clients to make informed decisions about agency selection without having full information concerning the agency.
7. Seventh, enable the State Department to heighten the scrutiny of, or suspend accepting, an individual adoption agency’s visa applications from a particular country, whether that country is “Hague” or not.
If adoption agency personnel or contractors have been associated with trafficking or other criminal behavior involving adoptee identity issues, the State Department should be required to inform U.S. citizens who used their services, even if the findings come many years after the adoptions took place.
Lastly, we believe that all immigrant orphan visas, not just Hague country visas, should go through State Department investigation prior to a family traveling overseas. We recognize that this limitation is in place because there is no agreement between the sending country and the U.S. which authorizes the State Department to investigate. We suggest that the U.S. enter into bilateral agreements with all non-Hague countries authorizing the State Department to investigate orphan status and visa eligibility prior to the adoption being finalized in-country.
8. Eighth, criminalize the purchase of children for international adoption.
PEAR believes that one of the most important steps to help eliminate corruption is to criminalize the purchase of children for international adoption. It seems intuitive that purchase of children for any purpose would be illegal, yet the trafficking or purchase of children for adoption in a non-Hague adoption is not illegal under current U.S. law. This oversight in U.S. laws must be corrected, and meaningful punishment instituted for individuals and organizations involved in such reprehensible behavior.
In addition, practices of soliciting children for adoption and tricking or coercing birth families into relinquishment should be criminalized. In the culture of some placing countries—particularly in Pacific Island9 and African nations10—parents may not understand that adoption means the permanent legal severing of ties with their child.
In PEAR’s opinion, Lauryn Galindo11 in Cambodia, Scott & Karen Banks12 in Samoa, and others have received ludicrously light or negligible sentences after conviction of crimes connected to the trafficking of children. If potential adoption-trafficking charges were more severe—and were enforced by the courts—we believe that agencies and their facilitators would be less likely to be lured by greed or misguided intentions and would have to abide by higher ethical standards.
3 Rory Callinan, Stolen Children (Time August 21, 2008).
Asha Krishnakumar, The Adoption Market (Frontline, India, May 21, 2005).
4Victoria Corderi, To Catch a Baby Broker (NBC Dateline, January 20, 2008).
Juan Carlos Llorca, US couple almost adopted stolen Guatemalan baby (AP July 31 2008).
Juan Carlos Llorca, To save adopted girl, Calif. couple gives her up (AP, November 22, 2008).
5 UNICEF and Terre des homes Foundation, Adopting: The Rights of the Child (2008).
6 Kirsten Stewart, U.S. families stunned and angry (Salt Lake Tribune, June 17, 2007).
Lisa Rosetta, Dreams of parents in two worlds shattered by scandal (Salt Lake Tribune. June 6, 2007).
7 John Nicol, Canadian parents raise concerns (CBC News, March 19, 2009).
Von Andrea Rexer, Kindergeld (Profil, January 19, 2009).
8 Barbara Demick, Chinese babies stolen by officials for foreign adoption (Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2009).
Peter S. Goodman, Stealing Babies for Adoption (Washington Post, March 12, 2006).
Barbara Demick, A family in China made babies their business (LA Times, January, 24, 2010).
Jimmy Wang, China's Kidnapped Children (New York Times, April 4 2009).
9 Jini L. Roby and Stephanie Matsumura, If I Give You My Child, Aren’t We Family? A Study of Birthmothers Participating in Marshall Islands - U.S. Adoptions (Adoption Quarterly Volume 5, Issue 4 June 2002).
Galvin Law, International Adoption–The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; A South Pacific Perspective, Samoa – The “Sending State". A Brief Outline of Customary Child Adoption Practices in Samoa (September 1, 2005).
10 Katharine Houreld, Africa adoptions clouded by uncertainty and confusion (South Coast Today, March 9, 2008).
Nadene Ghouri, Liberia: Children for Sale (BBC Crossing Continents, November, 13, 2008).
11 U.S. Department of Justice, Hawaiian resident sentenced to 18 months in prison in Cambodian adoption conspiracy (United States Attorney, Western District of Washington, November 19, 2004).
12 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Defendants sentenced in Samoan adoption scam (Feb 25, 2009).
Brett L. Tolman and Brett Parkinson, Sentencing Memorandum (United States District Court, District of Utah, Northern Division, Case No. 1:07-CR-19 DS, Feb, 24,2009).
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.
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Last page update: February 22, 2011