Corruption in international adoptions

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News Reports of Adoption
 Irregularities in Liberia

U.S. Dept. of State Adoption  Alerts & Notice: Liberia

“Liberia’s ‘orphan’ trade,” Nadene Ghouri, November 14, 2008, BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents.

This is an article to accompany BBC Radio 4’s investigation, “Liberia: Children for Sale”. Reporter Nadene Ghouri goes undercover as a prospective adoptive parent to expose the trade in children in Liberia. Includes profiles of people like John Varkpola, who believed he was dropping his niece off for temporary care (food and education) and did not intend to relinquish her for permanent adoption; she was adopted to the U.S. Quotes child welfare specialist who says that agencies deliberately target illiterate guardians. Ghouri meets Bishop Kofi, who offers to arrange an adoption for $5,000. She confronts Bishop Kofi, owner of one of the largest children's homes in Monrovia, about his willingness to ignore both the Canadian moratorium on Liberian adoptions and the Liberian ban on all adoptions, pending legislative reform. “Most of the children in orphanages like the one Mr. Kofi runs are not actually orphans. Most have at least one living parent; many were placed there by desperately poor parents. Unscrupulous agents go into shanty towns and slum villages, convincing parents to give up their children on the promise of free room and board and a good education—something few families can afford. It is an offer hard to turn down, but it is also too good to be true.” Orphanage owners take a per-child stipend from the government, and do not necessarily use it to feed or care for the children.

“Adoption Committee Constituted,” October 15, 2008, Liberian Press Release.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has created a Special Committee on adoption of Liberian children. She expressed hope that the members of the committee will effectively improve the implementation of the country’s adoption procedures.

“Liberia: Bishop Kofi linked to illegal adoption,” August 8, 2008, The NEWS (Monrovia).

Deputy Health Minister for Social Welfare Joseph Geebro accused Bishop Edward Kofi of illegally adopting 40 children, saying that he did not get official Ministry of Health Approval and ignored the Liberian ban on adoptions. Kofi denied the charges and said he was offering free medical services, and that as a result, “some parents decided to give 40 children to ACFI to provide them scholarships.” “Besides, Dr. Kofi argued that adoption is not illegal in Liberia until a bill can be passed by the National Legislature.”

“Parents Cite Poverty for Abduction of Children,” May 28, 2008, The Inquirer (Monrovia).

At a hearing at the House standing committee on Health and Social Welfare in Liberia, biological mothers of adopted children say they give up their kids because of their poverty. Orphanage owners testify that adoption is not trafficking, but a chance to give children a better life.

“438 Cases of Child Violation Reported,” Melissa Chea-Annan, May 5, 2008, The Inquirer (Monrovia).

“The National Child Rights Observatory Group (NACROG) over the weekend released its annual situational report in which, 438 cases of child rights violations were documented. Briefing the press at the Ministry of Gender, NACROG's Officer-In-Charge, Senyon Kieh, explained that some of the cases recorded in the report include rape, abandonment, neglect, illegal detention and adoption, torture, child trafficking and ritualistic killing, among others. … Although he didn't name those involved, he indicated that in most instances, authorities from these orphanages would … separate children from their families, with fake promises and identify the children as orphans for their selfish gains.”

“Uproot Criminal Child Adoption,” February 7, 2008, The Analyst (Monrovia).

Editorial asserts that one result of the war is “the criminal enterprise of child abduction euphemistically camouflaged as adoption, conducted by “so called humanitarian workers including religious workers.” “Crafty child seekers acting on catalogue orders” take children from poverty-stricken homes and sell them internationally to adoptive families “with mouthwatering financial rewards.”

“Liberia investigates child adoptions by U.S. agency,” Alphonso Toweh, February 1, 2008, Reuters.

The Liberian government, led by Deputy Minister for Social Welfare Joseph W. Geebro, is investigating what it believes were irregularities in the way seven Liberian children were flown to the U.S. for adoption through Addy’s Hope Adoption Agency and the Greater Love Children’s Home, neither of which was formally accredited to operate in Liberia. Geebro’s ministry had requested that the U.S. embassy hold approval of adoption visas for 30 days until a full investigation was completed, but the seven Liberian children were flown to the U.S. before the end of the 30-day waiting period. “Save the Children and other child protection agencies have been working in Liberia and other developing countries to strengthen adoption rules to prevent poor families being lured into giving up their infants for adoption by unregistered or unscrupulous entities or individuals. Geebro said some children adopted from Liberia had subsequently been found to have been carried away into prostitution or into working as indentured servants.”

“7 Children sneaked out of Liberia: Rights groups howl, demands probe,” The Analyst (Liberia,) February 1, 2008, Pound Pub Legacy.

Reports that ten children were allegedly taken from various orphanages to Monrovia’s Greater Love Children’s Home, a partner of Addy’s Hope Adoption Agency, and adopted illegally to the U.S. The article reports that while Deputy Minister Geebro placed a hold on children leaving Liberia through intercountry adoption, he was put under political pressure to write a letter authorizing the children to leave the country. Children’s rights groups are encouraging the government to conduct a probe in to what it calls a wave of child trafficking.

“Adoption or Child Trafficking?” The Analyst (Liberia), June 14, 2006, AllAfrica.com.

Asserts that many orphanages in Liberia obtain children through illegal means and participate in child trafficking. “A recent U.S. State Department report on Liberia says most of the kids who were taken away by child traffickers are currently being used as sex slaves or street hawkers.” Government attempts at prevention and deterrence of trafficking have been ineffective.

“Orphanages accused of child trafficking,” February 24, 2006, IRIN.

Africa Liberian human rights groups say that Liberian children are being sold into adoption or living in sub-standard orphanages. The National Child Rights Observation Group (NCROG) is asking the government to look into orphanages, which it claims are charging huge sums for adoptions, suggesting profits and trafficking. Charges that orphanages subject children to harsh and unsanitary conditions and are “profiteering.” “It cited a case of an orphanage in the capital, Monrovia, where seven boys slept in one tiny room with no beds and no access to toilets. The boys were forced to urinate and defecate in their living space.” Accuses orphanage operators of soliciting donations abroad but not using the funds to care for the children.

“Liberian Orphanages Steal, Exploit Children,” Katharine Houreld, November 4, 2005, Reuters.

“When social workers found the starving children at the Hannah B. Williams orphanage in Monrovia, they were eating frogs because the owner had sold the food donated by aid agencies at a market in Liberia's capital.” Article says that a large proportion of Liberian orphanages have unacceptable living conditions and many are being shut down. It is common to find that many of the children in the orphanages are not truly orphans. When the Hannah B. Williams Orphanage in Monrovia was closed because of shocking living conditions, 89 of the 102 “orphans” there returned to their families. “Sometimes, it is difficult to tell whether conditions are the result of poverty and years of war or corruption. At the Teemas Orphanage on the outskirts of Monrovia, 46 boys sleep in one room on a urine-stained concrete floor with six thin foam mattresses between them. Conditions are barely better in the girls' room. The roof of the derelict building has collapsed and plastic tarpaulins stretched over sticks protect the children from the rain and fierce sun.”  

“Civil War Leaves Liberian Orphans in Limbo,” Ann M Simmons, August 9, 2003, Seattle Times.

Reports that fourteen years of Liberian civil war have left more than 10,000 orphans, many of whom are being adopted by Americans who will give them better lives. Asserts that the chaos prevents the investigation needed to get the children their visas. Quotes Hannah B. Williams, who opened a children’s home there in 1972. “In good times, dinner for the children at Hannah B's is a small bowl of rice and boiled greens. In bad times, there is often no meal at all. Sometimes, small snails gathered from a nearby swamp must suffice.”

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 23, 2011