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How’s that Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption workin’ out for you then?

Yeah, not so swell.

Yesterday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran an article focusing on the adoptive family’s end of an adoption of two girls from India, an adoption rooted firmly in lies. The girls were the second and third adoptions Maria Melichar and her husband Carl had done through the agency.

Minnesota couple caught up in apparent adoption fraud

(By way of context, Minnesota has the highest international adoption rate in the country with 17 agencies doing intercountry adoptions. 14 investigations against 8 firms have been brought by state regulators in the past three years.)

Yeah,  adopting a twenty-one year old (presented as a “12 year old”) isn’t exactly what most people have in mind when they start plunking down the big bucks for “kids” from across the globe.

 

Shallu-and-Komal2

Melichar family photograph Komal and Shallu

Crossroads Adoption Services (a Hague Accredited member agency of the JCICS, the  Joint Council on International Children’s Services) handled the adoption.

Note Crossroad’s previous ugliness related to trafficked children in El Salvador. In light of such, you’ve simply gotta love their tagline:

Building families through adoption. The first thing we build is trust.

Their homepage brags of the supposed age range for the kids they place:

Each year, approximately 150 children join Crossroads’ adoptive families. The children come from across the United States and from other countries. They range in age from days old through teenage. Most of the children Crossroads places are under 2 years of age and are healthy. Crossroads continues to place children who have special physical, mental and/or emotional needs or are part of a sibling group.

The Star-Tribune article points out, the fabrication of ages for children adopted from India has been an ongoing concern:

While India has been criticized for changing children’s ages to make them seem younger to adoptive parents, experts said a nine-year discrepancy is unusual.

This October article, also from the Star-Tribune, Burned by a baby broker, contains a bit more detail:

The family has sued, and state regulators are investigating the conduct of Edina-based Crossroads Adoption Services, which handled the adoption.

Thing is, the real story at the heart of this particular case is the foot dragging on the investigatation on the part of U.S. officials at the State Department. The Star-Tribune has previously delved into some of the investigative problems inherent to the current system, see Adoption treaty sets up double standard in U.S.:

The job of investigating complaints was given to the Council on Accreditation, a nonprofit organization in New York that also handles accreditation duties. Only the state of Colorado will investigate its own cases. If an investigation confirms that an agency violated standards, it can lose its accreditation, shutting it out of the 77 treaty countries.

But in an interview, Richard Klarberg, the council’s chief executive, conceded that the council isn’t prepared to conduct international inquiries into complaints of corrupt adoption practices. Baby stealing or other fraudulent adoption practices have been alleged in Vietnam, China, Liberia, Guatemala and India. Some countries halted adoptions after such revelations.

“The reality is that the Council on Accreditation lacks the resources, either in staff or financial resources, to send someone to China to review a complaint. … We lack that capacity,” Klarberg said.

and

Klarberg said the council has just three staff members to investigate complaints against U.S. adoption agencies. They can question U.S. agencies and gather documents related to their foreign activities. So far, the agency has opened at least 17 investigations, but no agencies have been sanctioned. The council will leave the more complicated job of investigating foreign conduct to foreign governments or the State Department.

That’s not good enough, said Gina Pollock, an adoptive mother and board member of Parents for Ethical Adoption Reform, a group that lobbies for changes in federal laws. She said the job of investigating international wrongdoing should be the government’s, not a nonprofit organization’s.

That outsourcing is precisely part of the problem. The very same non-profit agency that provides accreditation to agencies is also responsible for investigating their crimes. On the very face of it, that’s laughable at best.

Add in the complete lack of capacity and apparent lack of will to impose actual consequences both on the part of the COA and the State Department lies at the core of the girl’s case (the following is from yesterday’s article).

A U.S. immigration judge ordered the sisters sent back to India in July 2008 for visa fraud, after medical tests confirmed the age discrepancies. It appears to be the first time the U.S. government has expelled orphans under such circumstances, experts said.

The Melichars complained about the misrepresentations in 2007, but the organization that probes questionable adoptions for the State Department said it didn’t hear about the case until this year. Even then, officials postponed the investigation for months.

The United States implemented the Hague Adoption Convention last year. The State Department handed the job of policing international adoption agencies to the nonprofit Council on Accreditation, which enforces the treaty’s ethical standards. The reforms directly affect Crossroads and 13 other agencies in Minnesota, which has the highest rate of international adoptions in the United States.

Critics of the United States’ commitment to the treaty say the Melichars’ case shows the government is not aggressively investigating adoptions that go wrong. “I can’t understand why the U.S. government is moving so slow on these cases,” said Arun Dohle, founder of the Belgium-based advocacy group Against Child Trafficking and author of a 2008 law review article on Indian adoption fraud.

The answer of course, is that adoption lies at the core of American foreign and domestic policy.

Adoption is inherently viewed as ‘always a positive thing’. Any counterexamples to that mythology are to be ignored, swept under the rug, or quietly dealt with in ways such that the institution itself is not questioned, instead such circumstances are re-framed as mere ‘personal problems’ or ‘exceptional circumstances.’

For the U.S. to get serious about fraud in adoption would mean tarnishing the image of international adoption, and thus risking turning off potential adoptive couples (and the loss of cash that that would entail), something neither the architects of the policies nor the industry are willing to risk.

If intercountry adoption contains a certain percentage (as to what percentage, that remains quite unknowable) of reliance on child trafficking, that’s simply a ‘cost of business’ certain interests have been more than willing to embrace, as evidenced by the industry’s track record to date.

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