Haiti, and the constant drumbeat of the demand for children
First go to Bastard Nation’s statement-
It says much of what I need to, although far more eloquently and concisely than I ever could.
It’s a stunning statement, that speaks to the core of how we’re dealing with a corrupted and broken system long before the quake ever hit. In the aftermath, some of those on the ground have massive economic conflicts of interest. What’s happening now is attempting to put a polite face on little more than scavenging.
Since my last post four days ago, Haiti’s children and the American adoption market, obviously, the situation has unfolded very much the way some of us were deeply concerned it would.
I’ve spent the past four days looking at a virtual mountain of news pieces, blog posts, tweets, and emails so much of which can be summarized as little more than the constant drumbeat of the demand for children.
While the newspapers tend to focus upon the demand to ram through the adoptions already in some cases barely begun, much of the broader online culture openly calls for an all out child round-up, and redistribution.
There’s simply too much to write and as many of you have by now realized, the situation is simply changing too rapidly.
Child export flights have already taken place.
Clean water, medical care, food, shelter, and for Haiti’s massive population under 18, basic security from those who would utilize the instability towards satisfying their own demands are very basic needs.
But what does it mean when the very nations “coming to Haiti’s aid” are themselves, those who would utilize the instability towards satisfying their own demands? (See my comment here.)
How can you work against “child trafficking” in the wake of natural disaster when entire countries (that Haiti will be reliant upon to survive and rebuild) are part of the child export problem?
Let’s be perfectly clear here, Inter-country Adoption is not humanitarian assistance.
Taking children from Haiti is not altruism, it is child export, and utilizing the collapse in infrastructure to personal advantage .
Here in the US adoption has become THE story.
Certain Americans, completely unable to get their heads around scale and scope of human suffering, (recent estimates put the population of the region around Port-au-Prince at between 2.5 and 3 million people) have instead decided to focus on institutional interests or all the way down to a vested self interest, their personal demand for what they disingenuously deem “their” child.
Speaking as an adult adoptee myself, I find it absolutely disgusting that there are those who feel “adoption” is somehow vital to focus upon, as opposed to the massive scale of human suffering and needs in Haiti right this very moment.
But as so much of the current American government and media, is likewise disproportionately representative of those who have adopted, particularly internationally, prospective adopters find in judges and elected officials a welcome mat to their demands.
Denis McDonough, the National Security Advisor had this to say yesterday about how high a priority the demands of the American-would-be-adopters have been given on the federal level:
In fact, we’ve been working very closely throughout the course of the last couple of days with our counselor affairs office on ongoing adoptions. We are obviously also trying to make sure that orphanages have the resources that they need.
There has been an intense amount of interest done here — intense amount of work done here in the embassy today on this issue, because I think there are a lot of people focused on exactly this. And counselor affairs has dedicated personnel to addressing it in particular.
All this over what is very loosely being defined as roughly 300 American ”pending” cases (what’s a “pending” case? Here at the latest guidelines for kids being brought in,), more than 150 of which have ALREADY been brought to America over just the last several days in a mad rush to get them into the States.
See this story as but one example thereof.
Hospital officials also set up a makeshift courtroom, and a judge is expected to address any legal and adoption issues, Gessner said.
Many families from across the country have arrived or are expected to arrive today in Pittsburgh to finalize adoptions for most of the children, said Marc Cherna, director of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. U.S families, including one from Pennsylvania, are in line to adopt 47 of the children. Three are going to families in Canada and four to families in Spain.
“Most of them were just about there in the adoption process, so this was just the last step,” Cherna said. “If they have their paperwork and everything in order, hopefully they can take them home.”
Mind you, those pesky little “last steps” under normal pre-quake conditions may well have been Haitian approval, something that has for intents and purposes become moot in practice at this point.
In pre-quake Haiti, “orphanages” bemoaned the length of the approval process (roughly 2 years) and were deeply concerned about how the process was slowing and they were having difficulty exporting kids, putting up prayer requests that processes be expedited.
“Orphanages” are by and large dependent upon the fees (over $10,000 US per child in at least once instance) for the adoptions to pay their basic expenses. As international adoptions worldwide slowed and the economy contracted in the U.S. adoptions from Haiti likewise began to slack off. The process drew out and some ”orphanages” raised their fees in that the monies collected from each adoption had to be stretched further until the next one could be realized.
The quake changed everything. Haitian “orphanage” directors are dancing for glee at so many dossiers moving in a single day, and elated at the prospect of suddenly having bed availability for so many more kids (which they hope to pass along as well.)
Instead of the long drawn out dossier approval process, we’re seeing adoptions rammed through in a “makeshift courtroom,” in Pennsylvania, presided over by a Judge with little to go on other than the agency and would-be-adopters end of the paper trail. The conflicts of interest are obvious.
All notions of child welfare, let alone children’s rights (rights which the U.S. still fails to recognize) are out the window.
Here is a small chunk of what I wrote previously in a piece about Vietnam, pertaining to UNICEF and it’s stated opposition to child extraction in the wake of natural disasters (the link in the below is no longer valid, though the position can be found here now):
UNICEF’s position on International Adoption, which begins, naturally with the assumptions contained within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides UNICEF’s work, clearly states that every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents, whenever possible.
It elaborates that intercountry adoption should be considered when a permanent family setting in their country of origin cannot be found. UNICEF also lays out guidelines for when international adoption should NOT be utilized.
The case of children separated from their parents and communities during war or natural disasters merits special mention. It cannot be assumed that such children have neither living parents nor relatives. Even if both their parents are dead, the chances of finding living relatives, and a community or home to return to after the conflict subsides, continues to exist. Thus, such children should not be considered for inter-country adoption, and family tracing should be the priority. This position is shared by UNICEF, UNHCR, the International Confederation of the Red Cross, and international NGOs such as the Save the Children Alliance.
I strongly urge readers to carefully read the entire position statement and carefully consider what it means to say that all possibilities for a child to find permanence in a family in their country of origin have been exhausted.
Then there’s the underlying terminology problems and how utilization of certain terminology holds one meaning in the pop perception and quite another in international adoption law. Much of what’s happening right now is running down the greased rails of linguistic assumptions that have little to nothing to do with how such terms are actually applied in international adoption law.
Americans hear about the plight of Haitian “orphans,” never stopping to think that the child labeled “orphan” may be in an “orphanage” for any number of reasons, including coercion and false representation of such places as nothing more than mere “temporary child care until the family gets back on its feet.” Those of us familiar with how some of these orphanages tend to work have seen it time and time again in country after country, kids taken in ‘just for now’ only to be shipped out without consent, as the mere act of leaving a child in said places is being legally construed as consent.
Now in the aftermath of disaster, all of those assumptions are making the removal of children easier, at precisely the moment when parents and other relatives have the least voice with which to push back, if they are even aware their child has been taken.
When is an “orphan” not an orphan? Far more often than most people would care to contemplate in inter-country adoption.
As I’ve begun to touch on in some of my comments on this incredibly useful comment thread over on the Daily Bastardette, People hear terminology bandied about like “pipeline adoptions” or being “at the last step” and assume those adoptions should be expedited.
“Pipeline” at this point can mean pretty much anything from submitting an initial application towards potentially becoming an adoptive couple (and oftentimes not having gone through background checks, much less been matched to an individual child,) on through to all the paperwork having been set in place, but final approval had not come from the Haitian end.
Now with Judge Cadet having died in the quake, the disposition of a number of those cases is left to speculation, or whatever the international community or a judge in Pennsylvania can ram through.
As I’ve covered here so often on my blog, the basic definitions of terms such as “orphan” and “abandoned” are often slippery at best. Returning again to that earlier post on Vietnam for example:
All of which comes back to how terminology such as “orphan” in international adoptionland does not necessarily refer to ‘a child whose parents are dead’ or ‘a child bereft of parents.’ “Orphan” in relation to international adoption law has a very specific meaning.
Children adopted internationally after being designated “orphans” often have one or both parents still alive (and yes, in some cases even still seeking them, as often parents are lured into signing paperwork and leaving their children at ‘orphanages’ with promises of it ‘just being for a short duration’, perhaps until the parent has more money to care for the child.)
While the idea of a child whose parents are now dead tends to be the non-technical/non-legal definition in lay or common use, “orphan” as relates to international adoption has a very specific technical meaning embedded in international law in relation to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and a set of criteria laid out in its definition of an “orphan.”(WAY too huge to lay out here, instead use this search tool of the document, searching on the term “orphan.” “Sec. 1101. Definitions” contains the technical definition of “orphan” for purposes of international adoption.)
“Orphan” is not the only linguistic stumbling block, Look here for a definition of how “Abandonment” is defined in relation to theUSCIS Guidebook for international adoption and how that begins to pose a new set of issues in relation to Vietnamese adoptions. (The entire guidebook is well worth glancing through.)
Likewise terminology such as “orphanage” also begins to shatter when held up to pop perceptions. Some so called “orphanages” in Haiti, far from the
Madeline-like institution notions some carry from childhood children’s books, are more accurately described as simply the Haitian end of international adoption markets. They are places where children are collected, cleaned and fed, stored, dressed to be attractive to the western eye, and then relentlessly marketed via websites and lookbooks, and newsletters. The primary function of some of them have nothing to do with long term child welfare. They are instead essentially holding pens where kids are kept until adoption paperwork can go through.
Some are simply about the money. Others add in an ideological component, raising the kids to be Christian and eventually set into Christian adoptive families by way of agencies that only take on those deemed adequately “faithful” as clients. (”Missionary tourism” and the Haitian orphanage trade deserves a post all its own.)
We’ve seen it time and time again in the wake of natural disasters. Some of the few things that prohibited child harvesting in the wake of the Tsunami were stricken countries laws banning Christians from adopting Muslim children and countries closing their doors in the wake of Christian childhood evangelism efforts. But pick an earthquake, a flood, a war-torn devastated somewhere, even New Orleans here in the States, post Katrina, and the child demand drumbeat can be heard all too clearly.
In the immediate aftermath of de-stablizing mass events, there are those with the infrastructure and “justifications” already in place to utilize such to their own ends. Haiti is sadly becoming just the latest example of child scavenging in the wake of natural disaster.
Is there more to write? Of course. Are there details and links and the continual unfolding of the whole sorry mess? Of course.
But adoption is not what matters here.
It shouldn’t be the story. It shouldn’t be where resources and personnel are focused, and it’s damn shameful that that’s what’s happening.
Chock it up to a lack of empathy, or a complete inability to get their heads around scale, but what genuinely matters here is getting lost, buried under the rubble, and lack of attention span.
There are people, right now, in desperate need of help.