Where Russia goes, will others follow?



From the New York Post

International adoption has been in the news a lot lately. In the days prior to the Christmas holidays, newsfeeds were abuzz with the reports that Russia was going to enact legislation effectively closing down adoptions to the U.S. as a retaliation for the U.S.'s recent legislation approving sanctions to Russia for human rights violation.

This past week, China also made news, but interestingly this story about baby buying and corruption for international adoption was posted in the international version of the NYT and not the U.S. version. 


From the New York Times

People are naturally outraged, and the usual pundits have weighed in. Many are saying Russia is putting politics over children, saying children are being punished by not being able to be adopted.

Except that let's remember Russia isn't banning international adoption outright, it's banning adoption to the United States

Just under 1000 children were adopted by American families last year, a little less than a third or so of the total number (3,400) of Russian children placed for international adoption from the country. 

Whether the bill was passed as a retaliatory political statement or not, it is striking to me that they chose to enact such politics through what they thought was something that would get people's attention: international adoption. I also believe that had the U.S. not had so many problems already regarding adoptions from Russia, this may not have been the road Russia would have taken.

When you consider the return of Artyom by the Tennessee adoptive parent Torry Hansen, or the abuse of Masha Allen by her adoptive father, or the Ranch for Kids, the residential placement that specializes in treating Russian adoptees, or the deaths of Russian adoptees due to the abuse or neglect of their U.S. adoptive parents, is it really any wonder that Russia would make this move?

A total of 19 Russian adopted children (3% of the estimated 60,000 children adopted from Russia) have reportedly died (see this account or this one). And for those of you who say only 3%, the percentage of children in the general population who died in the U.S. due to abuse and neglect is around 0.2% (2010 figures). I find this particularly egregious since supposedly adoption is to be the safety intervention for a child who has already experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.  [ETA 9:49 pm: Thanks to readers who pointed out the percentages should be 0.03% (not 3%) and 0.002% (not 0.2%) above.]

Clearly the move is political, however I think that this was a natural and expected reaction from Russia. Without all the problems involving Russian adoptees over the past two decades, and without the U.S. being more concerned about the entitlement of American parents to adopt children at their demand than other children's human rights (for example, the U.S. still has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child) then I don't think Russia would have taken this move. Clearly the problems involving Russian adopted children over the past two decades alone was not incentive enough to create this ban and recently the U.S. and Russia had worked on a bilateral agreement concerning protections of children adopted to the U.S.

So Russia made a political move. As if the U.S. doesn't do that as well, all the time. And perhaps maybe 1000 children in Russia won't get adopted by American families. That doesn't mean they won't get adopted. They could still go to other countries, or be adopted domestically in Russia since the country has also been working hard on improving their domestic adoption practices. Several years ago I spoke with a delegation of Russian child welfare professionals, judges, and orphanage directors. They spoke about their biggest challenge in domestic adoption – getting people to consider adopting sibling groups, older children and those with disabilities…..hm. Sounds familiar, like all those American families who won't adopt our children in foster care with siblings, who are older, and who have disabilities.

I predict that Russia won't be the only country that will ban or impose even more strict criteria for adoption in the near future. And the U.S., being resourceful, is already working on other countries to open adoption programs. When it comes to international adoption I see it as a re-work of this old metaphor – when one door closes, we break open windows. 

Where is the outrage and concern for children's safety and well-being in other parts of the world? Or do we only care for them if they're considered "adoptable" and available to Americans?



NYT: Putin signs bill that bars international adoption, upending families

CNN: Families in 'limbo" after Russian adoption ban

Guardian: Russia's ban on adoption isn't about children's rights


Mia Farrow criticizes illegal Haiti adoptions

From the AP

GENEVA – UNICEF goodwill ambassador Mia Farrow has criticized as "deplorable" attempts to take children out of Haiti illegally after last month's devastating earthquake.

U.S. actress says groups or individuals who want to help Haiti's
children should rather support orphanages or their families inside the

Farrow, who herself has adopted 11
children, says offering parents a better life for their children
elsewhere is "completely unacceptable and immoral."

Read the story here.

Restoring Family Links – the International Committee of the Red Cross

Restoring contact between families separated by armed conflicts and natural disasters

to do if you are looking for a missing relative? Every year, armed
conflicts, other situations of violence and natural disasters leave
countless people seeking news of family members.

Restoring family links means carrying out, in those situations, a range
of activities that aim to prevent separation and disappearance, restore
and maintain contact between family members, and clarify the fate of
persons reported missing. It involves collecting information about
persons who are missing, persons who have died, and vulnerable persons
such as children separated from their families and persons deprived of
their freedom. It also involves tracing persons unaccounted for,
organizing the exchange of family news and the transmission of
documents when normal means of communication have broken down,
organizing family reunifications and repatriations, and issuing travel
documents and attestations.

more about the Red Cross Family Links program:

Who are the separated family members assisted by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?

We assist people who have been separated from their family members or
whose relatives are unaccounted for as a result of conflicts,
disasters, migration or other situations requiring a humanitarian

Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable and have specific
needs that we seek to address. These include children who may find
themselves separated from their parents as a result of armed violence,
arrests, poverty or disasters. Equally vulnerable are elderly people
who may not be able to fend for themselves. Detainees make up yet
another group, and keeping them in touch with their families remains of
utmost importance to us.

What is the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement doing to assist separated family members?

A person's well-being depends to a large extent on the ability to stay
in touch with loved ones, or at least receive information about their
welfare. Receiving news from a loved one or being reunited with one's
family can change everything. It can end the anguish for a
five-year-old and her parents who get back together or help a survivor
of a natural disaster to reassure his family that he is alive.

The Movement has a worldwide Family Links Network comprising the ICRC's
Central Tracing Agency, together with its tracing agencies in ICRC
delegations, and the tracing services of national Red Cross and Red
Crescent Societies around the world.

The role of the Family Links Network is to restore and maintain contact
between family members and to clarify the fate of persons reported
missing. We restore family links by offering separated family members
telephone services, enabling them to exchange written messages,
creating websites adapted to specific contexts, responding to
individual tracing requests and reuniting families. Our work also
involves collecting, managing and forwarding information on dead and
missing persons.

The Movement has long-standing experience and extensive expertise in
restoring family links. Through the Family Links Network, we are able
to provide services across national borders in full transparency and
with the consent of the authorities concerned. Therefore, as a
Movement, we are in a unique position; we have a global network with
the potential to assist people who are separated from their families,
wherever they may be.

For more about the Red Cross and its programs to help families who have been separated, see the following links:

A ten-year strategy to strengthen the restoration of family links
Restoring contact between families separated by armed conflicts and natural disasters

And before you send money to an agency promoting adoptions from Haiti, why not read this statement first and donate money to help restore families who have been separated as a result of the earthquake.

Haiti: helping restore family links severed by the earthquake

Adoptees of Color Roundtable

Position statement on Haiti

This statement reflects the position of an international community of
adoptees of color who wish to pose a critical intervention in the
discourse and actions affecting the child victims of the recent
earthquake in Haiti. We are domestic and international adoptees with
many years of research and both personal and professional experience in
adoption studies and activism. We are a community of scholars,
activists, professors, artists, lawyers, social workers and health care
workers who speak with the knowledge that North Americans and Europeans
are lining up to adopt the “orphaned children” of the Haitian
earthquake, and who feel compelled to voice our opinion about what it
means to be “saved” or “rescued” through adoption.

To read the rest, click here for the Adoptees of Color Roundtable blog

Heartbreaking, yet not surprising

This is a disturbing story from the LA Times. I think it also shows that we can not be too careful when considering the legality of children "available" for adoption.

How many more stories like this one are going to come to light? I think what is most interesting is that so many advocates of adoptions from China have believed that the adoption system there was clean and straightforward. It's just all abandoned daughters, after all, right? Unlike the widespread and widely known trafficking of children from other countries, there has been a sense of "not us" about China. Unfortunately, now we know otherwise.

A mother-and-son business in China

Duan Yuelin and Chen Zhijin, his mother, who get children from the
rural poor and adopt them out to foreigners, talk about their business
in their home in Changning, China. Chen says the children are better
off with their new parents. (Barbara Demick / Los Angeles Times / January 15, 2010)

What merchandise was he selling? Babies. And the customers were
government-run orphanages that paid up to $600 each for newborn girls
for adoption in the United States and other Western countries.

"They couldn't get enough babies. The demand kept going up and up, and
so did the prices," recalled Duan, who was released from prison last
month after serving about four years of a six-year sentence for child

From 2001 to '05, the ring sold 85 baby girls to six orphanages in Hunan.

His story, which is backed up by hundreds of pages of documents
gathered in his 2006 court case, shed light on the secretive process
that has seen tens of thousands of unwanted girls born to dirt-poor
parents in the Chinese countryside growing up in the United States with
names like Kelly and Emily.

"Definitely, all the orphanages gave money for babies," said the 38-year-old Duan, a loquacious man with a boxy haircut.

At first, Duan said, his family members assumed that they weren't
breaking the law because the babies were going to government-run
orphanages. It had been an accepted practice among peasant families to
sell unwanted children to other families.

To read the story, click here.

Why some people are pushing to airlift orphans out of Haiti instead of sending resources to Haiti

It's because we [benevolent and altruistic humanitarians] can't trust them [poor, under-developed] to know what to do with the money we give them. After all, they just loot. And since *we* know better how to use resources, we can make sure the "deserving" Haitians get help. Since children are the most "deserving" it's best that *we* control how resources are distributed to them, and that includes bringing them to us. How else can we control and ensure that our resources go to the most innocent and deserving? Even before the earthquake, they had tons of poverty in their country, and thousands of kids were being cared for in orphanages. Isn't it better for these poor, deserving children to come to the U.S. where we don't have poverty and children living in government care (i.e. foster care)? Oh, well, oops on the last statement.  I mean, all we're trying to do is give these children a better life and keep them safe!


[Standard disclaimer here, since I know some will object: not ALL people, I didn't even say ADOPTIVE PARENTS, and I'm not referring to those children who were already assigned to adoptive parents.]


I am not going to post on the situation in Haiti, especially since I can't watch a single news story on the tragedy without it ending with some piece about all the orphans being airlifted to the U.S. or the Netherlands. It's going to be the next generation's version of Operation Baby Lift.

Instead, I am going to link to two important pieces I believe everyone needs to read. Trust me, there are enough folks who think unquestioned airlifting of children out of Haiti is "in the best interest of the child" to counter these two perspectives.

International Social Services position: click here.

A Korean adoptee's perspective: Whites Make Pact With God, Expedite Haitian Adoptions click here for the story.

ABC report about corruption in Ethiopian adoptions

R435878_2094833I've had no less than four readers send me this link! I'm impressed how quickly people are responding. I had planned to post this later this week but since so many people are sending me the story, here it is.

Personal note, I was bawling after watching this documentary. I was also incredibly angry.

From ABC News Australia – an article by Mary Ann Jolley for Foreign Correspondent

Foreigners prefer younger children – babies to five-year-olds. Older
children or those with health problems are more difficult to pitch. So
while many children languish in underfunded and overcrowded orphanages,
some international adoption agencies are out spruiking in villages
asking families to relinquish their children for adoption.

It's a phenomenon known as "harvesting" and it's shocking to see.

Parents are often unaware of what they're doing when they offer
their children for adoption. They're led to believe they'll hear from
their children regularly and their children will be well educated and
eventually bring the family wealth.

But in reality, the parents and families never hear from their
children and receive little information about where their children have
gone. We filmed a room full of grieving mothers who gave their children
for adoption after agencies promised they'd be given regular updates.

Some were even told the agency would help support their remaining children. Their stories are gut-wrenching.

No one disputes there is a real need for international adoptions,
but for the sake of the children and adoptive parents there needs to be
some protection from unscrupulous agencies who purport to be driven by
humanitarian interests, but in reality are stuffing their pockets with
dirty cash.

The entire article can be found here.

The video of it is here, click on Fly Away Children.

Also, a related story from AM radio, Australia. Ethiopian children exploited by US Agencies.To listen to this radio show, or to read the transcript, click here.

Uruguay now allows same sex couples to adopt and other links

1. From Miami Herald.

Uruguay, long-regarded as one of the most progressive countries in Latin America, set a standard for the region by allowing same-sex couples to adopt children with a bill that passed the Senate on Wednesday.

While gay rights activists celebrated the passage of the bill, the Roman Catholic Church voiced its opposition, beginning with a strongly worded statement released in August by the Archbishop Nicolas Cotugno of Montevideo, Uruguay's capital city.

        Read the whole article here.

2. From a blog written by a prospective parent adopting from foster care, a personal reflection titled What Now? Talking Transracial Adoption about being put on the spot in her pre-adopt training to explain why she is transracially adopting to a room of African Americans. 

3. From author Terra Trevor's blog, River, Blood and Corn comes this blog post, Race and Adoption.

4. Nepal lifts suspension of international adoption. Read the news here.

5. From ABC news comes this frightening story. An internationally adopted teen faces deportation if she doesn't get the Gardasil vaccine. Girl Rejects Gardasil, Loses Path to Citizenship.

Liberia: What happens to the Child When Adoption Fails?

Read this compelling article in the Liberian Journal by Heather Cannon-Winkleman. I had the fortune to meet Heather when she was in Minnesota, before she returned to work in Liberia. Heather is intimately knowledgeable about international adoption/orphanage care in Liberia. She has been actively working to educate people both in Liberia and around the world about some unethical practices that are happening in the country. Heather's positions about adoption have been formed by actually working in orphanages in Liberia, including one that used to focus on providing services to children in orphanages until adoption proved to be more profitable. In our conversations I have learned about some very unethical practices happening in the country.

Heather writes,

What is most startling is that many of these disruptions occur under the radar. Currently, there is no universal tracking or monitoring system to determine how many children have experienced failed adoptions and where they are placed. Also, there is no system that ensures these children are receiving the quality care they deserve and the necessary counseling or therapy to treat their mental health issues causing their displacement. This lack of an oversight mechanism has caused many children to become lost in the system and eventually forgotten. For right now many children are being processed through underground networks in attempt to re-adopt them without going through proper or legal channels [7]. These attempts to cover up the disruptions are often from the efforts of adoptive parents or placement agencies who are avoiding to disclose this unfavorable fact. This is probably how so many children adopted outside the U.S. are put on planes and returned to their birth nations to languish in uncertainty.

There are some organizations that provide help for distressed adoptive parents and adopted children. They can find solace from a few adoption disruption resource providers that can help with counseling, re-adoption, disruption prevention, and respite care for the children or parents. However, these providers either specialize in children with special needs, up to age three, certain nationalities and various states [8]. This is why there needs to be a global system that helps children of all ages and from all nations with or without special needs, that oversees all aspects of the pre- and post-disruption process to guarantee the rights of the child.

As the issue of disruptive adoption continues to go unmonitored, there has been little attention given to this real concern in the many online forums or blogs of adoption advocacy groups who seek to gain from this highly profitable industry.

Heather blogs at Uniting Distant Stars.

Update: Heather has asked that I link to this website, which is an account of a group of people advocating on behalf of a group of Liberian-adopted children being abused by their adoptive parents. Please check out the website for more information on how you can help.

[7] Underground Network moves children from home to home. This 2006 USA Today article investigates the issue of Tennessee couple running an underground network for a disrupted adoptions and also being charged with abuse of their own adopted children. Ronald Federici, a neuropsychologist in Alexandria, Va., and author of Help for the Hopeless Children who has adopted seven children was cited saying "Dump and run — it happens all the time." says Ronald Federici, a neuropsychologist in Alexandria, Va., and author of Help for the Hopeless Children who has adopted seven children…. He says there are hundreds of e-mail chat rooms in which people who adopted children are trying to find new homes for them outside the public system…. "They don't want to sell the kids. They just want to get rid of them," he says, explaining the children may have health problems the adoptive parents never expected. "It's not the merchandise they bought." He says many of these parents are looking for the cheapest and fastest placement. USA Today 18 Jan 2006 by Wendy Koch.

[8] The Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS) website lists eight adoption disruption resources offering a range of services.