RH Reality Check posted an eye-opening article recently on international adoption, The Lie We Love. Harsh, right?

The article discusses how a combo deal of lots of Western ca$h from potential adoptive parents plus huge demand plus corrupt officials can equal a really scary adoption scene where baby-selling and baby-stealing can and do occur. Not every time. But enough times to warrant a really serious look at international adoptions and lots of caution.

That alone is a great subject for more discussion, but what intrigued me were the comments from readers after the article. A good deal of people who had been involved in international adoptions posted their thoughts. For many of the commentors, these thoughts were along the lines of: “Poor third-world women (of color) can’t be fit mothers, therefore we (white) Westerners have the right to take their children away.” My interpretation, obviously. Read the comments yourself to see what I’m talking about. One woman goes so far to say that a third-world woman who already has several children may choose to have yet another to “sell” to Westerners, and that it is acceptable for Westerners to “purchase” this child because then they are helping the whole family!

Naturally, these are troubling attitudes for me to read, coming from actual adoptive parents. I believe that a fundamental human right is the right to bear and raise one’s children. Does the desire to adopt internationally, if strong enough, trump the birth mother’s right to keep her children? Does a family’s poverty make them unfit parents? Does a lifestyle significantly different than white Western lifestyles make a third-world family unfit to raise their own children? I say no.

True concern for these mothers, families and children would look different to me. It would look like working in solidarity with poor mothers (and fathers when present) to change their conditions so that they can raise their own children instead of abandon them or adopt them out, or sell them or prostitute them. It would mean acknowledging the troubling intersections of privilege and oppression that lead so many of these international adoption situations to be fraught with ethical murkiness. It would mean not classifying a middle-class white American (or Western) childhood as categorically superior to the childhood available in poor “third-world” families of color.

I believe that women in China, Guatemala and other countries that have or have had significant international adoption programs deserve choice. They deserve the same choices as Western women: to have or not have children. To space their births. To keep the children they do choose to birth. To raise the children they give birth to. To have governments that support their choices in real ways.

These are all basic human rights. Can we please recenter the international adoption debate around the human rights of the families that the adoptees come from? Because if we could be certain that the human rights of the birth parents were being respected, a lot of the ethical problems we’re seeing would evaporate. We could be certain that a woman got pregnant accidentally, chose to give birth, and then freely chose adoption. Unless the pregnancy was unplanned, and birth and adoption were freely chosen (and not compelled by poverty and a lack of access to birth control and abortion), can we be sure that everyone’s human rights were respected and the adoption is not surrounded by ethical problems.

BTW, I am not opposed to all international adoption. I do not hate on adoptive parents, or internationally adopted children. As a matter of fact, my own family contains several adopted members, including internationally-adopted members. I am just asking some tough questions so that we can find ways to eliminate problems with our current system of international adoption, and some of the problematic ways of thinking that surround it.

Comments? (Remember, comments containing personal insults will not be published.)

If the reference in my title is too nerdy for you, find out what I mean here.

A related post I wrote on Trans-Racial Adoption.

UPDATE 2/15/09: Welcome those of you coming over from Tell It WOC Speak. Please feel free to leave your thoughts!