All Your Children Are Belong To Us

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!

12 thoughts on “All Your Children Are Belong To Us

  1. I don’t think anyone would say that a system that encourages child-stealing and woman-drugging is right, or should be continued. That person would have to OK that in their own society, and seeing as how they like kids so much, they would have to be OK with those kids being stolen.

    I felt like the blogger used a lot of space to write her article and wrote unnecessary things that couldn’t be backed up by evidence, such as the provenance of Angelina Jolie’s kids (celebrity attack) or the “feelings” of “most” adoptive parents or “most” adoption agencies. Other than that, it was informative.

    Is this an analogy to the various problems that occur with international trade? Such as, the lead paint in Chinese toys and the tainted pig intenstine found in a pharmaceutical made in China? I think so. We don’t regulate their countries until we reach a point where we can’t trade on that item unless the country cleans up their act. And, according to the article, this has progressively shut down country after country for international adoption, plus adoption agencies that can’t comply to new, international regulations.

  2. @Wellsmus:

    Isn’t creepy to think of children in terms of trade? With supply and demand and market prices? Bleh.

    Yeah, I was thinking on what it means that some of us Westerners like to feel good and self-less about adopting a third-world child, but in the absence of the country’s ability to produce children for our demand, we wouldn’t give a crap about the poverty there. It certainly seems like we don’t care to truly change the circumstances that drove the birth parents to these extremes… because then there wouldn’t be babies to adopt. So are some Westerners really only interested in getting a baby at any cost, and the rest is window-dressing?

    Caveat: I say SOME Westerners because I do not think this applies to all adoptive parents.

  3. There are many organizations that work to alleviate poverty in other countries. Is the adoption group so large that they would profoundly influence whether or not we cared if country was receiving governmental and non-governmental developmental aid?

    One thing I learned from this article was a new perspective on internatioanl adoption. I mean, extended families absorb children all the time. When I lived in Senegal (my ref point for developing world), I lived with a nuclear polygamist family but also nephews and nieces of the father. It was like a mini-compound. So, when she says that most of these children have families, if I had to GUESS, I would say yeah, why not!? I had just never questioned it, nor even looked at adoption as a big issue.

    War babies was a theme at one time, something of a different era. Check “Woman of the Year” with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.

    If I had a soapbox, I would tell people that if they cannot adopt a child from a bad situation, that they should take those dollars and travel to the country and do some volunteer work. If the volunteer work is a joke, then they will at least get to know a different culture that gets twisted up in our media portrayals. Even more of a twist, they allow another country to get to know Americans, and their view is also influenced by many other things besides the “Real Thing.”

  4. Wellsmus said: “Is the adoption group so large that they would profoundly influence whether or not we cared if country was receiving governmental and non-governmental developmental aid?”

    Well, that’s not exactly what I meant. The answer to that question is clearly ‘no’. What I mean is that if the desire to do “good” for the poor in other countries is what motivates some adoptive parents, why did they decide that “good” meant taking children away? Why couldn’t “good” also be something like: lobbying for fair trade between the US and that country? Boycotting companies located in that country that do not pay a fair wage? Protesting the rape of that countries resources by private companies or outside governments? Supporting protest and organizing movements within that country? And etc.

    These other things are truly selfless because a Westerner can’t really “gain” from them. But with international adoption, Westerners gain a child, something they desperately wanted. So I’m questioning the position that an impetus for international adoption is necessarily to do “good” because at this moment I lack evidence that international adoptive parents regularly perform the other varieties of “good” that don’t personally benefit them. This is all for the sake of argument- I don’t have any particular individual or group of individuals in mind.

    “If I had a soapbox, I would tell people that if they cannot adopt a child from a bad situation, that they should take those dollars and travel to the country and do some volunteer work. If the volunteer work is a joke, then they will at least get to know a different culture that gets twisted up in our media portrayals. Even more of a twist, they allow another country to get to know Americans, and their view is also influenced by many other things besides the “Real Thing.” ”

    Good call. Some people do go that far- to actually volunteer to improve people’s society within their country, instead of removing a few young individuals to be “saved” while leaving the rest. That requires a whole new level of commitment, for sure.

  5. Here via the WOC carnival. I’m afraid I don’t have anything particularly substantial to add except that this post is something I’ll be thinking on.

  6. I think much come from the arrogance from white families believing their lives are superior to the ones of the developing world. Those comments about first world people having the right to purchase just give me the creeps.

    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

    Guatemala is a western country, as some of these developing countries are.

  7. @Noir: Thanks for your comments! I also got the creeps from some of those comments, and the utter lack of reflection and self-awareness that produced them.

    I am using the word “Western” not in a geographically-literal sense (Western-hemi). Many bloggers, writers and others use it to refer to Europe + US/Canada… i.e. places where privileged white people predominate.

  8. That’s weird. I wouldn’t know how to call myself then. And I don’t know how to respond to that since I’m Paraguayan and I consider myself western, but if only US/Europe is the West, well….

    No need to say I find this very problematic. Seriously, you can’t make a dichotomy there about West and Not-West when you are including a Western country in your Non-West because is not US/Europe.

    But bleh, maybe for another post, no need to divert the discussion from its course because of this.

  9. Sorry, what I meant to say that is an strange usage for only privileged places. Personally, I have never heard it and it weirds me out because hey, what I consider “western” outside stricter geographical things are cultural things that applies to countries in the third world too.

    I know, too much for not wanting to divert the discussion, but I know I sounded rude.

  10. @Noir:

    You make good points. You are also right that this topic would make for it’s own post altogether.

    Even as I was using the term “Western” I knew it didn’t feel quite right, because as often used (in writing that I read) what it really means is Europe/Canada/US, but of course for some it means “Western hemisphere” which would mean North & South America. Totally different.

    I think the use of the word Western to describe Europe dates back to the Occident vs. the Orient. West = Europe and East = West Asia, North Africa, South & East Asia.

    So it’s definitely based on an old world order, and not based on geographic reality.

    ANYWAY…. like you said, another post. If you have more thoughts on that topic, feel free to email me: idyllicmollusk at yahoo.

  11. Adoptive parent here and I thank you for this contribution to WOC Speak.

    It’s good to note in these discussions that local adoption of special needs children is essentially free. And fostering our daughters before officially adopting them meant we received money from the state for their care. In addition, we had access to Medicare, if we chose to use it, up until their 18th birthday. We never needed to resort to that.

    Our experience was awesome and our daughters were and are amazing human beings who gave so much to our lives. The idea that adoption is a “gift” you give to the children is misguided; they brought and continue to bring joy to our lives.

    I cringe when anyone applauds us for our “selflessness”. Believe me, it was totally selfish to accept the joy, fascination and beauty that resulted when we met these two awesome children and opened our home and our hearts to them. I hope for the day when our culture understands this.

  12. Pingback: “Saving” Babies from the Horrors of an African Childhood « The Czech

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