Does Justice or Accountability Happen in Illicit Adoptions?

by Jessica Davis, American adoptive mum who returned her Ugandan child to her biological mother in Uganda. Jessica has written this post in response to the recent “guilty” plea of staff working at the adoption agency European Adoption Consultants (Ohio) who facilitated the illicit adoption of Ugandan adoptee to the Davis family. Media article here.

It has been many years since uncovering the horrible truth that the little girl we adopted from Uganda had been unlawfully separated from her family. Since reuniting Namata back with her mother, I have been waiting for some semblance of justice and accountability, especially when it came to this particular individual.

Today, Debra Parris, one of the criminals involved in trafficking Namata changed her plea to guilty on every federal indictment she was charged with. Debra was a willing participant in trafficking children from Uganda through intercountry adoption. She caused irreparable harm to Namata, her Ugandan mother and made our lives miserable for years as we sought to expose her and her co-conspirators. She has inflicted massive amounts of harm on MANY vulnerable Ugandan children and their families (and in many other countries I am sure).

Just hearing her voice today was overwhelming let alone hearing her finally admit guilt. Since coming to realize what happened within our adoption was not unique, I made the commitment to never waste an opportunity to work at changing the narrative when it comes to intercountry adoption. This moment will be no different.

To those who choose to believe that what happened to Namata and her mother is the result of just one “bad apple”, I beg of you to stop. I have been working with Ugandan families for over 5 years now and I can tell you that what happened to Namata and her family is not the exception, rather it is the rule in intercountry adoption. Every Ugandan family I have met, even the families that used other adoption agencies, have had similar experiences to share. None of the families of origin truly understood adoption, all of them were going through a difficult time and only needed support. Almost every one of them thought they were gaining access to an education or medical care for their loved one. I’m not saying that there aren’t exceptions, but I have yet to meet a Ugandan family who truly understood adoption.

As an adoptive parent, choosing to look the other way or to remain silent when it comes to these injustices makes YOU part of the problem. When I realized what was happening with our adoption agency, I immediately started speaking to other adoptive parents that had used them as well. I was told over and over that I was overreacting, that this couldn’t be true, or that at least it couldn’t be as “bad” as I was claiming. I have a feeling that even with this admission of guilt, many adoptive families will still say it’s just not true in their situation (which might very well be true) and go on with their lives, as if nothing happened.

This adoption agency facilitated the adoptions of over 30 Ugandan children. Today Debra Parris admitted to bribing probation officers, court registrars and judges in Uganda. She admitted to knowingly submitting fraudulent information to the US State Department in an effort to facilitate illicit adoptions. To assume this was not happening in other adoptions is not only naive but a grave miscarriage of justice.

How many birth families and adult adoptees have shared similar experiences? When will we start listening? When will enough families have been unnecessarily torn apart until we are willing to do something? When will the lives and welfare of these “orphans” matter to us beyond them being adopted?

While, I rejoiced today in this small step toward accountability for the wrongs perpetuated against many of the most vulnerable children and families in our world, I couldn’t help but think about all the Ugandan families (and families across the world) that this has happened to. Families that will likely never see justice or reparations, let alone the loved one they were separated from. I couldn’t help but think about all the adoptees that were handed off between families like trading cards. Adoptees that are silenced and ignored when they speak out about their experiences with adoption. I can’t help but think about all of the harm that has been unnecessarily inflicted on adoptees and birth families because this system seems far too easy to exploit and corrupt.

When is enough, enough?

For more from Jessica & her husband Adam, watch their interview with 1MillionHome Audacious Love

For more from Jessica, read her blogs:
Adoption: Neat & Tidy? Not so much!
The Lie We Love
Not A Tourist Attraction
There Isn’t an Orphan Crisis, It’s a Family Separation Crisis

2 Replies to “Does Justice or Accountability Happen in Illicit Adoptions?”

  1. andestanley – Hi. I'm Ande. My name is pronounced On-dee. In 1999, I learned that my feelings over the years that something was a wee bit off in my family was ACTUALLY True. In my thirties, I accidentally discovered that I am an International, Stranger Adoption. Think adult woman locked in a restaurant handicapped stall, trembling, sobbing, dripping snot, wondering why her "mom" would consider a Fresh Choice an appropriate venue for confirming her suspicions. After returning home from that little humiliation, I began what I think of as The Great Paper Chase. This blog is about that chase. A little from the legal perspective, but primarily from the emotional and physical. Over the years, I managed to find a slew of clueless people, and a few well informed individuals, who helped me navigate applying for and receiving my paperwork. I encountered almost zero people able to help me with the arguably more important side of adoptee-dom. How do I cope with how all of this makes me FEEL? When I am feeling infantilized, what do I do? When I can hear my heart pounding in my ears and my head feels like it may explode into a hundred dangerous bone shards and a whole lot of squishy mess, how do I calm myself? Am I crazy for wanting my file, my original birth certificate, my proof of existence? How do I find the courage to open this damn envelope? Now that the envelope is open, what do all these squiggly lines actually mean?! Will I feel this guilt, fear, grief, shame, anger…forever?! I decided to start this blog as a way to explore the emotional and physical challenges of seeking our identities and adoption files, as part of community. I don't think of this as My blog. I think of The Adoption Files as Our blog. Our place to ask the questions, discuss the emotions, validate one another and plot the next steps in the journey. Along the way, I will share some of my experiences as a Late Discovery, International, Stranger Adoptee trying to make sense of the lies, the application forms, the attitudes and the consequences of reclaiming myself. I hope to hear from others as they apply for, receive or are denied thier paperwork, summon the courage to open those envelopes or emails, and read and reread the contents of those communications. I also hope to wheedle a few interviews with professionals in the legal and mental health and physical health communities who have valuable insights into how we, as Adopted people, can recognize the need for, implement and maintain healthy coping strategies so we can come through this process healthier and stronger than when we began. The goal is empowerment. The goal is also connection. Adoption life, what I think of as The In-Between, can be incredibly lonely. I have benefitted greatly in recent years from the discovery of this whole online world of Adoptees finding our voices and forming connections and sharing our stories. Every single one of them has helped me along the way, whether they know this is so or not. They amaze me every single day. If you are reading this, know that you are amazing. You are inspiring. You are not alone. We are United in more ways than we can imagine. Just one of those things that unite us is that we all have some form of paperwork, some absence of it, some document we are seeking. Now, let's talk about that paperwork.
    andestanley says:

    I have so many thoughts about this article. I am very happy to hear that the Davises fought for the truth to come out about fraudulent Ugandan adoptions. At the same time, I notice that the language used to describe what happened talks about the Davis’ “child” being returned to her “biological mother”. I feel like this subtly (or not so subtly) reinforces the idea that the person deceitfully removed from their family in Uganda was somehow ever the Davis’. That any of the children trafficked in this way are the children of anyone other than the families they were stolen from. I believe that many, if not all, of the adoptive parents had good intentions, but if they continue to consider these children theirs when there is ample evidence of fraud ? I hope there is some mechanism that allows parents who lost their children to trace and have them returned to them.

  2. andestanley – Hi. I'm Ande. My name is pronounced On-dee. In 1999, I learned that my feelings over the years that something was a wee bit off in my family was ACTUALLY True. In my thirties, I accidentally discovered that I am an International, Stranger Adoption. Think adult woman locked in a restaurant handicapped stall, trembling, sobbing, dripping snot, wondering why her "mom" would consider a Fresh Choice an appropriate venue for confirming her suspicions. After returning home from that little humiliation, I began what I think of as The Great Paper Chase. This blog is about that chase. A little from the legal perspective, but primarily from the emotional and physical. Over the years, I managed to find a slew of clueless people, and a few well informed individuals, who helped me navigate applying for and receiving my paperwork. I encountered almost zero people able to help me with the arguably more important side of adoptee-dom. How do I cope with how all of this makes me FEEL? When I am feeling infantilized, what do I do? When I can hear my heart pounding in my ears and my head feels like it may explode into a hundred dangerous bone shards and a whole lot of squishy mess, how do I calm myself? Am I crazy for wanting my file, my original birth certificate, my proof of existence? How do I find the courage to open this damn envelope? Now that the envelope is open, what do all these squiggly lines actually mean?! Will I feel this guilt, fear, grief, shame, anger…forever?! I decided to start this blog as a way to explore the emotional and physical challenges of seeking our identities and adoption files, as part of community. I don't think of this as My blog. I think of The Adoption Files as Our blog. Our place to ask the questions, discuss the emotions, validate one another and plot the next steps in the journey. Along the way, I will share some of my experiences as a Late Discovery, International, Stranger Adoptee trying to make sense of the lies, the application forms, the attitudes and the consequences of reclaiming myself. I hope to hear from others as they apply for, receive or are denied thier paperwork, summon the courage to open those envelopes or emails, and read and reread the contents of those communications. I also hope to wheedle a few interviews with professionals in the legal and mental health and physical health communities who have valuable insights into how we, as Adopted people, can recognize the need for, implement and maintain healthy coping strategies so we can come through this process healthier and stronger than when we began. The goal is empowerment. The goal is also connection. Adoption life, what I think of as The In-Between, can be incredibly lonely. I have benefitted greatly in recent years from the discovery of this whole online world of Adoptees finding our voices and forming connections and sharing our stories. Every single one of them has helped me along the way, whether they know this is so or not. They amaze me every single day. If you are reading this, know that you are amazing. You are inspiring. You are not alone. We are United in more ways than we can imagine. Just one of those things that unite us is that we all have some form of paperwork, some absence of it, some document we are seeking. Now, let's talk about that paperwork.
    andestanley says:

    I also want to say that this had to be an incredibly painful and difficult experience for you, Ms. Davis. Thank you for advocating for the child you adopted and for others

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