by Judith Alexis Augustine Craig adopted from Haiti to Canada.
Since the announcement of Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the new nominee for the Supreme Court there has been intense scrutiny of her politics, religious views and her family. As a Haitian adoptee myself I took great interest in the discussions around her adopted children from Haiti. There were many questions about legitimacy of her adoptions, particularly her son who was adopted following the Haitian earthquake. This particularly struck a cord with me, because following the Earthquake there was a lot of questionable removals of Haitian children.
I was interviewed by several media outlets following the Earthquake and this question was raised continuously. At the time my response was direct. I was aware that many children had been legally adopted but were waiting for the government to approve the process so they could join their adoptive families abroad. I felt in light of the situation it was appropriate for those children to be allowed to join their families immediately. The challenge became for those children who were ‘presumed’ to be orphans following the earthquake and were ‘rescued’ by many international agencies who scooped them up and removed them from Haiti without verify if they were truly orphans or if there were alternative family members for the children to live with. We watched in horror as children were flown out of Haiti within a week following the Earthquake and then learnt that they were not orphans, nor were they apart of an adoption process and worse still had families. In addition, we saw members of a religious group try and illegally cross the border to Dominican Republic with Haitian children none of whom were orphans. These are merely a few examples of illegal child abductions which occurred directly following the Earthquake.
Many people felt these international religious organizations or NGO’s were doing right by removing these children from this horrific natural disaster, instead the opposite was true. These children had just experienced extreme trauma and now faced another trauma being removed without warning, consent or preparation. The International Social Services (ISS, 2010) stated that intercountry adoption should not take place in a situation of war or natural disaster when it was impossible to verify the personal and family situations of children.1
The sad reality is that black market international illegal adoptions continue to thrive worldwide, with children either being kidnapped from their parents or parents being coerced into relinquishing their children. They are persuaded to do this amid false promises that they will be educated abroad and then returned to their family or that their families will be able to join them in the future. This has resulted in many countries either closing their borders to international adoption all together or implementing stricter regulations.
Haiti followed suit and introduced stricter measures banning private adoptions, limiting the number of international adoptions per year, closing substandard orphanages and rewriting the adoption code. Additional measures included more support for families in Haiti prior to them agreeing for their child to be adopted and a mandatory period of time for families to change their mind.2
While some fear these new restrictions will mean that the 50,000 children in orphanages will languish in care, reform is absolutely necessary to protect children and their families’. During my trip to Haiti while I was searching for my biological family, I met dozens of families who had relinquished their children years earlier many under false pretences and never heard or saw them again. It was heart-wrenching to see these families in such pain and anguish over their lost children. Many of the ‘orphans’ in Haiti are placed in orphanages due to economic hardships their families are experiencing. Leaving their children at an orphanage is intended for a short period of time while they stabilise their lives. Many parents have every intention to return to resume caring for their children. Imagine the horror when they found their child was adopted abroad. So, what is the solution?
As a social worker for the past 15 years I have worked in developed countries with intricate child welfare systems that support children and their families who experience a wide range of challenges. Foster care systems do not exist in Haiti in this same manner and this is an area that could provide much needed temporary support for families. While this approach will require further education for the Haitian community and a financial and practical commitment from the government it will keep families together and prevent unnecessary and illegal adoption.
While I can’t speak to the specific circumstances surrounding Judge Barnett’s adoptions, I am hopeful that they were legal and above aboard. My greater hope is that further transformation within the international adoption system will continue to occur so that families can remain together wherever safely possible and reforms will continue to protect the rights of children and their families. Adoption should be a last resort, when all other avenues to keep children within their family is fully exhausted and supported.
The IRS is asking for information on my birth parents in order for the transfer of heirs to be successful. Your death left a lot of holes in an already very complex situation. See, remember when I called you 3 years ago and explained to you how horrible, dangerous and painful your actions were some 40 years ago?
Yes. That conversation. You are right. The one where I explained to you how getting my green card was almost impossible because you chose to traffic me. In the moment, you thought you were doing the “right” thing…because..Saviorism….white fragility, and the need to rescue a poor black girl from a fate that is unspeakable. I mean, I am almost certain there was love somewhere in the midst of it all. But love is a long-term thing. Love means you think about the future.
You didn’t do that dad. In fact, you continued to lie about my existence, keeping me from truly knowing my origins.
In your defense, you did tell me as I got older that my papers were fake. Fake…I was 13. What does a 13 year old understand about having fake papers? All I could do was live in the moment, go to school and do what a regular 13 year old does. Then I turned 17, traveling outside the country became harder because I was…well, trafficked.
“Remember your birthday,” you would whisper to me as we approached a person in uniform. I always thought it was strange that I had to memorize a date that was not actually my birthday at all. I also thought it was unordinary that my passport age was 3 years younger than my biological age.
In the name of saviorism and urgency, you were…making a deal with the devil. Find a woman who wants to sell her signature, find a dead child who has not received a death certificate yet, find a lawyer who would be shady to the utmost and BAM…you got yourself a cute little black girl in need of saving.
But here is the thing. I was not in need of saving. I was not an orphan despite being in an orphanage. So why didn’t you just wait for my real mother’s approval? Why go through illegal channels?
I had a mother, I had a father, I had 5 other siblings. I had an aunt, an uncle, a grandfather. I had a Family.
But you took all that away from me. Nothing matches and nothing will ever match because of the decision you made when I was knee-high. My paper mother is not my bio mother. Everything is a lie. That is not my Birth Certificate, that is not my name, that is not my age. And at the same time, you were the family I was raised with-a very toxic one at that, but you were all I knew.
So I grew up to hate my skin color, my hair, my face, my race, my culture. I grew up to seek what you had and what you were even though you kept me from being an equal. You made me feel responsible for what had been done to me. You made me feel guilty if I didn’t show love to you the way the bios did. You drove me to contemplate and also attempt suicide. According to Child Welfare Information Gateway “Ongoing contact with birth family members may minimize or resolve the child’s feelings of grief and loss, reduce the trauma of separation, and help the child develop and maintain a stronger sense of identity.” You attempted none of this because you knew that what you had done was against the law.
According to UNICEF, it supports intercountry adoption, when pursued in conformity with the standards and principles of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of intercountry Adoptions. These include ensuring that adoptions are authorised only by competent authorities, guided by informed consent of all concerned, that intercountry adoption enjoys the same safeguards and standards which apply in national adoptions, and that intercountry adoption does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it. These provisions are meant first and foremost to protect children, but also have the positive effect of safeguarding the rights of their birth parents and providing assurance to prospective adoptive parents that their child has not been the subject of illegal practices.
In your home, I was a fraud and I was never good enough. But lucky you dad, you are not the only one. There are so many white adoptive parents who will go to any length to have a black baby. Of course in the moment they may really be taking that path to heaven with good intentions. But the intentions die fast and the path becomes uneven, rocky, scary, hurtful, abusive. That path continues for us. The impact is forever.
When white adoptive parents adopt, they are not cognizant of the long term impact it leaves on the adoptee….especially if the adoptee is of color.
A typical adoptee is ripped from their environment and forced to survive with new expectations, new rules, new laws that govern their immediacy. They are forced to adapt….not the other way around.
A typical adoptee of color is coming from a country that is deemed “poorer” and in need of saving. Poverty should NEVER be a good enough reason to take someone else’s child….and it should never be a reason to go the extra mile to falsify documents.
When it comes to illegal and illicit adoptions, Haiti should get a gold star. Though Haiti has never been a country that “sells” their kids, poverty and the promise of a “better” life is very tempting. So it happens more frequently than expected. Kathrine Joyce describes it perfectly in her book called The Child Catchers. She says “Adoption has long been enmeshed in the politics of reproductive rights, pitched as a “win-win” compromise in the never-ending abortion debate. Adoption has lately become even more entangled in the conservative Christian agenda.” In her book she describes how Child Catchers find a way to convince poor families to put their kids in an orphanage. Once the children are in an orphanage, they become the ward of the state and are now products to be sold.
We become props.
In their 40 page Write Up called Orphanage Entrepreneurs: The Trafficking of Haiti’s Invisible Children, Georgette Mulheir with Mara Cavanagh and colleagues say: The Government of Haiti should strengthen the child protection system and judicial approaches to trafficking in children, including: develop an independent inspection system; develop a system for tracking children in care; increase the number of social workers and improve their training; prioritise children trafficked in orphanages within the Anti-Trafficking Strategy.
I was your prop dad. I was the person you showed to others to prove that you were not racist, or prejudiced. I was that little girl who suffered on the inside but wore the big smile on the outside; because that is how daddy liked it. That is how most adopted parents like it. They expect us to be silent, happy, grateful, appreciative, and thankful. They expect us to remember the date they were “got”.
But you see clearly now dad, don’t you? You realize now that mom will never be able to explain what you both did. Out of greed, you took a life, and in the meantime, destroyed a family forever.
I will never be able to properly be a part of my birth family. “Tell them it was a closed adoption” I tell my sister to tell my mother while she is on the phone to IRs. I continue to protect those who trafficked me. I proceed to make sure my mother is not bombarded by inquiries and possible jail time.
When they ask her “what are you in for?, I could only hope she tells the truth.
“Trafficking. We thought we were doing good but we drank the Koolaid”. But she is not capable of admitting her wrong doing. This response is a dream only to be dreamt at night, not during the day.
There will be those dad who will say “this is a sad story but it is not OUR story.” And truly stories are unique. Unfortunately, when it comes to giving money for children, or receiving a tax deduction for adoption, you have decided to participate in a system that too often creates long-term trauma. You drank the Koolaid.
Dad, did you know that over 80% of children who are considered “orphans” are not really orphans? According to Unicef, children are put into orphanages on a temporary basis because the orphanages provide food, shelter, schooling and activities. So to assume that we are free to be taken is a huge miscarriage of justice.
According to the US Department of State, The Government of Haiti does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. They remain in Tier 2 because the government did not convict traffickers during the reporting year. The government did not allocate sufficient funding for its anti-trafficking efforts or victim services and did not implement its standard operating procedures for victim identification.
What say you? Now that you are observing us from heaven? (I believe you are there because I can’t believe in a God who would create a place for people to suffer more than they have already suffered on earth). You can see the pain and suffering can’t you dad? You can see the confusion. Do you see it?
I’m hoping you can see it now. But I know there are so many adoptive parents who can’t see it. They think their steps were led by God….God would never ask someone to remove a child who has an entire family who loves and cares for them. We are asked to take care of the Widow and the Orphan….but you just took the so-called orphan.
Imagine what kind of world we would live in today if people with more gave to those who had less. What would this world look like if to whom much is given, much is truly required? What form would this and could this take? What form should this take?
What if, instead of taking someone else’s child, we asked “How can I keep you together?” This monumental question, with heaps of adaptable solutions, would change the course of children growing up in poverty.
As an adoptee, I know I am not alone in believing that a lot of our pain and suffering could have been prevented had someone reached out to support our family who was poor in physical things but rich in spirit.
As an adoptee, having my name changed, given false papers, treated like a 2nd and 3rd class citizen should never have been allowed and especially not in the name of “being called.” God does not call people to do eternal damage to others. Adoption is trauma and almost 100% of the time, causes long term damage that even therapy fails to heal.
Adoptees are not props to prove a statement like “I am not racist.” We are humans who were, for the most part, purchased to fulfill a longing, an inability, a desire, a calling, an emptiness, and the list goes on and on.
But I’m here to say dad, adopting me and the others didn’t make you less racist. You remained racist in your own way. When we cried and told you about racism happening to us and you did nothing about it….you showed your racism. When I watched you treat other people who were of my same race and nationality….you showed your prejudice and your classism.
Your heart was pure though in many ways but unfortunately, adoption didn’t make it more or less pure. The calling didn’t bring you closer or further away from God. In fact, separating me created a cavernous hole in our relationship and destroyed what could have been a bridge to my birth family, culture, race and life.
Adoption is dangerous. Oftentimes we do it and we don’t even really know or understand why we are doing it. We do it because in the moment, it feels like the right thing. We do it because we think it is going to fix something in us. Maybe it does fix something in us…but it leaves the adoptee with scars, bruises and longing for what could have been.
Dear dad, now you are dead and can probably see and understand the pain you caused. If there is any way you can infiltrate the lives of others who have adopted or are hoping to adopt and warn them of the dangers; we adoptees will forever be grateful.
May you not rest in peace until you have saved other adoptees from the same pain.
by Ebony Hickey, born in Haiti, raised in Australia; currently studying a Master of Contemporary Art at Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia. Instagram ebony.hickey.7
Acrylic paint, texstas, hot glue, cardboard.
I am ME is a colourfully and expressive work that is a celebration of sexuality, queer visibility and acceptance.
Ebony is a Haitian born, Australian contemporary artist with an interest in interrogating concepts of individuality, adoption, sexuality, queerness and black identity. Ebony draws on her life experience to inform the creation of her expressive sculptural forms, employing a diverse assortment of materials to compose her work. Performance is also an important element of her creative practice. In 2000, Ebony created the drag personality Koko Mass. Koko loves to perform songs with soul and is a bit of a badass who always speaks up and is honest about issues they face in society. Koko challenges perceptions head on whilst also having fun with their audience. Ebony’s practice is bold and politically engaged, responding to issues that affect her communities with a strong visual language she continues to explore.