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

Governments Finally Recognising Illicit and Illegal Intercountry Adoption Practices

This is one common scenario, it doesn’t cover children overtly stolen from hospitals and many other ways

I’m an adoptee remaining hopeful

I’m very excited and feeling hopeful after hearing Belgium’s recent news, that their Minister has announced his intention to ask Parliament to suspend all adoptions for the next 2 years as a result of their investigation into intercountry adoptions.

Surrounded by incredible adoptee leaders around the world, I know how much effort has gone into getting intercountry adoptee rights to where we are today. News like this does not in any way solve or fix the issues we face but it is at least the beginning of having recognition of the wrongs done — with governments and authorities stepping up to confront the truth that we’ve been talking about for decades. Acknowledgement is the first step of many!

Belgium isn’t the first adoptive country to do so. The Netherlands announced their moratorium on all intercountry adoptions earlier this year in February and published their report. Switzerland announced their report from investigating past practices relating to Sri Lankan adoptions and they are being urged to provide reparation to the victims. Sweden also announced their intention to investigate their illegal intercountry adoptions. And yesterday, the Belgium Minister announced his recommendations to be considered by Parliament. You can read here the full Expert Panel report.

But for some countries we still have work to do

It seems that finally some governments are listening to our lived experience and have decided to no longer turn a blind eye. But even though these 4 have listened, I want to also remind you that there has been much work and years of effort gone into other countries who still haven’t come to the “acknowledgement table”. In France, the adoptees there have had huge support in their petition to have the French Parliament conduct an investigation into their historic intercountry adoptions. In Denmark, the adoptees from Chile have been working with the government to have their adoptions investigated.

In my adoptive country Australia, I have been speaking out and advocating for supports for impacted adoptees and families and for recognition of the abuses in Australia for many years. In fact, it’s been over a decade already and I remember in my early years representing adoptees at NICAAG where Julia Rollings (adoptive mum) and I tabled this issue at the beginning in 2008 and asked that the issue be addressed. More recently, I have also presented a small group of 8 impacted adoptees to meet with our Central Authority, DSS in 2017 asking for very specific supports. However, to this day, those adoptees have still been ignored and dismissed. Despite having very clear cases of illegal activity where perpetrators have been criminally convicted and jailed (e.g., the Julie Chu cohort in image below from Taiwan), nothing has been offered for the adoptees or their families to help them deal with the extra complexities of their illegal adoptions. It’s as if these impacted adoptees don’t exist and Australia hopes the problem will fade away while they face far more important issues, like COVID-19 or an upcoming election.

It is time authorities around the world step up and take responsibility for the processes and structures that ruptured our lives via adoption – for good and for bad. 

Intercountry adoption has followed the path of domestic adoption

In intercountry adoption, we are seeing the same pattern where country after country the governments are acknowledging the wrongs in their domestic adoptions. Canada leads the way by providing financial compensation to their victims of the Sixties Scoop. Australia has already provided a formal apology for the women and babies who were impacted under the Forced Adoption era — but are still as yet to be offered any form of compensation. Australia also just announced their compensation for the Indigenous Aboriginals who were forcibly removed and placed into white families under the Stolen Generation. It is interesting that the Australian government can acknowledge these past practices but doesn’t recognise the very close similarities with our historic intercountry adoptions. Ireland as a government has only this year recognised the wrongs and provided a formal apology to the mothers and children who suffered in Babies Homes from forced adoptions. Ireland is also baulking at offering compensation.

What about our birth countries?

Very few of our birth countries involved in our illicit and illegal adoptions have taken any action either. Guatemala, Ethiopia and Russia are the main ones that come to my memory where they stopped all intercountry adoptions because of irregularities — but they too have failed to provide impacted adoptees with services or compensation to recognise the wrongs done to them. Some of them have sentenced perpetrators but their sentence rarely ever matches the depths of their crime.

Let’s have a quick overview at how perpetrators have been sentenced to date:

The more recent is the first sentence for the American local politician involved with the Marshall Island women who received only 6 years imprisonment. Cambodian adoption ring leader Lauryn Galindo got 18 months in prison, her crime was only visa fraud and laundering money. The Samoan adoption scam perpetrators were sentenced a mere 5 years on probation, for aiding and abetting improper entry of an alien. We are still awaiting sentencing of the perpetrators involved with the Ugandan and Polish schemes for arranging adoptions through bribery and fraud.

In Vietnam, the ring leader received a 4.5 yr sentence for falsifying documents. Taiwan sentenced Julie Chu and her cohorts to a life time imprisonment for masterminding a baby exporting syndicate but she got off lightly after appealing and only served a mere 6 years. In China, child traffickers who abduct and sell children are executed. This response remains the harshest I’ve seen but life imprisonment seems reasonable given their actions impact us for our lifetime.

That the majority of perpetrators in intercountry adoption get away with mild convictions demonstrates the lack of legal framework to protect us. And despite the fact that very few perpetrators in intercountry adoption are ever caught, let alone sentenced, one still has to ask, where is the support for the victims?

The American Samoan Adoptees Restitution Trust is the ONLY restorative justice program I’ve come across, establishing a fund provided by the perpetrators to facilitate connection to birth family and country. But the funds provided have been extremely limiting considering how many people are impacted and out of those impacted adoptees, only 1 was enabled to return to their natural family. Have governments even considered whether intercountry adoptees wish to be repatriated back to their birth country?

What level of responsibility should governments bear?

Many articles have been written about the problems in intercountry adoption via the irregularities in processing us for intercountry adoption, but the most critical issue that governments need to respond to, is our right to identity.

A recent report (see Section 4) by Child Identity Protection (CHIP), highlights the level of responsibility States should play in helping us find our original identities and seek redress.

“Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) notes that a child has a right to identity including a name, a nationality and family relations. Whenever a child is deprived of one of these elements, States have an obligation to restore the child’s identity speedily. At the heart of any intercountry adoption (ICA) is the modification of a child’s identity given at birth.” — CHIP

I’d like to ask every government who is a signatory of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, just what are they doing to “speedily restore our original identity”? All these investigations in European countries are a necessary part of the process to review and look in-depth at what has gone on. But .. the steps taken to halt adoptions does not provide any sweetness for us victims. There are hundreds and thousands of us around the world. What do we want? All you have to do is have a read of our collation of responses which I distributed at The Hague Working Group on Preventing and Addressing Illicit Practices in Adoption, a little over 1 year ago.

In summary our report explains what the majority of us want. We each independently submitted our thoughts without knowing what the other was submitting. Here are the top 3 suggestions we raised :

  • A change to intercountry adoption laws to ensure a legal framework exists for which illicit practices can be prosecuted against. Currently there is none.
  • An independent investigative body so we aren’t expecting the governments and adoption authorities to “investigate” themselves. Currently that’s what happens.
  • Fully funded support services for victims. Currently there are huge gaps in general post adoption supports let alone supports specific to being trafficked. Not one country in the world currently provides any sort of trafficking support for adoptees or their families — both adoptive and natural, but especially for natural families who rarely have a voice on the global arena.

I observe the Netherlands who are still working on their National Centre of Expertise might be including support services specific to trafficking victims, so too it appears from the Belgium report they are trying. But supports for trafficking victims needs to be comprehensive not just a DNA or a general counselling service. In our report, we list in full what this support needs to include: legal aid; counselling; financial aid; funded lived experience support groups; family tracing; DNA testing and professional genealogy services; travel support; language classes; translation services; mediation services; culture and heritage supports.

Why can’t adoption be a “happily ever after” story?

People mistakenly think that intercountry adoptees have to be unhappy in their adoption to want to fight for justice. It is not true.

We can be happy in our adoptive life and country but also be unhappy with how our adoptions were conducted and rightfully expect that everything be done to restore our original identities and help us to reconnect with our natural families who have lost us via intercountry adoption.

Our voices have been fighting for decades for our right to origins, to make amends for our lost identity, to have the illicit and illegal intercountry adoptions recognised for what they are – the commodification of children. We need this crazy system to stop, it’s been going on for too long. We are not a small number, estimates vary but we definitely are in the hundreds of thousands globally and possibly a few million.

It’s time for the truth and hopefully long term, we might see some reparative and restorative justice for us and our families. In the meantime, myself and fellow adoptee leaders continue to work hard for our communities globally! Onward and upward! I hope one day to be able to write about our “happily ever after” story, once we get justice and recognition for the wrongs done.

Other Resources

Impact Awareness Campaign (video) led by Critical Adoptees From Europe (CAFE), Belgium

Finding Humanity podcast Separated: The Ethics of Adoption

Patrick Noordoven: Intercountry Adoption and the Right to Identity

David Smolin: The Case for Moratoria on Intercountry Adoption

To auto translate any of the following resources, open in Google Chrome browser.

Netherlands

No New Adoptions from Abroad for the Time Being
Netherlands Halts all Adoptions Abroad with Immediate Affect
Minister Dekker Suspends Intercountry Adoption with Immediate Effect
Dutch Freeze International Adoptions after Abuses Uncovered
Dutch Report (English)

Switzerland

International Adoptions Report (French, German, Italian)
Adoptions from Sri Lanka: the Federal Council Regrets the Negligence of the Authorities
Press Conference by the Minister (German)
Press release by Sri Lankan adoptee org Back to the Roots (English) in French
Abducted Sri Lankan Children Adopted in Switzerland

Belgium

Wouter Beke Argues for a General Adoption Break, but immediately receives Criticism
Minister Beke wants Adoption Break to Thoroughly Review the Sector
Minister Beke wants a General Adoption Break due to “Mistakes” and “Malpractice”: What is Going on?
Flanders Plans “at least 2 Years Break” from International Adoptions
Expert Panel Report is Ready
Expert Panel Final Report

The Lie We Love

by Jessica Davis, adoptive mother in the USA who adopted from Uganda and co-founded Kugatta, an organisation that re-connects Ugandan families to their children, removed via international adoption.

The lie we love. Adoption.

I’ve heard people say that adoption is one of the greatest acts of love, but is it? Maybe what adoption is and has been for the majority of people isn’t really as “great” of an act as it has been portrayed to be.

Instead of us focusing on the fairytale imagery of the new “forever family” that is created through adoption, we should be focusing on how adoption means the end of a family; the absolute devastation of a child’s world resulting in the separation from everyone and everything familiar to them. When the focus is misplaced, we aren’t able to truly help the child and as a result often place unrealistic expectations on them. Expectations of gratefulness, bonding, assimilation and even expecting them to “move on” from their histories.

So what reason is acceptable enough to permanently separate a family? Poverty? If a family is poor is it okay to take their child? OR wouldn’t it be more loving and more helpful to invest time and resources into economically empowering the family so they can stay together?

If a child has medical needs the family is struggling to meet is it then okay to take their child OR is it a greater act of love and human decency to assist that family so they can meet the needs of their child and remain together?

If a family has fallen on hard times is it then okay to take their child? OR should we rally around the family and help them through the difficult time so they can remain together?

What about a child that has lost both their parents? Is it then okay to adopt the child? OR would it be a greater act of love to first ensure the child gets to live with their biological relatives, their family? Why is it better to create a new family with strangers when there are extended biological relatives?

What if a child lives in a developing country? Is it then better to take a child from their family to give them access to more “things” and “opportunities”? To give them a “better life”? Is it even possible to live a “better life” separated from one’s family? OR would it be a greater act of love to support that family so their child can have access to more things and opportunities within their own country? To build up the future of that country, by investing in and supporting that child so they can become the best they can. How does it help a developing country if we keep needlessly taking away their future doctors, teachers, social workers, public service workers, etc.?

I don’t know much about domestic adoption but I know a lot about intercountry adoption and these are some of the many reasons I hear over and over as validation for the permanent separation of a child from their family, biological relatives and country of origin.

Parents and extended family were given no option (other than adoption) when seeking help/assistance. What choice is there when there is only one option given? Not only are the majority of these families not given any options they are often told their child will be “better off” without them and that keeping their child is preventing them from these “great opportunities”. This mentality is wrong and harmful to their child.

So much of the adoption narrative is constructed around a need to “rescue” an impoverished child by providing a “forever family” yet 70%-90% of children adopted abroad HAVE FAMILIES. What other things do we continue doing in adoption knowing 4 out 5 times we are doing wrong?

Some say the greatest act of love is adoption, I say the greatest act of love is doing everything in one’s power to keep families together.

I titled this post The Lie we Love because it seems that so many of us love ADOPTION (and the fairytale often perpetuated by it) more than we love THE CHILD themselves. This is demonstrated every time a child is needlessly stripped from their family and culture, all while we as a society cheer on and promote such a process. This happens when we aren’t first willing to do the hard task of asking the tough questions; when we would rather ignore the realities at hand and live the “fairytale” that some problem was solved by adopting a child who already had a loving family.

Someday, I hope things are different: that more and more people will come to realize there isn’t an orphan crisis but rather, there is a family separation crisis happening in our world and adoption is not the answer, in fact it’s part of the problem. Intercountry adoption has become a business with massive amounts of money to be made and little to no protections for those most vulnerable because most of us sit in our comfortable first worlds and are happy with the fairytale. Adoption is truly the lie we love!

For more from Jessica, she and husband Adam were recently interviewed in this Maybe God podcast : Does Every Orphan Need Adopting.

See Jessica’s other article at ICAV and her Good Problem Podcast with Lynelle and Laura as a 3 part series by Leigh Matthews.

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