by Yung Fierens, adopted from South Korea to Belgium.
Years ago, I was one of those lucky guys who could pull through Asia with the backpack on her own for almost half a year. It was a magical time when I got to meet many exciting, cool people, saw the sun take off in a temple in Angkor Wat and between the Akha Tribes in Laos. Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Bhutan, Singapore and Cambodia.
In the last country (Cambodia) I visited, one of the many orphanages where there were dozens of children waiting for adoptive parents, I was considering staying in the area for a while and volunteering there. I gave language lessons in english, art lessons, helped prepare meals. I would have to throw a pack of euros on the table to provide living and living because of course you can’t live on the wages of such an NGO. They need their money for those kids.
That was what I thought was going to happen, that was how I thought the situation was. Until friends who lived and worked on the scene in development aid and the experiences of others backpackers opened my eyes.
“These are not orphanages but straight tourist traps. The parents of those children are getting money to bring their offspring during the day to the so called orphanage where they are exhibited as monkeys, so that the owners can knock money out of the pockets of naive tourists.
The children are not being taught in the meantime and therefore learn nothing that can ever come in handy in a human life. When they get too big and the cuteness is over, then they get banned from those homes and end up back on the street as a beggar.
And yes, whoever wants can adopt a child if enough money is put on the table. Since Angelina Jolie’s oldest son came to be adopted / purchased here during Tomb Raider’s filming, the orphanage tourism has been booming.”
I therefore abandoned the plan and with two other backpackers, I chose to support a boy from a poor family so that he could go to school and get a diploma. He was the first in his village to learn english. The result is that not only did we help 1 young person with it, but he took the whole village out of misery. Thanks to him, other children are able to go to school, the local economy has started and … most importantly, no mother has to let her child leave for a faraway country to give it a better life.
I don’t feel like a benefactor, I have told few this story and won’t come out with it to reap admiration for it. I’m telling it to show that there are other and better, more sustainable and previously used ways to give children a better life without having to remove them from their surroundings.
Original in Dutch
Jaren geleden was ik één van die gelukzakken die bijna een half jaar in haar eentje met de rugzak door Azië kon trekken.
Een magische tijd waarin ik veel boeiende, toffe mensen heb mogen ontmoeten, de zon heb mogen zien opstijgen in een tempel in Angkor Wat en tussen de Akha Tribes in Laos hebben kunnen vertoeven. Hong Kong, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Indonesië, Buthan, Signapore en Cambodia.
In dat laatste land heb ik één van de vele weeshuizen bezocht waar tientallen kinderen zaten te wachten op adoptieouders.
Ik overwoog om een tijdje in de streek te blijven en er vrijwilligerswerk te doen. Taallessen Engels, tekenles, helpen met het bereiden van maaltijden…ik zou er wel een pak euro’s voor op tafel moeten smijten om in kost en inwoon te voorzien. Want natuurlijk kan je niet op kap van zo’n NGO gaan leven. Die hebben hun centen nodig voor die kindjes.
Dat was wat ik dacht dat er zou gebeuren, dat was hoe ik dacht dat de situatie was.
Tot vrienden die ter plaatse woonden en werkten in de ontwikkelingshulp én de ervaringen van anderen backpackers me de ogen openden.
“Dit zijn geen weeshuizen maar regelrechte tourist traps. De ouders van die kinderen krijgen geld om hun kroost overdag naar dat zogenaamde weeshuis te brengen waar ze als aapjes in de zoo tentoongesteld worden zodat de eigenaars geld uit de zakken van naïeve toeristen kunnen kloppen. Ze krijgen intussen geen les en leren bijgevolg niets wat ooit van pas kan komen in een mensenleven. Als ze te groot worden en de schattigheid eraf is dan worden ze verbannen uit die tehuizen en belanden ze terug op straat als bedelaar. En ja, wie dat wil kan zo’n kind adopteren als er maar genoeg geld voor op tafel gelegd wordt. Sinds Angelina Jolie haar oudste zoon hier is komen adopteren/ kopen tijdens de filmopnames van Tomb Raider is het weeshuis toerisme geboomd.”
Ik heb het plan dan ook laten varen en heb ervoor gekozen om samen met nog twee andere backpackers waarmee ik in Laos terecht gekomen ben, een jongen uit een arm gezin financieel te ondersteunen zodat die naar school kon gaan en een diploma kon behalen. Hij was de eerste van zijn dorp die Engels zou leren. Het resultaat is dat we er niet alleen 1 jongen mee hebben geholpen maar dat die op zijn beurt het hele dorp uit de misérie heeft gehaald. Dankzij hem zijn er later andere kinderen naar school kunnen gaan, is er locale economie ontstaan en…hoeft er geen enkele moeder meer haar kind te laten vertrekken naar een ver land om het een beter leven te geven.
Ik voel me geen weldoener, ik heb weinigen dit verhaal verteld en kom er nu niet mee naar buiten om er bewondering mee te oogsten. Ik vertel het om te tonen dat er andere en betere, duurzamere en eerbaardere manieren zijn om kinderen een beter leven te geven zonder ze te moeten weghalen uit hun omgeving.
by Lisa Kininger, adopted from Thailand to the USA.
My name is Lisa and I am an intercountry adoptee. Thanks to my wonderful parents, they have given me a beautiful life that I’m forever grateful for. There is only minimum information about my true identity. What I do know isn’t enough to find out who I was and where I came from. Although I’m forever happy with who I’ve become and my beautiful family, I have always been curious about my true identity, as anyone else would be. I have tried absolutely everything from phone calls and emails to traveling to Thailand more than once, searching helplessly. So, when I turned 18, I decided to start my journey of searching.
I had reached out to the Thai doctor and his wife, from whom I was adopted. They were not interested in helping me but did explain that they put up 40 non-biological children for adoption. They would have their cooks and maids sign as fake biological parents. In effect, they also told me that they came up with my birth name “Malai” and the birth date 20 December 1972. They told me not to contact the people on my birth certificate as they would lie to me and take my money. With only the people on my birth certificate to reach out to, I desperately did so in hopes of finding more information. I eventually stumbled across DNA testing and used it to my advantage.
My story starts with my father being an aircraft electrician as a Sr. Master Sergeant in the USA Air Force. My parents were married and stationed in Utapao, Thailand in 1974-1975. They were unable to have children of their own and were in the process of adopting in the USA but had to put it on hold due to being stationed in Thailand.
One day my mother went to Bangkok to go grocery shopping at the base commissary. She ended up talking to a woman about the prices of meat and the woman had mentioned how she just had adopted a Thai baby girl. The woman said she knew of another Thai baby girl who was up for adoption. My mother said she would love to but unfortunately, they were leaving soon to go back to the USA, so there would be no time. While checking out at the shop, the same lady approached my mother with a phone number. The phone number was for the Thai baby girl who was up for adoption. My mother decided to call. She spoke with a woman who said unfortunately, she was adopted already. So sadly, my mother hung up the phone. Then suddenly, over the loudspeaker at the store, they announced my mother’s name. They said there was a phone call for her. On the other end of that line was a lady asking my mother to share about herself and my father. The lady said she didn’t know what came over her, but she felt the need to call. The lady said she had a Thai baby girl at her house who was very sickly. She wanted my mother to see the baby girl right away. So, the lady sent a car to pick up my mother from the store in Bangkok.
My mother arrived at the house. The people at the home were a Thai doctor and his American wife (this was the lady on the phone I talked to when I started my search, which is years after). They explained to my mother that the baby girl was very ill, only weighed 13 pounds and was rescued from the jungle. They also told her that the baby girl’s 5-year-old sibling died of malnutrition and the baby girl was going next. That baby girl was me.
Soon my mother was able to meet me for the first time. She put me in her lap and I started to play with her watch. That’s when the people decided it was the perfect match. They did however also have a Dutch couple that was going to visit me in the morning. If the Dutch couple didn’t want me, then I was my mother’s. So, they put my mother up in a hotel suite that the doctor had organised.
This was during the Vietnam war in 1974 and when my mother called my father to explain where she was and what was going on, my father became very worried as it was dangerous for civilians to be off base. Fortunately, the next morning the Dutch couple wanted a boy, and I could go home with my parents! The next step was for my father to get me adopted in Thailand. Adoptive parents had to be a certain age to adopt in Thailand and my parents were too young. The Thai doctor wanted my father to lie about his age and bribe the consulate with a bottle of whiskey. My father didn’t want to do such a thing because he was in the US AirForce and could get into substantial trouble. The Thai doctor then had to get ahold of my “biological mother” to sign a release form for my new parents to take me back to the the USA. The doctor arranged a visit with my father and my bio mother at a restaurant outside of Bangkok. The doctor explained to my father that she came from the south and that my father had to pay for her travel expenses. When they met at the restaurant, the doctor and my bio mother only spoke Thai; she signed and left. My father had no idea what was said.
We happily left for the USA and I had a fantastic childhood. I had the privilege of seeing and living in different parts of the world, thanks to my father serving in the US AirForce. Throughout my childhood, I always had the desire to search for my biological family and to find the truth about myself. I remembered what the Thai doctor and wife told me which was to avoid contacting the people on my birth certificate as they would lie and take my money. I took a risk and didn’t listen to them. I decided my only choice was to find the people on my birth certificate so I contacted them. In the beginning they had said yes they are my family. They proceeded to ask if I was Mali or Malai. I then said I was Malai but asked who Mali was? They told me Mali was my sister. They said to call back the next day because they knew someone who could speak English. So I did and then they told me they were not my family, but knew of my family because they were neighbours at one time. They told me the family name and said I had an older sister who died in a car accident and the family had moved away. They asked me to call back in two weeks and they would help me try and find this family. They ended up not being able to find them.
As a result, I hired a private investigator in Thailand to find them and the investigator was successful. This family acknowledged I was part of their family and that my immediate family passed away but could locate my aunt, uncle and cousins. I was able to receive pictures of them and they were able to finish the story about me and knew the Thai doctor, so I believed them.
This was in the early 2000s before DNA testing was well known. I took the initiative to take my first trip to Thailand to meet them. I gave them money because they were poor. My aunt had a stroke so I bought her a wheelchair, medication and food. I set up an international bank account so they could take out money when needed. They would even write to me and ask for more money throughout the years and said my aunt would die if I didn’t pay for her blood transfusion.
I decided to do a DNA test with my late sisters’ son and the results showed there was no relation at all between this family and me. Sadly, I gave up searching for a while. Eventually, as time passed, I contacted the people on my birth certificate again and they told me I am possibly theirs after all. So I did a DNA test with the biological mother on my birth certificate (this was when I booked my 2nd trip to Thailand with my family). Unfortunately two days before leaving for Thailand, the results revealed I was not related to her. We went on the trip anyway and met with her. When I met her in person, she told me that the doctor paid her to sign as my biological mother and that she was the one at the restaurant who met my adoptive father.
Since then, I have done DNA tests with her husband’s side of the family and no luck. Unfortunately, I’ve done countless DNA tests only to find 3rd to 4th cousins and they have all been adopted as well so no help there either. The hard part with my search is that my identity in Thailand is fake. My true identity seems like it’s been erased from existence.
It has been challenging throughout my life, wanting to know the truth but being lied to consistently with no explanation as to why. I don’t know how old I am, my real name, or where I came from. Everybody that knows some truth REFUSES to help or tell me anything. I have a beautiful family with three grown children and I’m happily married but I would love to share with my children and one day, my grandchildren, my own biological family.
Through my journey, I relate to other adoptees feelings and emotions and so I have dedicated my time to helping other adoptees find their biological families for 20 years. I am a private investigator for adoptees. I understand both sides of the story and can empathise. Even though I haven’t found the end to my story, I find joy in helping others in their journey and I’ve also found what I was looking for via the actual journey itself.
by Sabina Söderlund-Myllyharju, adopted from Taiwan to Finland. Translation by Fiona Chow. Original post here in Swedish.
Recently my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with important news items from places such as The Netherlands, Switzerland and Sweden. The Netherlands has suspended all adoptions from abroad after an investigation revealed systematic abuses as well as illegal adoptions. A similar investigation has begun in Switzerland. In Sweden, adult adoptees from Chile along with those from other nations, are fighting for a nation-wide investigation to be implemented as soon as possible.
This build-up of steam in the adoption world started to stir up feelings inside of me. For a long time now, I have been observing strong opposition against adoption from adopted adults in the international circles I am involved in on social media. But to completely halt all adoptions? That sounded foreign to me. Many years ago, I thought likewise, but since then I have come to the realisation that such thinking is a little too radical. At least, not while there are children out there without parents.
The other night, I listened to a discussion in which a Swedish adoptive parent openly stood in the gap for the illegally adopted children who are now demanding Sweden to take responsibility. She supported them whole-heartedly, even though her engagement is likely to bring negative consequences into her own life. It warmed my heart that she as an adoptive parent is willing to do everything in her power so that her own children in the future would not need to question the adoption system in the same way as the stolen children of today.
My own adoption didn’t go as it should have, and this has been the source of a myriad of different emotions inside of me. These have ranged from the sadness of not having grown up with my biological family, to real anger over a system full of inadequacies. How is it even possible that I was transported from one continent to another with the help of falsified papers? That the offenders have now been tried and punished is of course just and right, but why was there never any attempt to re-unite me and dozens of other children with their original families?
At the same time, I have experienced huge feelings of guilt for even thinking this way, as I have had a good life here in Finland. Who am I really to complain? In fact, this isn’t a question of not being grateful. I am truly thankful for many things, not the least of which include my three children who are growing up in a fantastic country such as Finland. However, am I thankful that I was separated from my biological mother? Is it even possible for me to ever stop wondering why my identification documents were falsified at the time of adoption? Was I sold? Is this what my biological mother really wanted?
It has been many years since my own adoption and at that time, the arrangements were made privately, without the help of an adoption agency, nor the protection such an agency would have provided. I am happy that today’s Finland adoptions are regulated in a totally different way, so that we can be certain that things are done legally and correctly when we place children through international adoption. This is the way it is, isn’t it? Surely our focus is on what is best for the child, just as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) demands? Surely we choose to act without delay when suspicious activity arises on the adoption field?
My hope is that adoptees, adoptive parents and adopters can be assured that all those who work with adoption in Finland are, with good conscious, able to say that everything is working as it should. I sincerely hope that adoption agencies such as Interpedia, Save the Children and the City of Helsinki have been quiet for so long because they absolutely have nothing to hide.
At the same time, I can hardly be the only person who thinks that an independent state investigation is long overdue, even in a country such as Finland.
par Christla Petitberghien adoptée d’Haïti en France. English version here.
Si la réforme de 2013 a certes permis une avancée, je ne pense que cela suffise. Je crois qu’il faut abolir l’adoption plénière qui non seulement prive les personnes adoptées du contact pourtant crucial avec leur familles naturelles mais aussi efface même leur existence juridiquement. Notre certificat de naissance est déclaré nul et non avenue et est remplacé par un autre document fictif qui déclare que nous sommes nés de nos adoptants. C’est de la falsification. Autrement dit,c’est une forme de détournement cognitif qui nie et écrase notre identité biologique première et notre réalité au profit d’une “Fiction” dite légale et pourtant qui est à l’origine de la plupart des discriminations systémiques auxquelles nous devons faire face nous , personnes adoptées, groupe social marginalisé et invisibilisé. Je me demande toujours comment les gens peuvent trouver ça normal de couper et de détruire les liens entre l’enfant et sa famille ? Comment est-ce que nous pouvons trouver cela acceptable ? Pourquoi nous trouvons normal que des individus est à passer leur vie à chercher leur famille ? À vivre dans l’incertitude et la non-information ? À se demander qui si sa famille est toujours en vie ? Ou si nous retrouverons nos pères et mères décédés ? Pourquoi avons-nous tant banaliser la séparation et cherchons même à l’encourager. Nous devrions cesser de croire que retirer les enfants des familles aux situations socio-économique précaires aide l’enfant. Ça ne l’aide pas. Ça ne résout rien si ce n’est créer plus de traumas à cette enfant.
Dans le système de l’adoption, la pauvreté est perçue comme une raison pouvant justifier l’adoption des enfants. On suppose donc que retirer les enfants de leur famille est une solution à la pauvreté. Alors même que les conditions de vie de la famille d’origine ne devraient pas être la raison de toute séparation d’un enfant à ses parents. N’avons-nous pas vu les véhémentes réactions de la population américaine et mondiale lorsque Donald Trump avait mis en place une politique de séparations entre des familles immigrées et leurs enfants? Combien de personnes étaient scandalisées ? Combien de personnes alertaient sur le fait que séparer un enfant de sa famille en raison de leur situation économique est inhumain ? Pourtant, dans le cadre de l’adoption, la même chose se produit. Les mères sont séparées de leurs enfants pour des raisons économiques et sociales au lieu de recevoir le soutien approprié et personne ne s’en offusque. Grâce à l’adoption, cela est rendu acceptable. Riitta Högbacka, chercheuse à l’université de Helsinki a bien rappelé dans son étude sur “l’adoption internationale et la production sociale de l’abandon” que “l’Assemblée générale des Nations unies (2010) a, par exemple, clairement déclaré que la pauvreté ne devrait jamais être la seule justification pour retirer un enfant à ses parents, pour le placer dans une structure de protection de remplacement ou pour empêcher sa réinsertion, mais qu’elle devrait être considérée comme un signal de la nécessité d’apporter un soutien approprié à la famille. Dans la pratique, le manque matériel est un facteur majeur de motivation des adoptions, et les mères naturelles appauvries n’ont pas reçu d’aide ou de soutien pour garder leur enfant. Le système d’adoption laisse les mères à elles-mêmes et ne les aident pas.” C’est bien vrai, combien d’entre nous, avons retrouvé nos familles dans la même situation qu’au moment de notre adoption ? Toujours dans la même pauvreté , toujours sans ressources et n’ayant reçu aucune aide ? Les parents sont toujours laissés pour compte dans le système de l’adoption. Comme l’a dit Debora L. Spar,la doyenne associée principale de la Harvard Business School Harvard School of Business, «Ce sont les États pauvres qui produisent les enfants et les riches qui les consomment. Dans ce processus, les parents pauvres sont laissés pour compte, n’étant que les fabricants initiaux des enfants d’autres personnes. ».
Arrêtons de penser que les enfants dans les crèches et orphelinats n’ont pas de familles, qu’ils ont été délaissés ou abandonnés parce que ce n’est pas vrai pour la très grande majorité. Beaucoup de personnes prétendent que les familles ont fait le choix de laisser leur enfants. Ce n’est pas vrai. Aucunes n’avaient la capacité de faire un choix authentique réel et authentique. En effet on leur propose pas d’autres possibilités que l’adoption. Il n’existe pas d’alternatives de prise en charge temporaire, d’aider financière, de structures d’acceuil des mères en situation difficiles, de soutien face aux manques de ressources. Donc qu’est-ce qu’un choix fait en l’absence d’autres choix ?Ce que nous ne considérons pas dans la rhétorique du supposé libre choix des familles naturelles, c’est le cadre bien précis et contraignant dans lequel la décision de la séparation s’inscrit. De fait, ce que nous écartons de la table, c’est la manière dont le renoncement de l’enfant par une mère et sa famille a été déterminé par des facteurs sociaux, économiques et politiques.les actions de la plupart des mères naturelles, loin d’être un choix éclairé et fait en toute liberté sont plus des séparations forcées qu’autre chose. Leur “choix” s’est fait en l’absence de toutes autres alternatives, donc contraint par l’inégalité des conditions dans lesquelles elles vivent. De plus,lorsqu’on parle de « consentement éclairé » en matière d’adoption, il faudrait rappeler que toujours ce consentement n’est jamais parfaitement éclairé et qu’il y’a toujours une énorme asymétrie d’informations qui participent à favoriser les consentements des mères naturelles. En effet, si quelques fois les mères ont été correctement informées de leur perte de tous droits parentaux sur l’enfant et la rupture permanente avec leur progéniture que cause l’adoption, certaines informations qui seraient pourtant déterminantes pour la prise de décisions des mères ne leur sont jamais dit. De quoi je parle ? Du traumatisme dévastateur qu’engendre la séparation d’une mère et son enfant tant pour elles-mêmes que pour l’enfant. Les mères ne sont jamais mises au courant des recherches établie sur la séparation, des risques pour l’adopté, des chances d’infertilité secondaire et de développer des troubles psychiques et un stress post-traumatique, de l’importance du lien mère-enfant. Comment expliquer que les adoptants sont aujourd’hui dûment informés des effets des traumatismes ( séparation, déraciment et adoption) sur l’enfant adopté alors même que les mères naturelles qui sont poussés à prendre une décision aux conséquences irréversibles ne le sont pas ? On voit donc que le consentement ne peut dès lors jamais être fait de façon éclairée quand on omet la vérité sur le devenir de l’enfant et sa mère.
Ainsi, nous devons penser les enfants des crèches non comme délaissés mais comme ayant une famille. Ces enfants ont des parents et sinon toute une famille élargie qui tiennent à eux. Nous devons penser pas à cette famille. Parce que nous n’aiderons véritablement les enfants, nous ne pourrons prévenir les abandon qu’en prenant en compte leur famille. Aidons les plutôt à garder leur enfants. Soutenons les financièrement pour qu’ils puissent les élever dignement. Investissons dans les associations de préservation familiale et réunification familiales. Investissons dans les programmes d’autonomisation des familles. Travaillons pour réduire toujours plus le nombre d’adoptions.
by Kristopher Hinz adopted from Sri Lanka to Australia.
In the five year period between 2008 and 2013, struggling Peruvian and Bolivian farmers were plunged even deeper into poverty. Western demand for the world’s latest “superfood” meant that the median price of their staple food, quinoa, skyrocketed dramatically, and suddenly it was even harder for these subsistence farmers to put food on the table (1,2).
Wealthy, middle class and vegan, it was well intentioned white hipsters (who often think of themselves as the most ethical consumers in the market) that were the main drivers of this catastrophe with their insatiable taste for the healthy grain.
This, it seems, was a case of supply and demand gone wrong- a wealthy segment of the market having a disproportionate share of control over capitalism’s puppet strings, which they then unwittingly used to widen the disparity between the developed and developing world.
This is not a new phenomenon, however. The “Quinoa crisis” was merely the latest Western craze to shake the foundations of the third world. Another industry full to the brim of young people’s good intentions has also recently been the cause of much disruption in the poorer corners of the world.
Voluntourism provides the opportunity for university students or high school leavers on their gap year to travel abroad and volunteer at orphanages in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They fly home with smiles on their faces and happy hearts, but there is a dark side to their activism.
Those children they think are so gorgeous on their numerous selfies, who are already vulnerable and emotionally volatile, are left with even greater attachment issues as they watch yet another role model walk in and out of their life after a few weeks of cuddles and a couple of extra toys.
It has been demonstrably shown that many of these children are not indeed orphans at all, and are merely products of “baby farms” that exist solely for voluntourists and prospective white adoptive parents (3,4, 5, 6).
Young mothers mired deep into poverty and desperate for a way out, send their children away to orphanages for a chance at an institutionalised education. This heartbreaking decision is made all the more tantilising by the offer of a much-needed financial incentive.
What of the lucky ones then? Whose bright smiles and eager hugs are enough to sway their altruistic and lonely white guests to become their adoptive parents?
There are many who are indeed fortunate when they finally make their way to their shiny new developed nation, with it’s big skyscrapers (or neat suburban lawns) and fridges full of foods they’d never dreamed of.
But like the quinoa trade, there simply isn’t enough protection for those where the original point of sale was made. As a result of being able to simply “buy” a child without being checked for their ability to be fit parents (as is the case in the West with a stringent foster care system) many of these adoptive parents make mistakes that cause long term identity issues for their beloved children.
Swept up in the joy of having the family they wanted at last, they neglect to allow their children to fully express all of their feelings about their adoption, requiring only to hear positive thoughts such as gratitude. Many adoptions end in tears for the child, their new family or both. Many abusive adoptive parents are grossly unfit to adopt and do so for intentions related to social status, or simply are not the type of people who should have been parents to begin with.
But even in the best cases, no adoption, no matter how idyllic, is ever perfect for a child’s mental state. The best of parents will still chastise their adoptive children or feel hurt when they express feelings of loneliness or disconnection with their new culture and longing for understanding of their birth culture. Adoptive parents (including in my own experience) will also take it as a personal affront when their child expresses frustration with racist elements of their adopted culture.
Of course, like the vegans, these good parents made a “purchase” in good faith and most of them were full of nothing but positive intentions. But also much like the vegans, the fact the market was skewed so heavily in their favour meant that they were able to do what they wanted without needing to consider how their actions may impact those who are less fortunate.
Across both East and West, prospective white parents’ demands for an adoptive child is seen as an unquestioned right, while parents of colour who have adopted white children are regularly and rudely accosted when in public with them (7).
The skewed market must be balanced back in favour of the developing world. This will allow for greater scrutiny to be placed on prospective adoptive parents seeking children from the third world and will ensure that such parents are adequately informed about the challenges that their child will face as an interracial, intercountry adoptee.
I was told this sentence 5 years ago today, when I visited one of my children’s homes for the 2nd time.
The woman who received me wasn’t interested in my questions about my past and didn’t even understand why I wanted to see my file. I had no rights, “Forget your past!”, was screamed loudly! She threw the papers I gave her with a disdainful gesture at my head. She wanted to close the visit with this. The next 2.5 hours were really awful with a lot of screaming, manipulation and arguments between myself, the wife, the interpreter and the social worker.
This visit ended up giving me more questions. Fortunately, thanks to other employees, I finally received answers after 3 years. But my identity is still unknown.
The answers I received brought pain and sadness, but eventually also acceptance and resignation over that part. In my opinion, not knowing is ultimately a heavier fate to carry!
If you are going to search for your identity as an adoptee, it is important that you prepare yourself well. Understand it is almost impossible to know how things will turn out! You can’t imagine how the visit will go beforehand and how you will react if you receive information or not. In India we notice that obtaining information very much depends on whom you speak to.
In addition, there is the difference in culture. We are so devastated that we often view our native country with western glasses. We are not aware that our practices and thoughts are often so different to that of our native country. Sometimes that means that we don’t have compassion and can sometimes even feel disgust for the traditions of our native country.
Root trips often give you the illusion that you can find your roots on one trip or visit. The reality is that you have to go back to your native country and your home several times to get answers.
I myself notice that every time I visit India, I feel more at home and that it’s healing to be able to visit my past. Each piece of puzzle creates more resignation.
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 Atamhi Cawayu, doctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium) and the Bolivian Catholic University ‘San Pablo’ (Bolivia). Together with Vicente Mollestad and Teresa Norman, they run Network of Bolivian Adoptees.
This blogpost was initially posted on Atamhi’s Facebook profile and Instagram-account @displaced.alteño
Searching for first family and adoptee activism: Some reflections
In 1993 I got displaced/adopted to Belgium when I was six-month-old. According to my papers, I was found as a new-born in the city of El Alto in Bolivia. Since my twenties, I started to return and reconnect with Bolivia. In the past two years I live more in Bolivia than in Belgium and I consider myself ‘based in Bolivia’. In all these years, I have attempted to search for information about my pre-adoptive past. Since June, together with a fellow Bolivian adoptee friend, we started our search here in Bolivia by starting a big campaign to make ourselves visible.
Reflection 1: Putting up posters in the city
In June 2020, my friend and I started to prepare our searches for our Bolivian relatives by designing posters and putting them in various streets and neighbourhoods in the cities of La Paz and El Alto. It’s not the first time I engage in searching for first families, in the past years I have completed searches for other Bolivian adoptees, which sometimes led to reunions. However, searching is challenging, especially when you don’t have names, places or anything that might lead to our families.
In Bolivia there is a central authority responsible for international adoption, yet there is no support from organisations or institutions who can really help us. In our cases, we have limited information, but other adoptees have the full name of their mother, or names of family members. Even in their cases it’s often a bureaucratic journey to obtain more information. In addition, most of us don’t know the language, are not familiar with the system, and do not always have the time to search.
When I started to do my PhD on this topic, my goal has always been to have not only a better insight into the adoption system in Bolivia but also to ‘crack’ the system and understand which clues are necessary in finding one’s family. Besides I think it’s important to document the stories of the first parents and take their experiences into account if we really want to make an honest evaluation of the system of adoption.
When preparing the posters, making the design, paying the prints, I could only think of one thing: we as adult adoptees have the resources to start this search and do it in an almost professional way. Our parents probably didn’t have the same amount of resources, and even if they did, their stories were regarded as less interesting than ours right now.
Reflection 2: Engaging with TV media
After our first round of posters, we received a message from a journalist from a Bolivian TV channel who was interested in our stories. A few days later they interviewed us, and it was broadcasted one day later. Since then our story was covered by national TV media in Bolivia and it received lots of attention. The media is a necessary evil. It helped a lot in having our cases visible, yet it’s hard to control the questions. They also have their own narrative they want to show.
These experiences made me reflect about several things. Our stories were largely framed as ‘abandoned babies’ returning to Bolivia, after being adopted internationally, however this narrative already makes a lot of assumptions of our mothers abandoning us. When reading the comment section (I know I should not do this) a big part of the viewers didn’t understand why we would search for someone ‘that doesn’t look for us’. However, it’s so much more complex…
In my case I was found, but I don’t know what really happened. It’s easy to assume I was ‘abandoned’ by one of my parents, but I don’t know. In my research on first parents, I have encountered several parents who never gave up their child to adoption, did it in vulnerable circumstances, or were even pressured by intermediaries (and I’m not even talking about kidnap and illegal adoption). Yet, in many cases they were interested to know what happened to their children, if they were still alive, if they ended up well, etc. Part of our activism is also to speak about this other side of adoption. It’s not always a fairy-tale as many people think. We are part of system that exploits global inequalities, displaces poor brown/indigenous bodies from South to North, and prefers parenthood from the Global North over parenthood of the Global South.
It is irritating people don’t understand the complexity and violence relinquishment and adoption can entail. Even if our parents wanted to look for us, they wouldn’t be able to find us as we have been relocated and displaced to other continents. When I search for my ‘family’, it is to make myself findable, so they know I am here in Bolivia and willing to be in touch with them.
Reflection 3: The violence of international adoption
In the days after our first interview, various Bolivian TV channels called us for an interview. Our story was spread nationwide by radio, TV, newspaper. We tried to take advantage of this moment to open the discussion on transnational adoption.
During the interviews we tried to mention that for us adoptees there is no assistance for adoptees to search. Not in our adoptive countries, nor in Bolivia. We have to do almost everything by ourselves, and then I am not even talking about learning the language, understanding the documents, being familiar with the city. As my friend mentioned in several interviews, “searching is something political”. For me searching is doing something you were not supposed to do. It’s opening up histories that were meant to be hidden, it’s doing something within a system that tried to erase everything of your being.
Moreover, another dominant idea is to be lucky and fortunate when being adopted transnationally. One of the journalists said to me “you must be very fortunate”, “many people here would love to be in your shoes”. Throughout the years I have met many people, especially here in Bolivia, who told me I must have been lucky to be have been saved from my ‘miserable future’ in Bolivia and to have a ‘wealthy’ life in Europe. It’s like people think we only ‘won’ by being adopted internationally, but they often forget we have lost many things. I consider all the opportunities I have because of growing up in Europe as compensation for everything I have lost, and I have lost everything.
From my personal perspective, the violence implicit in transnational adoption is to be involuntary transcontinentally displaced, completely severed from our genetic ancestors, disconnected from our community, culture, language, nation, continent, and without any possibility to find our families ever again. For most of us Bolivia will become a country we once lived in. In addition, all our former identities are erased so we can be reborn, renamed, Christianised and assimilated with our adoptive countries. We grow up with complete strangers we are expected to love and call family. We are being brought into a society that doesn’t want us, that racialises us and discriminates us, without any community that provides shelter or understanding. This so-called child protection system – mostly in the benefit of well-off Western adoptive parents who wants to fulfil their heteronormative parental dream – erases everything from us. It is not the first time in colonial history child welfare systems are used to shape, control and erase indigenous children’s identities, and most children adopted from Bolivia have an indigenous background, be it Aymara or Quechua. Transnational adoption is for me an ongoing colonial project of civilising, controlling and managing children from the Global South, transforming them from ‘savages’ to ’civilised’ citizens in the benefit of the capitalist machine of the North. Transnational adoption would not have been possible without a history of colonialism and its ongoing colonial gaze towards countries in the South such as Bolivia.
The adoptee experience is something very diverse. I know some adoptees might disagree on this and that’s fine. I also know other adoptees might recognise themselves in what I write. Every experience is valid. However, my fight and activism are structural against a system that has caused a lot of injustices and is not in the benefit of first parents and adult adoptees. As another adoptee once told me: our parents maybe didn’t have the resources to fight for their rights, but we have, and we will fight for them.
Hi. I’m Laney Allison, adopted from Ma’Anshan, Anhui Province, China in August of 1994 by a single mom. I was raised in Dallas, TX and I now live/work in Washington, DC, USA. I am a co-founder/co-president of China’s Children International.
You can reach me @Lane_Xue on instagram and follow the CCI instagram @cci_adoptees