Restore the links between adoptees from Haiti born as unknown parents and their biological parents.
The dark side
Before April 1, 2014: date of the signing of the Hague Convention in Haiti. Thousands adopted without identity were adopted internationally with a mention born of an unknown mother and father or sometimes the first name of ‘only one parent. Among her children, several were unfortunately entrusted to non-full adoption through human trafficking of all kinds. Some children simply want to find their biological family because they feel they do not have access to their medical history, their legitimate identity.
Studies have shown that many children from adoptions live with traumas with psychological impacts ranging from suicide to neurodevelopmental effects that are due to their adoption. Several have been entrusted to benevolent adoptive families but ill prepared to welcome a child weakened by the injury of abandonment, moreover many of these have experienced a double abandonment of their adoptive parents by being placed in a reception center or a second adoptive family.
A tiny fraction of biological parents are slowly starting to find their biological children. Some testify that they did not knowingly give their children for adoption, but may rather have confided the assets temporarily and that on their return to the orphanage the child had been given up for adoption without their consent and without any possibility of information to find contact with this children in other cases of biological parents were told that the biological parent was dead when it is false and so many other situations not to all named. This is a child who was adopted said without real identities and / or without identities of their 2 biological parents was not beyond a reasonable doubt, adoptable. Surveys, theses, and numerous testimonies also show that only 10% of these children were in fact really orphans. Since some of us are now old enough to take steps to find our biological families, we are amazed to witness all these hidden defects.
Another problem is on the horizon: failures to be helped by the various establishments such as: orphanage, hospital that asks us to donate sums of money to obtain our legitimate information … So here we are newly confronted with so-called Good Samaritans who offer us to carry out our research for them also a sum of money, a unstructured and corrupt circle that continues. It’s a call to villainy. How do you distinguish the good from the bad foreign Samaritan? We have and will leave an empty legacy of identity that we will leave to our children and our future generations. As the pioneers of this experimental generation on international adoption in Haiti we ask for your support in all its forms in order to restore the balance.
Original submission in French
Rétablissont les liens entre les adoptés d’Haïti nés sous l’appellation de parents inconnus et leurs parents biologiques.
Le côté sombre
Avant le 1er avril 2014 : date de la signature de la convention de La Haye en Haïti .Des milliers adoptés sans identité ont été adoptés à l’international avec une mention nées d’une mère et d’un père inconnu ou parfois le prénom d’un seul parent . Parmi ses enfants, plusieurs ont été confié malheureusement à l’adoption non plénière à travers un trafic d’humain de tout genre. Certains enfants veulent tout simplement retrouver leur famille biologique puisqu’ils estiment ne pas avoir accès à leur antécédents médicaux, leur identité légitime.
Les études ont démontrés que plusieurs enfants issues de c’est adoptions vivent avec des traumatismes ayant des impacts psychologique allant du suicide aux effets neuro développementaux qui sont due à leur adoption. Plusieurs ont été confiés à des familles adoptives bienveillantes mais mal préparées à accueillir un enfant fragilisé par la blessure d’abandon, d’ailleurs nombreux de ceux-ci ont vécu un double abandon de leur parents adoptif en étant placé dans un centre accueille ou une deuxième famille adoptive.
Une infime partie de parents biologiques commencent tranquillement à retrouver leur enfants biologique. Certain témoignent ne pas avoir données leur enfants à l’adoption en tout connaissance de cause mai plutôt les avoirs confiés temporairement et qu’à leur retour à l’orphelinat l’enfant avait été donné en adoption sans leur consentement et sans aucune possibilité d’information pour retrouver le contact avec cette enfants dans d’autres cas des parents biologiques se sont fait dires que le parent biologique était mort alors que c’est faux et tant d’autres situation pour ne pas tous les nommés. C’est enfant qui ont été adoptés dit sans réel identités et/ou sans identités de leurs 2 parents biologiques n’était pas hors de doute raisonnable, adoptable. Des enquêtes, thèse, et nombreux témoignages présentent également que seulement 10 % de ces enfants étaient en fait réellement orphelins. Puisque certain de nous sommes maintenant assez âgés pour entreprendre des démarches de recherche pour retrouver leur famille biologique, nous assistons avec stupéfaction à tous ces vices cachés.
Un autre problème est à horizon ; fautes de se faire aider par les diverses établissement tel que ; orphelinat, hôpital qui nous demande de donné des des sommes d’argent pour obtenir nos renseignements légitime… Nous voilà donc nouvellement confronté à de soi-disant bon samaritains qui nous offre d`effectuer nos recherche moyennant eux aussi une somme d’argent, un cercle sans structure et corrompus qui se perpétue. C’est un appel à la villigence .Comment distinguer le bon du mauvais samaritain étrangé ? Nous avons et nous laisseront un héritage identitaire vide que nous laisserons à nos enfants et nos futures générations. En tant que pionniers de cette génération expérimentale sur l’adoption internationale sur Haïti nous demandons votre soutien sous toutes ses formes afin de rétablir l’équilibre.
It has come to my attention that the US Senate and Congress members have recently been sending letters to push for their agenda in intercountry adoption. The first I attach here to Assistant Secretary Carl Risch requesting attention to recommit to one of the purposes of the Intercountry Adoption Act, “to improve the ability of the Federal Government to assist” families seeking to adopt children from other countries.
The second I attach here to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo requesting resources and focus to address the waiting families wanting to bring home their children with COVID restrictions.
While I appreciate the Senate and Congress members sentiments to get involved and highlight the importance of these issues, it frustrates me that on the one hand these letters are written, using all of the power between them as a collective, yet I have not seen such a letter to push for the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). For the past 5 years, I know our dedicated intercountry adoptee leaders – Joy Alessi from Adoptee Rights Campaign and Kristopher Larsen at Adoptees For Justice and their teams have been working tirelessly, trying to get Senators and Congress people to support the much needed and overdue Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 (ACA). We need enough Senators and Congress members to support the Adoptee Citizenship Act 2019 because there are gaps left from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 that resulted in intercountry adoptees prior to 1983 being left without automatic citizenship.
I gotta ask the obvious question here: why won’t American politicians get behind the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) yet they will use their political force to push for more adoptions? It is the very same Intercountry Adoption Act 2000 that’s cited by them to get support amongst the Federal Government to assist newly desiring adoptive families to build their families, but yet – for the historic families who once sought to adopt children, who find themselves decades later, without citizenship for their children (now adults) – there is no permanence and no political leadership to address the problem. Isn’t it rather distorted that the powers to be will focus more attention on getting new children in without having made sure the ones already here, have stability, permanence and citizenship? What is adoption if it isn’t to ensure permanence, which is fundamentally about citizenship in intercountry adoption? Let’s also not forget every beneficiary of the Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) was already vetted at entry and promised citizenship. The Adoptee Citizenship Act (ACA) seeks to cover adoptees who entered on adoption purposed visas (IR4) otherwise known as legal permanent residents.
I feel for my adoptee colleagues who work tirelessly, pushing what feels like an uphill battle to gain the support needed to address this long overdue issue. Why aren’t letters like this being written to ICE or USCIS and to all the top level government officials including the President, who have the connections to influence these important decisions?
I don’t have the answers to my questions, I simply ask them because I hope others are too. We need Senators and Congress members to take leadership on the issue of automatic citizenship for the thousands of intercountry adoptees, now adults, who are living in suspended animation. These adoptees have been asking American leaders to represent their cause and help them overcome what feels like an insurmountable barrier – to be considered rightful citizens of their adoptive country. This right seems to be obtainable in every other adopting country – except the United States of America!
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.
Attached is our latest Perspective Paper that provides our lived experience input on suggestions for How Authorities and Bodies could Respond to Illicit Adoptions in Englishand French.
Huge thanks to all our 60+ participating adoptees and adoptee organisations, 10 adoptive parents & adoptive parent organisations, and first family representation!
Extra special thanks and mention to two amazing people: Nicholas Beaufour who gave a huge amount of time to translate the entire English document into French! Coline Fanon who assisted our one and only first family member to contribute! We so need to hear more often from the voices of our first families!
Recently it was announced there is a surrogate company in Ukraine which will remain with hundreds of ordered but undelivered babies due to the coronavirus. They can’t be picked up during the lockdown by their foreign parents. In RTL 4 news post we see upset nurses and hear the lawyer of the adoption company talking about the importance of these babies going to their foreign parents as soon as possible.
The bizarre thing is that by commissioning the surrogacy and / or the adoption company, these babies are taken from their mother, their origins and their birth country and end up in a family in which one, or none, of the parents are genetically their parent.
On Monday 18 May, the lawsuit by adoptee from Sri Lanka, Dilani Butink was aired whereby she is suing the adoption organization / permit provider Stichting Kind en Future and the Dutch State. Her case shall hold both parties liable for her fraudulent adoption. This is because the Dutch state and adoption organisations and / or licensing holders, have known about the fraudulent practices and trafficking of children from the sending countries for many years. Nevertheless, thousands of children have been legally adopted (and without agreement) from their motherland to the Netherlands after discovering the trafficking. Yet we are still focusing on putting the wish for a child first.
Currently, the Dutch government is working on adjusting the law for surrogacy. Under its guise and around the wild growth of baby farms, the surrogate and child need to be provided protection from surrogacy abroad, but Ukraine does not offer this. It is pretty weird because the cause of this law ie., creating children in a “non-natural” way affects this child’s right to exist. Whoever reads this bill soon sees that the child’s rights and safety of the mother is not sufficiently protected and / or respected. The reason for this law is that we still have international adoption and conception of children through a donor surrogate mother and it is not a fairy tale or an altruistic thought.
Thinking about what my adoptive parents used to say when asked if I was grateful to them for my new life, namely they answered that I didn’t have to be thankful. This is because they wanted a child so badly and were so selfish, they let me come from abroad.
In most cases, the wish for a child is not a wish to make a child part of your life but a biologically driven desire to reproduce or to have a child of your own. If it were really only about the child, the thousands of forgotten children who live in children’s homes would be collected by childless couples. That we live in a world where the wish of having our “own made” child is exalted above the child’s wishes and health, ensures the financially driven market continues to function that dominates the adoption, donor and surrogacy world.
To realize this wish for a child at all costs, ways are being used that cannot be done without medical or legal surgery. Overseas mothers are helped to give up their child instead of breaking taboos or helping the mother raise the child herself, or leaving the legal family ties intact, which is best for the child. The influence of distance (legal parenting to be elevated above genetic parenting) on a human life is still compartmentalised, denied and ignored, with all the consequences.
Despite all the stories of adult adoptees and adult donor children about the influence of distance and a (partly) hidden past or the low performance rates of composite families, the wish for a child remains elevated above the child’s wishes.
In 2020, we are apparently still not aware that these actions not only relieve wishful parents of the unbearable fate of a childless existence, but also dismiss them from their responsibility to carry their own destiny. At the same time, we ensure that these children are burdened unsolicited, with an unbearable fate. Namely, a life with a hidden and a made identity. I don’t want to say that a childless couple has no right to a child in their lives but there are other ways to let a child be part of their lives without giving a mother and child an unbearable fate.
Adoptees often don’t know who they are, when they were born, what their age or birth name is, which family systems they originated from or what their operative story is. They are raised with the idea that they belong to a different family from which they originated genetically. However, this legal disinheritance does not cut the adopted from his original family system (that is impossible) but they have to discover in their adult lives that the foundation on which their lives was built is not the right one. Donor children are looking for the father and find out that they have dozens of (half) sisters and brothers or that they are twins but come from different donor fathers. Both times, it’s a question of demand for a child and making it available.
Many adopted people come to the discovery at some point in their lives that they live with an unbearable fate, they live in a surreal story that they missed the essence of but experience their emotions in their bodies. This also makes you hear adoptees often say they feel like they have to survive instead of thriving.
I hope that the legal trial of Sri Lankan adoptee Dilani Butink will contribute to an increasing awareness and cessation of child trafficking in any way and that we leave fate and responsibility where it belongs. As a Korean adoptee once said, “Do you prefer to die of hunger, or death from sadness?” .. a sentence that I still regularly observe during group meetings with adoptees.
I am aware that not being able to have children is an unbearable fate while at the same time I notice and work daily with the effects of the consequences of distance and adoption. And this is also unbearable for many, unfortunately we adoptees and donor children cannot put away our fate and the responsibilities we have received and this is a burden that we must bear unwanted as a life sentence.
I also hope that the legal trial will contribute to getting assistance. In 2020, governments still do not take full responsibility for looking away from these forms of child trafficking in intercountry adoption and its consequences. In the end, in my opinion, the question remains: do you dare to take responsibility and carry the fate you received? It is a choice to live without “homemade” children or you charge another person with the fate to live without his or her original identity, family and culture.
Please let’s learn from history and not use children as enlightenment of fate but carry our own destiny.
I’m an intercountry adoptee born during the Vietnam War in the early 70s, adopted prior to the war ending, to a white Australian family who had their own biological children. My childhood adoption experience was one where I never really understood that I was impacted by being adopted – I absorbed the mantra of the era that I would just “assimilate and fit in” with my new country and family. I spent a lot of energy trying to do just that, but as I reached my teens, I started to become aware that things weren’t quite the same for me as for my Australian peers. I seemed to struggle more in relationships, I definitely felt alone all my life even amongst a so-called “loving adoptive family”. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I became acutely aware of how much I had absorbed the racism towards my own ethnicity, my Asianness. It took me a decade to explore how being adopted impacted me and I grew through this journey because of the many other adoptees who I met online and face to face in the community I built up. It was the isolation of my childhood that drove me to create this community, that is now one of the largest intercountry adoptee networks around the world that includes adoptees of any birth country and it is this community, that enabled me to grow, learn and find my voice. Today, this network is one of the largest online communities that encourages adult intercountry adoptees to speak out at government level (nationally and internationally) and seek involvement with policy discussions.
Why be involved in policy discussions? And what is so important about being involved? Let’s first clarify what is meant by policy. Referring to Wikipedia’s content on “policy”, we consider it to be: a deliberate system of principles to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes; a statement of intent that assists in decision making; different to rules or law where policy guides actions towards the desired outcome whereas law compels or prohibits behaviours; should include looking at the alternatives and choosing among them on the basis of the impact they will have; and is about trying to maximise the intended effects while aiming to minimise the unintended effects.
When it comes to intercountry adoption and how it is conducted in each birth and adoptive country, we all know that regardless of being a signatory of The Hague Convention or the Childs Rights Convention, laws and policies vary from one country to another because of the ways in which intercountry adoption is understood and implemented, both in theory and in practice.
At the heart of all this, WE are the children who grow up to become adults and it is us whom intercountry adoption is all about. In theory, intercountry adoption exists because it supposedly provides for us due to our vulnerable situations in which we are not able, for whatever reason, to be looked after by our first parents. Many of us are the recipients of past and current intercountry adoption policies or a lack thereof, and in ICAV we talk openly about the known pitfalls and issues that being intercountry adopted creates. Many of our birth countries view adoption as a once off transaction that involves legally handing us over to our new forever families and countries. However, we know from our lived experience, that adoption is not a once-off transaction — it is a psychological journey that lasts our lifetime – for which we are forever impacted, for good, bad, and every other shade of experience in between.
At ICAV, we speak openly about the many complexities of intercountry adoption that impact us. For instance, our right to original identity is ignored because most adoptive countries issue us with a new “as if born to” birth certificate upon adoption. Most countries also completely sever our legal right to our family of origin through the use of plenary adoption (as compared to simple adoption which would maintain kin connections). Most of us have very limited to no access to our adoption paperwork which once provided (until DNA technology) our only ability to find our first families and our origins. Our paperwork can vary from being outright falsified to containing some elements of truth but in too many cases, it’s modified to make us seem more marketable for prospective families, hiding our truths including fundamentally important medical information and history. For those adoptees who ended up in intercountry adoption via illegal or illicit means, there is a lifetime of injustice that we are expected to live with, with little to no supports. For those who end up in an adoptive family that isn’t a good match, we end up suffering further layers of trauma. Too often people and governments forget, that our foundation is relinquishment / in utero trauma from being separated from our biological mother.
In ICAV, we encourage our members and leaders to seek out ways in which adoptees can be heard at government level where policy is created that constructs the future of our lives. We believe it’s important for government to understand the ways in which policy impacts our lives. Without this understanding, how can policy be in our “best interests”? How can adults who have never lived our experience possibly know what is best for us? Having adoptee voices involved in policy means inviting us to the table, really listening to our points of view, incorporating what we say into policy, and recognising we are the experts of our own experience.
The fundamental premise of intercountry adoption is to give a vulnerable child a “family” and “country” to belong with. Why attempt to do good for vulnerable people if you aren’t going to listen to how effective or not the policy and practice is? Governments can only truly understand the real impacts (positive and negative) of their policies by listening to those whom it involves. In intercountry adoption, this is the adoptee, first families, and adoptive families, not the adoption agencies, the lawyers, nor any other intermediary. Without listening to our voices, governments run the risk of continuing to make the same mistakes they’ve made from the beginning.
One of the worst mistakes that has been made in modern intercountry adoption since it’s beginnings in the 1950s and 60s (beginning with the Greek, German and South Korean adoptees), is to not do enough to curb the monetary incentives in intercountry adoption that allow intermediaries to take advantage of the lack of, or to bypass, policies and laws allowing them to facilitate and participate in illegal and illicit practices. We have generation upon generation of impacted adoptees who’s adoptions were illicit or outright illegal. They have nowhere to turn and certainly have very little justice. Today governments around the world today should be concerned at the growing momentum of groups of first families and adult intercountry adoptees who have already sought legal pathways to take actions for the failures of the past.
For example, Chilean mothers of loss are working together with Chilean Adoptees Worldwide (CAW) and have demanded an investigation into their adoptions from the 70s and 80s. The investigation in Chile has found that a large number of the children who left Chile during that era were not voluntarily relinquished for adoption and they are seeking justice.
Similarly, Guatemalan adoptees have banded together from around the world and are demanding an investigation by the Guatemalan and Belgium governments. A most recent well known legal case is of a biological father who won at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and sentenced the State of Guatemala for irregular adoption and use of illegal procedures. View video here .
Another example is Brazilian adoptee Patrick Noordoven who became the first in the Netherlands to win a legal case for his Right to Original Identity. With this win, the Dutch Ministry of Justice is now investigating the role of the Dutch Government in illegal adoptions from Brazil, Columbia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indonesia! See article here.
When governments fail to respond responsibly for their roles or for the roles individual facilitators played, in historic adoptions, it leaves those impacted no other choice but to find legal pathways to seek justice. We now have over 70 years of modern intercountry adoption around the world with our adoptee numbers in the hundreds of thousands from many different birth countries. Asia is by far the the largest sending continent of children (Peter Selman, HCCH Statistics). Adoptees en-masse have reached maturity where they question their identity, how they came to be raised in another country often with parents of dissimilar race, and to think critically of why they have been sent away from their countries of birth. Our adoptee movement is growing and gaining momentum. ICAV often speaks about the lack of an international body to hold governments accountable for their roles played in facilitating or turning a blind eye to the historic illegal and illicit practices.
Could there could be another pathway? If governments would be willing to listen to those impacted – to learn from the lessons of the past and ensure we don’t continue to repeat the same mistakes?
Part of the ICAV Vision is: A world where existing intercountry adoptees are not isolated or ignored, but supported by community, government, organisations and family throughout their entire adoption journey.
This can only be achieved if those in power in government value and engage us. When our voices are ignored, government acts contrary to their goal of acting in our “best interests”, instead they set up adoptive, first families and adoptees for failure at worst, or more preventable trauma at minimum.
Another of the largest areas of policy failure in intercountry adoption around the world for any government, is the lack of freely funded, equitable, lifelong comprehensive post adoption supports that are trauma and resilience informed, with inclusion in service delivery from those who know the journey best – adoptees, adoptive and first families.
Anyone who has lived intercountry adoption knows intimately that our journey is one of multiple losses that exhibits as trauma and must be supported throughout our life. By inviting adoptees, first families, and adoptive families to share the lessons learnt from lived experience, government will better ensure they decrease the risks of unintended consequences and become more responsive in their policy making.
Inviting us to participate, listening to us with genuine openness and respect, hearing our experiences and heeding our lessons learnt — this is how governments can strengthen their outcomes and become more innovative and balanced. It is not agencies or intermediaries that government should be engaging and listening to the most, it is adoptees, first and adoptive families! I hope to see the day when we will be equally represented and invited to be involved in government policy and legislative forums for intercountry adoption!
This article was initially written in response to a request for a Korean publication but was subsequently unpublished. The request asked me to write about the importance of including the voices of adoptees in policy forums.
Adoptee advocacy and activism for me, is about adoptee healing and claiming back our power.
This week has been so powerful but raw on so many levels. I have travelled to America to attend the Dept of State’s Intercountry Adoption Symposium (Sept 17 & 18) which brought together all the government bodies and NGOs related to, and fulfilling, intercountry adoption processes, the accredited entities which include IAAME and the adoption agencies, and for the first time, representation from the adoption triad. After this ended, some of our American intercountry adoptee leaders and individuals who wished to be involved at government policy and practice level, met with the Dept of State (Sept 19) and had a chat about how we might interact/liaise together in the future and what our goals are and issues of concern.
The following are my thoughts after attending these past three days.
Hearing the same chants for “more adoption” that I’ve read about across the waters but got to experience for real, has been nothing short of gut wrenching.
Getting to personally understand the life experiences of some of my fellow activists has been an honor.
The question was asked to our adoptee group why few American intercountry adoptees in recent years, had until now, not risen to involve themselves at policy level.
After being in America for a week, seeing the level of anger for those who dare to voice any truth that doesn’t match the “we want more children” chant has been a massive reality check. America the land of the free! Well, I see it’s more the land of the free for those who share the dominant discourse — but it can also be unkind and lacking compassion to those who express a different story.
The scale and depth at which intercountry adoption has been conducted in America, that adds avoidable emotional damage to some adoptees, has finally helped me understand why their voices have not been at the table. The ability to rise above one’s terrible reality of adoption is a massive ask. What struck me in coming to personally understand these journeys en-masse over the years I’ve been connecting to fellow adoptees, is how much worse it is here in terms of size and scale. It is not just the historic adoptions from the 50s to 80s. I’m meeting adoptees from the 90s to 2010s and hear the same terrible experiences! I’m also not denying there are probably a ton of intercountry adoptees who have little motivation to make things better because they already had it wonderful. Their reality is not dismissed and neither should the other range of experiences across the spectrum.
Some of the audience responses were so dismissive of our struggles citing that we were just a “moment in time”, or unlucky enough to be a consequence of “a few bad apples”. As I said on day 1 in response to Laura Ingraham’s speech, one terrible adoptee experience is one too many! So please, if you really want to hear what we have to say as adoptees, believe me when I say – “these bad apple adoptions are still happening since the past 20 years”.
Hearing calls and support for “less regulation” and “streamlining” is not the answer in the face of the huge reality. What do we need governments and stakeholders to do differently that hasn’t been done, either at all, or enough? We need them to acknowledge the wrongs of the past to the present. We need full acknowledgement that the decisions made FOR us as vulnerable children, have been terribly painful, terribly damaging for too many .. we need to hear it not just once, but over and over many times so that we know you do not forget the mistakes of the past and those who have been a victim, can feel safe knowing we have learnt the lessons, or at least are trying to.
From my own personal journey of healing, I know how incredibly important it is to hear, “I’m sorry it has been a terribly hurtful experience” from a heartfelt place. Not only do we need to hear that you’ve heard and acknowledged our pain, we need you to give us time to then process that acknowledgement, allow us to move further in our journey — and then ask us to focus and work together on how we prevent it from ever happening again.
For adoptees it is terribly triggering to be dismissed, our reality denied, and our concerns brushed over with “it’s not like that now”. Yes things have changed … drastically, but they need to change more! Support services for the duration of our lifetime, need to be implemented that help us move past the damage. We need reparation that allows out of the box solutions for individual journeys of healing. We need to see that sending children back AS SOON AS WE KNOW something isn’t looking right, is totally a first option that will be supported by all the players who facilitated the adoption. Keeping the child as the only option adds further complications that we adoptees are eventually left to sift through.
People and countries make mistakes .. we are only human. What’s currently missing is the acknowledgement and the sensitivity across the SPECTRUM of players to recognise the trauma from decades (yes, 70 years!) of intercountry adoptions done poorly. The reality that the current and previous American administrations have failed to address intercountry adoptee citizenship, the basic cornerstone of permanence, continuity, and family— clearly demonstrates how little understanding and support exists for the displaced adoptee. This is brushing the wrongs of the past under the carpet on a massive scale!
I realise why adoptees have not been at the table pushing their way in. The depths of pain can be too raw and the risk of receiving further trauma by those who invalidate our experiences, is incredibly high. For a country as religious as America, it sure has little understanding of the need for the power of healing and the acknowledgement of wrong doing. All Americans should be praying not for adoptions to be increased but for the ones who are here already, to be given the right support in order for them to find healing. For the ones deported to be given the supports they need along with their broken up families.
Only once we are fully supported to heal as those who have already suffered, can we truly contemplate ethically adopting more — at least then, we can be confident that despite mistakes being made, the great America has the maturity to help the victims overcome.
My heart breaks for my American brothers and sisters who struggle to rise from out of their ashes. I found it fascinating to see the 9/11 section of the Newseum and the way in which so much compassion is portrayed for those victims, yet in intercountry adoption – I ask where is that same compassion? Is there any recognition of the collective suffering that too many generations of intercountry adoptees have been experiencing in America?!
No! They remain a blip on the radar screen, barely seen, largely misunderstood because they are cloaked with, “You should be grateful to be in this amazing country” banner which denies the tragic realities of so many!
I am compelled to lead by example and demonstrate that adoptees can find their power. My path is but one way to rise above the ashes. I have learned for myself how incredibly healing it is to turn my pains into triumphs and to attempt to make this world a better place and I always wonder what I would have achieved had I been left in Vietnam (my adoptee sliding door/ parallel universe musing). This path of adoptee advocacy is my way to make sense of my adoption and life . Perhaps I was saved to give this message — to be this voice, to truly represent the “child’s best interest” and make sure it is not shoved away?
I hope that this week has been the beginning of the start, that momentum will flow because …
it only takes one to take a stand for truth, for another to find their courage.
What a week of learning, what a week of connecting! I hope America will come to embrace the mistakes of its past in intercountry adoption and provide a safe space for the many intercountry adoptees who need healing and be given many places at the table, not just one place filled by an Australian/Vietnamese.
I also want to acknowledge the many true supporters of adoptees who came from so many stakeholders groups. It is incorrect to assume all government workers, all agencies, all adoptive parents are against us speaking our truths. Despite the intense and sometimes times painful challenging moments, I was uplifted by the volume of supporters who told us they were so happy to see us and hear our voices. I hope I live to see the day when they will become the majority AND the loudest voice we hear from.
I was told that supportive adoptive parents have sat back from the table, out of respect to allow us adoptees to take the platform, to make space for us — but I want to tell those parents and advocates, please don’t be silent in your support. We are at a critical point where intercountry adoptee leadership is emerging and we need ALL the support we can muster.
What I deeply respected was my fellow panelist, the natural mother representative, Claudia D’Arcy, who demonstrated no fear in telling her truth, nor the consequences for doing so. Whether we agreed with her views or not, I imagine her journey of overcoming the stigma, fear and trauma throughout her life has helped her realise there is little to lose, in having the courage to speak her truth. As two representatives of the adoption triad, we both know “the cost of remaining silent”.
Her ending sentence was so respectful and she said, “It should be the adoptees who you listen to the most”. I can only say how much that meant to us. This is the message we need our supporters to uphold – it will encourage us to rise above our pain and fears. Please don’t be silent — it is too open to interpretation!
Huge thanks and respect to the adoptee leaders who gave of their time, money, and energy to be at these forums.
Joy Alessi – adopted from South Korea, co-director of Adoptee Rights Campaign.
Cherish Bolton – adopted from India, co-director of PEAR, academic.
Trista Goldberg – adopted from Vietnam, founder of Operation Reunite, educator.
Marijane Huang – adopted from Taiwan, social worker in adoption and foster care, educator.
JaeRan Kim – adopted from South Korea, social worker and PhD research academic.
Kristopher Larsen – adopted from Vietnam, co-director of Adoptees4Justice.
Monica Lindgren – adopted from Colombia, barrister in family law.
Reshma McClintock – adopted from India, founder of Dear Adoption, co-founder Family Preservation365.
Patricia Motley – adopted from Peru, member of Peruvian Adoptees Worldwide.
Diego Vitelli – adopted from Colombia, founder of Adopted from Colombia, studying masters in counselling.
At this current moment I’m flying thousands of kilometres through the air to reach my destination – The Hague, Netherlands. It’s going to take me 24 hours and you all know what that’s like – cramped in a stuffy space with people coughing, kids crying, airplane food, almost-can’t-turn-around-in spaces they call “toilets” and trying to sleep in those goddam chairs that don’t go back enough! Thank goodness I don’t do trips like this all the time! But it will be my first visit to the land of windmills, tulips and wooden clogs! Skippy Kangaroo Vietnamese girl meets canals, black stockings, and cheeses! Whatever will I get up to on my travel this week? I did promise my hubby I’d be on my best behaviour! (lol)
On Monday, prior to the working group meeting, adoptee leaders and I are meeting with the HCCH to discuss what we would like to be put forward for the week. This is such a great opportunity for impacted adoptees of many backgrounds to now be visible at the highest level of government gatherings. This will open up the opportunity for governments to know that we who live it, want to be included and consulted on policy and practice that has created our lives.
My goal within ICAV is to ensure we learn the lessons from our past and to empower and create more opportunity for many voices to be heard from a wide spectrum of lived experience.
It will only by truly listening to and including all triad members, that those making decisions at government level, will have a deeper understanding of how their jobs impact our lives at both micro and macro levels and anywhere in-between.
So I celebrate new connections! New connections amongst government people who live and breathe intercountry adoption daily in their job; new connections amongst my fellow peers for whom many of us work together via social media, but we seldom get to meet face to face because of our geographical distances. I celebrate the endless possibilities that can be created when we connect people together with a passion to turn our life experiences and the lessons learnt into a way forward that helps those historically impacted and those who might be impacted in the future.
This is also not to say this meeting or forum is the solution to the many known problems and pitfalls in intercountry adoption – we need all impacted peoples to get involved in various ways, big and small, to step up and take action in a way that’s meaningful to them. The forces that create intercountry adoption need to be tackled from many angles and ICAV does not judge to say which way is better, right or wrong. I personally believe in giving things a go – reaching out, creating connections and trying to influence where I can in a way that’s respectful and professional.
So stay tuned and let’s see where this path will take adoptee advocacy at intergovernmental level. I’m hopeful … but also realistic to know that international law and governments have their limits; I recognise resources are often the issue even though the passion and desire to change may be there. We can only work with what we have and try to make things somewhat better. As my adoptive mum often says of me, I’m one who reaches high for the clouds and by doing so, maybe I might get to Everest! And if not, well at least I gave it my best!
For a high level summary of what HCCH does, see here.
Special thank you to Laura at HCCH for her time in providing this information and for making it possible for ICAV and other adoptee leaders to attend this upcoming meeting because she listened to our requests and found a way forward!