First I want to say I believe in adoption, international and domestic. I believe that children that can't live with their family have the right to live in a loving family. My life has been changed by adoption, my children's' lives have been changed by adoption, and we will forever be grateful that we were the ones to be given the opportunity to raise our two girls. I have met wonderful, brave, courageous people who are adopting and who have adopted. And I know of children who are now in loving families, or will soon be in loving families, that otherwise would never had had that chance. And I'm so grateful for families that open their hearts and homes to the children of Congo, some of whom I know personally.
And I know many of them struggle with many of the same issues and concerns I have about the ethics involved in international adoption. I went into adoption not knowing that much about adopting internationally. I just always knew that I wanted to provide a loving home for a child (or children) one day and that I wanted to do adopt from where I was living (I NEVER thought I would live one day in DR Congo). I have learned so much, good and bad, since we jumped international adoption 2 years ago. I have heard many stories about adoptions in eastern DRC, some told me in secret and confidence. I have come to the hard point where I find myself having grave concerns about the ethics involved in adopting internationally from DRC.
I have serious questions about whether or not international adoptions should be allowed to proceed in a country (DRC) with such little infrastructure (that is necessary to support and investigate abandonments, search for birth parents, and guard against child trafficking), with so little oversight, with so much corruption (leading to countless acts of unethical behavior), and with so little regard for child welfare. International adoption brings with it money, power, and influence (and lots of very strong emotions).
I have such a hard time writing that because I know there are so many children who need homes!
I want to engage in this issue. I want to be a voice advocating for ethical adoptions in DRC. I want to be a voice for change. As I have thought so much about this over the past 2 years I want to share some of my thoughts about what ethical adoption should look like in DRC (given what I said about the country above). I think we all care very deeply for the children here and with that in mind I hope we can all engage on what is necessary to change adoptions as they are currently happening in Congo, so that we can find children homes that need them, reunite children with their families if it is possible, and improve the living conditions and lives of those which we can do neither.
I believe that adoptions agencies and organizations should--
1. Extensively visit the orphanages they are working with, form trusting and lasting relationships with their staff on the ground, and refuse to do adoptions from any orphanage that has a known or suspected corrupt leader/director.
2. Require that all abandoned children not be immediately relinquished for adoption. Instead, the agency or organization should pay for radio and tv ads to do a thorough search for birth family members that may be unaware of the abandonment and work with (or establish) local organizations to help with these searches.
3. Connect birth families with organizations that do sponsorship if it is clear that a child was abandoned due to poverty, so that the child or baby can stay with the family and not be adopted internationally. (Women for women is an organization that does sponsorships for women and their children).
4. Support and encourage domestic adoptions and raise money to this end.
5. Model and research organizations that do reunification work in other countries.
6. Refuse to work with any orphanage that is corrupt and absolutely refuse to allow money to change hands in any way when their is a corrupt director in an adoption proceeding.
7. Allow transparency and open communication with others in the adoption community to increase the knowledge base of other adoptive parents who often feel like they are kept in the dark regarding the money they pay for their adoptions, the orphanages the children come from, and the process over all. And report unethical behavior or concerns regarding agencies or organizations to the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa.
8. Truly make international adoption the last resort, and reflect this in their mandate and work.
9. List all their fees to their clients in detail and justify why and allow for comparison and communication between agencies (which is currently unheard of).
10. Only accept referrals from orphanages. And they should only accept referrals of babies and children who were not abandoned to that orphanage for the sole purpose of adoption. I simply believe that the income difference between adopting international families and birth families is too big of an issue to overlook. I believe that there are many poor families that would give their child to a "rich"(relatively speaking) family because they know that they will be better taken care of (and most of the time this means receive education, health care, food, and shelter). I don't believe that adoption is about saving poor children out of desperate situations or out of poverty. I believe adoption is about finding families for children who will never have a chance to live in a family.
11. (and this is so important!) Work to decrease the underlying reasons why children are abandoned in the first place. Come alongside existing organizations that help to prevent families from failing. And this can be done with so little money. Development on a small local level works and it makes a difference. You can make a difference. There are so many wonderful organizations out there that are making a difference. A difference means that the overall health and well being of a family and community are raised and then there are less children abandoned.
One of the best things a prospective DRC adoptive parent can do to help increase the chances of an ethical adoptions is visit the country and child before the adoption is processed. The next best would be to talk to others from other agencies and organizations very openly and transparently. Ask hard questions. Be willing to not accept a referral if any thing seems questionable or inconsistent in the story.
I do believe strongly that real work can be done on the ground to make a difference in the lives of orphans in DRC. There are congolese women and men working hard to make a difference.
Living in Congo, prospective and current adopting parents wrote me about their agencies and organizations. Every thing that I have shared here comes from my experience working with international adoption and knowing others in the process.
Tumaini, the organization we are starting, enables orphaned babies to have a fighting chance at survival. All the children at the orphanage have lost their mothers, some their fathers as well, and they are sent to the orphanage from all over eastern congo. Most are sent as newborns to prevent their deaths. They all have known families. We are trying our best to give them good care and then encourage them to be reunited with their families as soon as possible. (More on this important last point in another post).
Interested in reading others' thoughts on international adoption? I would highly recommend this post (and follow the links at the bottom, they are excellent as well).
This was a hard post for me to write. I think some may interpret what I have written as being too critical and condemning of international adoption in DR Congo overall. All I can say, is that I love my little girls too much to not write this post and I care too much about their country and what happens there to stay silent. I will continue to wrestle with these issues and welcome discussion.
As always, thanks for reading.
Sabina, a very loved little girl, who needs one more sponsor at $25/month.