After my first post about international adoption from Congo where I addressed many of my concerns regarding fears of ethics violations and the potential for child trafficking, one reader asked me about donations to orphanages where there are adoptions taking place. I want to look into this issue a little in this post.
I know that we all don't want to do anything that exploits vulnerable children. That we would all agree that we want to protect children from being trafficked, sold, or kidnapped from their families for adoption (or the sex slavery trade). We want children that have no chance to live in a loving family to have this chance. We don't want to take a child away from a situation where they have a family or the potential to go back to their family. We don't want there to be lies or coercion anywhere in the process.
So, back to the topic at hand. Is it okay to give a donation to the orphanage from where you are adopting your child? This is a really important question. Why is this question so important?
Let's take a hypothetical situation (that could very easily be a situation in Congo), and it is not the situation of the orphanage we are supporting currently with Tumaini. Let's say there is a large orphanage housing 200 children in various ages in a large province in eastern DRC. It has been insecure in eastern DRC. War, rape, movement of populations, extreme poverty. There are abandoned babies, toddlers, children, sibling groups because of all the unrest and upheaval, and the extreme level of poverty that has resulted from the insecurity over many years. For the most part the family members are unknown, though in some situations they are known. Congolese churches, local families and individuals support the orphanage in small ways.
Adoption is new in this area of Congo and soon there is interest in trying to find families for these children. Folks from the U.S. visit the orphanage. The children are in horrible conditions. Little to no food, no caregivers, no medicine, no schooling, a dangerous living environment. The director has tight control over the orphanage. He allows some food donations, not others. He accepts some medical help, not others. It becomes apparent that some children are starving and dying of illness. He accepts help for some of them not others. More and more families want to adopt the children from these destitute conditions. More and more donations come in. One can't walk away without wanting to help. Especially the little ones who lay on the cement unattended and sick. Soon, he says he won't allow a child to leave the orphanage for adoption unless a donation is made to the orphanage to support the other children. Give the donation, then the child can be removed for adoption. It is a hopeless place surrounded by the beauty which is eastern DRC. A year later and adoptions are still happening, yet there is something that makes a visitor feel uneasy. Nothing has changed in the children's lives. In fact, it is surprising to note that the children continue to live in abject poverty. It becomes clearer and clearer that the director is pocketing the donations and not using the money to help the children. A (hypothetical) situation of a large orphanage with lots of children needing homes that has a corrupt director.
What do you do? Do you stop giving a donation when a child is being adopted? What if he refuses to let the child be adopted? Then what? Do you then condemn that child to potential death in the prison of an orphanage? Do you demand to see accounts of the funds? What if he refuses? Do you only give donations of goods, not money? What if you never see those goods used? What if they are sold?
And what if the director is perpetuating the cycle of suffering in order to keep funds coming in? What if he knows that if the situations improve for the children less funds/goods will come to the orphanage? What if he is manipulating the visitors and the children for his own gain? What if it is all exploitation of children?
What would motivate him to keep the children healthy or fed, if what keeps his pockets full is their near starvation state and constant illness/death?
What if he is coercing or lying about the situations of the children? What if he is a part of trafficking children for adoption? Clearly there is the motivation. He receives thousands of dollars in donations when a child is removed from his orphanage.
What if you demand oversight from an independent observer? What if he refuses and says then you can't adopt from here anymore? What if that means more children die and suffer? What then?
Situations like this exist. There are parts of this hypothetical experience that I have experienced, and there are parts others have. Most people don't want to talk about it publicly. It could threaten the adoption of a vulnerable child.
I strongly feel that adoptions should not be conducted from orphanages with unethical and corrupt directors where there is little to no oversight. I strongly believe that monetary and good donations should not be given to an orphanage director that is corrupt and unethical. I believe doing so (doing adoptions and giving donations in a situation of a corrupt director and/or leadership) puts adoptions at risk of being unethical and involving trafficking and exploitation, and it threatens the health and well-being of the children who are not adopted. It leaves "those left behind" with the potential to be abused for monetary gain.
Ask your agency/organization about the orphanage that your child is coming from. Ask other adopting families about the orphanage. Ask about how your donation is being used. Follow your money. Ask about follow up of the funds. Ask about receipts from the director. Ask about independent oversight. Ask about the investigations on the abandonment of the child you are adopting. Ask about the conditions of the other children. Ask about the transparency of the leadership of the orphanage. Ask to visit the orphanage without an appointment. Ask about what other partnerships the orphanage is currently involved with and how your agency collaborates and works with those other agencies/organizations. Consider asking this question to your agency/organization, "If I went and gave $1000 to the director of the orphanage, are you confident that that money would be used for the children in the orphanage and do you have a way to verify it was used for the children in the orphanage?"
We should be about protecting children from undue harm not causing more harm to those who are innocent of wrongdoing. We should fight for these children, that they be treated ethically and fairly. We should fight for safe, good, healthy, loving homes for all children (those not adopted most of all).
There are ways to investigate orphanages in Congo. You can contact the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa and tell them your concerns. The U.N. has a child protection unit, you can contact them and they can investigate orphanages. You can contact UNICEF. You can ask your agency/organization to use their contacts to do an investigation on the ground. You can demand that your agency/organization not conduct adoptions from orphanages that have corrupt directors. You can demand that your agency/organization not give monetary donations to corrupt directors. And until the agency/organizations has a system in place for independent assessment of the orphanage, the director, it's management that includes accountability and transparency, adoptions should wait.
So, if you are thinking the orphanage you are adopting from isn't anything like what I described, that's great. But in my mind, it is not innocent until proven otherwise. There is too much room for exploitation. Investigations, questioning, setting up good systems with accountability and transparency must be in place before adoptions should proceed. Go back to the paragraph starting with "ask". Read it again. Fight for change for children in orphanages in Congo, in a way that enables positive changes to happen.
And if you are wondering about Tumaini, we have asked all those questions (and we did during our adoption as well) and we have worked hard to put a system in place that ensures accountability, transparency and oversight. We have an independent manager that is on a salary that is not a part of the orphanage or it's leadership who follows up with the work we are doing. We have checks and balances in our accounting here in the states. We are communicating with the other collaborating partners to prevent over-lap in giving.
I will end with these beautiful faces.