I haven't written many of the details of my adoption out (the technical details). Much of what got me started writing and advocating for ethics in adoption in DRC was because of all I learned by living in DRC while processing our adoption and helping others with theirs (and listening to others share their stories). We were involved in every single step of the adoption.
For those of you that don't know, we stepped away from one adoption because of concerns about the ethics of the adoption. We ended up adopting for a different orphanage. The little boy we had been referred to originally still lives in the first orphanage.
Here is what I learned from both adoptions--
1. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was completely ignorant of what international adoption meant and the challenges of an ethical adoption in a country like DRC. I thought I would be helping orphaned children that needed homes find a home.
2. I learned very quickly how naive I was.
3. I learned that paying off government and court officials was common place. Giving a judge money to "close their eyes" was a normal activity. When I expressed complete repulsion at the idea (when someone suggested it to us during our adoption) I was greeted with surprise that I would think that would be wrong.
4. When we told people we absolutely would not be paying anyone off, our dossier was thrown out of the courts and we were told we had to re-submit it (and pay again) to have it considered.
5. At one point when we asked to review all the paperwork being submitted we found a forged document. No one admitted to putting it in our dossier and no one thought it was a big deal. We did and we refused to allow it to go in our dossier.
6. When we finally got to the point of getting DGM (DRC immigration) approval to leave the country, we were told "no problem". We just had to pay them $3000. We said, absolutely not. It took us the next nine months to finally get permission to leave the country.
7. The DGM exit letter (formal permission to leave the country) is free, THERE IS NO OFFICIAL CHARGE. Any amount over that amount is a bribe. That means even one dollar paid to DGM is a bribe.
8. In the end we made a decision. We had to decide if we were comfortable paying DGM a bribe. We asked around and found out that minimum all other agencies/organizations were paying was $100 (of course most were paying $600 or more). S0, we paid DGM $100 for each child to get a exit visa. So, yes, we bribed DGM. Put another way, we bribed the Immigration Department of DRC to get our girls permission to leave the country. Doesn't sound so great when I put it that way, does it?
Am I okay this? Absolutely not. Would I adopt from DRC again right now? No.
So, I speak out and try to give others the opportunity to do so, too. It is only in speaking out about the truth about what is happening on the ground do we actually have a chance to change the corruption that is rampant in international adoption in DRC. It is only in speaking the truth, without judgment, that we can work together to make change happen. We can make a difference. Many already are doing so, and for them (and others working to fight injustice done to orphans and vulnerable children), I have much respect.
Addendum: I changed the title of this post to add "or did I bribe DGM?" I did this to reflect the controversy over this topic, paying DGM any money at all, my views on it being indeed a bribe, and others who very much disagree with me. The comments reflect the differing opinions on this well.
Addendum #2 Feb. 12, 2014: At the time we were adopting (2010 and 2011) no one was calling the money paid to DGM a "bribe", the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa had on their website that paying DGM $100 as part of the exit process was to be expected and was a part of the adoption process in DRC. When I first wrote this post I was trying to do my best to reveal what I knew about the truth of DGM "exit fees", even though it was in opposition to the embassy's guidelines to IA in DRC and also against all agency and organization behavior at that time. As of Feb. 2013, the embassy website reports that any money given to DGM as part of the exit process should be considered a bribe.