Saturday, May 4, 2013

Please, don't sign that letter.

Today I was distracted by a letter that DRC prospective parents are supposed to sign and bring to their senators as a part of the Both Ends Burning campaign and upcoming march on D.C.  I read it and was left disturbed and angered by what I had read.  So, I wanted to encourage everyone to NOT sign the letter.  Write your own letter instead and fill it with the truth instead of the misleading (and in some cases mistruths) statements found in the form letter created by the Both Ends Burning campaign.  Here is the letter (found in the link "sample letter for DRC parents").

And here are the six points that the letter puts forth (the link to this is in the letter above), that I argue you should NOT put your signature to:
Here are some facts you should know about the DRC:
1. It is estimated that 10% of Congolese infants die before their first birthday and that 20% of Congolese children do not live to see their 5th birthday.
2.  There are estimated to be over 1,000,000 orphans in the capital of Kinshasa alone, and 5,000,000 in the entire country.
3.  The longer the embassy takes to do investigations the more at risk these children are at illness and even death because of the high rate of TB, meningitis etc. It is in the child's best interest not only emotionally, but physically, for their survival. 
4 If a child becomes ill they have fewer medical resources than in the U.S. Children residing in orphanages in DRC do not receive medical care or immunizations.
5.  All children residing in orphanages in DRC have some level of malnutrition and many children die in the orphanages because the orphanages do not have the resources to feed them even one meal a day.
6.  Some have suggested that the embassy is lengthening investigations to prevent child trafficking and they have argued that ultimately it is in the best interest of the children. However, allowing millions of children to languish in orphanages and on the street in a country with such a high mortality rate is surely not in their best interests.

I have so many problems with this presentation of facts.  The biggest problem is that it appears to be saying that the extreme poverty of children in DRC and the high infant/child mortality is the justification for adoption.  We do not adopt children because they are extremely poor, we adopt children when they need a new or second family.  Extreme poverty is not why children should be adopted.  The statistics in this letter are broad (and do not give the sources) and if anything, should motivate our energy towards fighting the underlying reasons why there is such extreme poverty.

Then it appears to be implying that there are 1 million orphans in Kinshasa that live in orphanages that are not receiving medical care or immunizations and are malnourished and dying.  And it further implies that the embassy (by investigating orphan status more thoroughly) is "allowing millions of children to languish in orphanages and on the street."  The letters goes on to imply that given there is such a high mortality rate in DRC, the embassy is not acting in the children's best interest by allowing them to languish in orphanages and on the street.   Basically, the letter has the feel of implying that the embassy is a part of millions of children dying in DRC because they are insisting on lengthened investigations!  That it is the embassy taking the time to ensure ethical adoptions that is causing children to die!   Talk about manipulation!

"Orphan" in Africa as in many other countries around the world is a term that is used to describe many children.  It is used to describe the child of a woman whose husband has died.  The child of a man whose wife has died.  It is used to describe a child who has been abandoned.  A friend in DRC called herself an orphan because her mother was too ill to care for her and her father had deserted them.  The term is used regardless of whether or not the child who is called an "orphan" is living in an orphanage (which few are) or living with their one surviving parent or with their surviving parent and his/her new spouse, with extended family, or with foster care.   Spend even a short amount of time in DRC and one will quickly realize that almost every family you meet has an orphan living in their home.  I personally feel like a more appropriate term than "orphan" would be "vulnerable child".

Certainly when children become ill they have less resources to treat those illnesses in than in the U.S.  However, it is a lie to suggest that children residing in orphanages in DRC do not receive medical care or immunizations.  There will be some orphanages (especially ones that are either very poorly supported or the ones that have corrupt director and keep donated funds to themselves) that do not have medications.  But even the two orphanages I was visiting and working at in eastern DRC made sure the children were all immunized and of course medications were given (even when the funds were extremely low and the children had very little to no food).

The reality is that most children who are referred for adoption are immediately placed in foster homes that provide a high level of care compared to an orphanage.  The ones that aren't placed in foster homes are often housed in agency/organization funded orphanages that certainly feed the children more than once a day.  The letter that I quoted above, that letter is meant for all the children living every day in DRC that will never be adopted.  Those kids?  Those are the kids that I am trying to help through Reeds of Hope.  Those are the kids that most of my fellow adoptive parents and friends are trying to help by improving their lives.  Those kids in that letter, they aren't the ones being adopted.

So why the manipulation, why the guilt tactics?  Would it be so hard to write a letter that is simple, heart felt and the truth?

Why not write instead something like--

"We share the concerns our government has in ensuring that our adoptions are done ethically and that the children we are bringing home are the ones that truly need homes.  We know that there have been concerns with the rapid increase in DRC adoptions over the last 3 years and we understand your concern that with this rapid increase comes intense pressure on a already fragile system that is working to protect children from harm and first families from manipulation.  We want to be a part of ethical adoptions and we applaud your efforts to do so as well in DRC, which is a country that has little infrastructure and worrisome levels of corruption.  We are concerned, however, with how long the investigations are now taking due to the combination of greater numbers of adoptions being processed and understaffing at the embassy to handle this number of adoption investigations.  We strongly encourage you to consider supporting the Kinshasa embassy more fully so that they can do their work in a timely and thorough manner so that the children that do need homes do not have to wait for their homes any longer than necessary.  Thank you."   

Addendum May 7: The letter is no longer accessible on the link above.   

May 14, 2013--comments now closed on this post.  


candice said...

You send around a counter letter and I will sign it for sure!! Your letter is for much more logical, unfortunately, the more fantastical the narrative, the more response it renders.

scooping it up said...

brilliant as always. thank you for your voice.

Christy said...

This is exactly what Ghana adoptive parents need as well! Thank you!

Christy said...

This is exactly what Ghana adoptive parents need as well! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Given the humanitarian crisis in the DRC, we should really try to be united as adoptive parents instead of nitpicking each other. The letter conveys relevant, well-established facts and advocates for the timely processing of applications. We all want ethical adoptions (notice the letter asks for more money to conduct investigations, not the pushing through of applications without investigations). You really are playing into UNICEF's hands, which has been historically anti-adoption not out of genuine concern for the greater good, but because of political ideology. UNICEF has been great for some humanitarian relief efforts, but they need correcting on the issue of international adoption. Here is a good analysis from the premier scholar on this issue:

Holly said...

I disagree, I do not believe the letter contains "relevant, well-established fact." I certainly agree that we should be unified as adoptive parents against corruption and unethical practices in DRC. And as I said in the last statement, I also support the embassy getting more staff and resources. Personally, I don't believe in putting my signature on anything that is manipulating, misrepresents the truth and contains false information. However, if you feel that it is appropriate to sign a letter that does contain them, in order to pressure senators to give the embassy more money/support, then you should certainly sign the letter. International adoption is not the solution to a humanitarian crisis.

Holly said...

Regarding the article you linked. I personally fall in line more with David Smolin's writings (who is another "premier scholar) than E. Bartholet. There are plenty of debates out there between them, I don't think we need to have one here. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

International adoption is the solution to the child that is adopted. Definitely we want to work on empowering countries to conquer poverty. But letting children die in orphanages while taking generations to work on these problems is where the real ethical problem lies. The child's rights must come first.

Several foreign courts have finally begun to reaize this. A South African court found a law prohibiting foreigners from adopting as a violation of human rights, as well as their own constitution's endorsement of children's rights: They found that "the subsidiarity principle itself must be seen as subsidiary to the paramountcy principle," the principle making the child’s best interest paramount.

Holly said...

I'm a bit confused by your first sentence. Do you mean that International adoption is the solution to a child who needs a family? (I understand a solution to be similar to an answer that solves a problem.) Do you mind clarifying? I have some further thoughts, but I wanted to try to understand what you are saying first. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Holly, you are right on, right on, right on. Your suggestion of the approach is was more in line with how we need to do things. This is not a race, nor is it a competition, and if we do work together and support and open and transparent system, we can make changes that will benefit children and families in all ways. You are RAD!

Anonymous said...

No one is remotely suggesting that they want children to die, or to be without care. Advocates for ethics are trying to relay, that these "poor people" are no different than ourselves, they are "poor". It doesn't mean that they don't love their children, nor does it mean they won't again be able to care for them in the future. We have to do investigations thoroughly to ensure human beings aren't being taken half way across the world and away from a family that they have a right to be connected to. If you don't support this - you should not be adopting internationally. AP's have an additional responsibility to our children, and that is to ensure there was no stone unturned on our way to one another.

Think, if you birthed a child, got sick, lost your house, had to place your child in some kind of care, got better, were able to care for them, went to find them and found out they had been adopted out - without your knowledge or consent and had no way of being able to reach out or be connected to them - how would that make you feel?

These children are not our RIGHT - and they are not rightfully under our care, until they are. And even then - we have a responsibility to keep a connection with their birth country because that is a deep part of them. We don't get them same entitlement that birth parents do - and we shouldn't, because we are dealing with fully realized people who have a story.

People who are fighting for ethics and investigations aren't trying to stop adoption - they are trying to improve it. Those are two very different things.

These countries have been exploited for decades and have endured immense abuses by white, foreigners. We need to be respectful and humble about this whole process.

Holly said...

anon @ 1039, Wow, wonderful comment! Thank you. I think you definitely responded to the comment similarly and better than I would have. I agree so very whole heartedly, especially with the underlying dignity and respect in your words. I think that is one of the hardest parts for me right now, is my heart feels more and more broken about the breaking apart of families who are in such difficult situations. This is what keeps being whispered in my heart, "support the families, support the families, bring them back together." As I recently went through the DRC laws it was so deeply confirming to me that these gut feelings are written in their laws...laws to bind families together in care and obligation. Laws to bind birth and adoptive families always, ties that remain even in the next generations. Laws that obligate us to support the families of our children, if they have no other means of support in their families. Laws that intertwine us tightly together, because that is the reality, we will forever be woven together (laws or now laws). Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think it is somewhat disingenuous to post part of the letter without context. This letter is pertaining to the poor staffing and disorganization from the embassy, and only pertain to children who are ALREADY ADOPTED, i.e. waiting for I600 approval. The children at the orphanage I work with has unfortunately experienced quite a few serious illnesses and at least 3 deaths in the past year of children who were already referred. Malaria and typhoid are the primary issues, and problems not easily solved. The fact is that adding at least 9 months (3-6 more to Congolese process and 6 more to the US process) will result in more children WHO ARE ALREADY GOING TO BE ADOPTED experiencing serious illness and/or death. That doesn't even address the serious developmental issues of living in institutional care for an additional year. Most of us understand the need for additional care and transparency in the adoptive process. But implementing rules without committing the resources to make them happen is irresponsible at best, and children are the victims.

Holly said...

Yes, I regret not posting the entire letter (GIVEN it was taken down after I wrote the post). I disagree with your points, given that the facts used to justify getting more support are wrong (and I posted the "facts" directly from the letter). My last statements, reflect that I agree that the embassy needs more resources to do more thorough and timely investigations. Not sure why you are attacking this so much (perhaps you are with an agency or facilitate adoptions?). My argument is simply that facts should be used, not manipulation and guilt (and some information which was blatantly untrue). Please go and reread my post, especially the last part. You should consider writing your own letter, using your own experience at the orphanage you work with; that would be more truthful (I'm assuming you DO give the children you work with medications?) I agree orphanages are harmful, hence why I advocated for family reunification, support and alternative care and it is why I have committed to work long term in eastern DRC alongside the congolese working on these issues.