If you're reading this, you probably know that social media in the DRC adoption community has been ablaze with news of the Both Ends Burning (BEB)'s petition to the United States government to pressure the Congolese government into ending the suspension on the issuance of exit letters. Adoptive parents are changing their profile pictures to one that says their child(ren) are "stuck" in DRC, sharing the petition, joining the "DRC Pipeline Families" through BEB and making memes using pictures of their adopted children.
If you do decide to join the DRC Pipeline Families information form it might behoove you to ask some important questions of the BEB campaign before you give away private information about your family and your adopted child. Ask questions about how your information will be used. Make sure you know how the advocacy organizations will use that information for their campaigns. Make sure they sign a privacy agreement. Make sure you are aware of the ways your information may be used to further other campaigns (like CHIFF). Learn about the legislation that BEB supports. Research and look into what the goals of each organization are as it relates to the stakeholders and supporters. In the midst of a hard and desperate time in your adoption in DRC, look closely that those that may use your heartache to their advantage to press their own agendas and goals.
This post is about why I think this campaign may not be the right direction to take in trying to change DRC adoptions for the better. There are now tens of thousands of voices lifted and crying for the children of U.S. adoptive parents. There are a few voices that are whispering words of caution and concern. I want to be one of those few voices, that likely will not be heard in the midst of the political advocacy that is currently happening by the Both Ends Burning campaign. This is an open letter to the Both Ends Burning campaign which is asking our government to intervene on behalf of the children that are "stuck" (the word chosen by BEB for this campaign and also the name of the documentary film they promote describing the situations of some children that are being internationally adopted around the world) in DRC, a purported 500 children (led by Kelly Ensslin). It would be relevant to first read the petition before reading the following letter. The petition is named "Please help resolve the pending adoptions from Democratic Republic of Congo."
Dear Both Ends Burning,
I have been watching the social media campaign that you have taken on through your work with Both Ends Burning to help the DRC adoptive parents who are in process. I commend your compassion and passion which drives your desire to help those families that are affected by the DGM suspension and your overall mission of helping children find permanent families.
This brings me to the main reason why I am writing. I want to address the glaring omissions in a petition that has been signed by 75,000 (at the time of this writing) people. These omissions relate to two important questions. First, why is the Congolese government interceding in such a drastic way in the lives of Congolese children who are being adopted by foreigners? And second, how are we going to respond to their motivations for the suspension? Neither of these issues have been addressed in your petition. Given that this petition was put forth by Both Ends Burning, it seems logical to conclude that the answer to the second question is found in the legislation you are supporting: CHIFF.
But let me not gloss over the importance of the first question. Why has the Congolese government (via DGM, DRC immigration) suspended the issuance of exit letters for internationally adopted Congolese children?? The most often quoted reason I see put forth by most of the supporters of BEB and CHIFF is that rehoming concerns in the U.S. is the reason for the suspension. If that is the case, than why is the suspension applied to every foreigner adopting from DRC? Why is it not limited to only the U.S.? I believe the suspension has less to do with rehoming issues than it has to do with issues around power, corruption, and the practices of in-country staff of foreign agencies and organizations that facilitate adoptions in DRC. If you have followed media reports coming out of DRC over the past four years regarding adoption (for example, through Radio Okapi), you will have read reports of child trafficking, orphanage raids, and illegal border crossings. If you have followed individual stories of adoption in DRC (via blogs and stories in the U.S. media from adoptive parents), you will have learned of falsification of documents, DGM bribing, siblings spilt apart, lost referrals (only to have them referred to other agencies), abuse of children in orphanages, false abandonment reports, coercion of birth parents to relinquish children, and high foster care fees without documented expenses (average of $500/month/child), monthly orphanage donations (average of $300/month/child), and child finder fees/social service referral fees (average of $1000-1500 per referral). If you have followed the embassy announcements and update calls of the past 2-3 years, you will also have found concerns of corruption, false documents, bribery, illegal border crossings, and backdated court documents. All of this information is publicly available, and all of it paints a very clear picture of endemic corruption and fraud in the international adoption business in DRC.
Given these are the actual reasons underlying the suspension, what is the proper response? The petition suggest three responses: (1) ask Secretary of State Kerry to help in resolving the issue; (2) send a letter to President Kabila (the DRC president) and Prime Minister Ponyo to intercede; and (3) speak publicly of [their] support of the adoptive families. And yet there is not a single acknowledgement that there are real ethical concerns and problems with corruption in DRC adoptions. There is not a single statement or request in the petition that tries to address this urgent concern and plain reality. There is not a single attempt made to address the very legitimate and real concerns of the Congolese government and its need to protect its citizens. The failure to directly address these concerns in the petition leaves adoptive parents, the Congolese children, and birth families more vulnerable to exploitation by adoption agencies and on ground staff -- both of which profit from international adoption. This omission also implies that this corruption isn't of concern to the U.S. government. To state it in another way: by not making the concerns of corruption and unethical adoption practices of utmost importance, we are implying that they are of no concern to the U.S. And if you would suggest that CHIFF is the response the U.S. government should make to address these valid concerns in DRC, then please read my post (and the recommended readings that are at the end of the post as well as the comments) about why I feel CHIFF will fail to protect children in DRC from exploitation.
I strongly feel that the petition you are pushing forward will lead to an outcome you do not desire: the plan will backfire and will only lead to increased suspensions and delays; ultimately leading to more pain for vulnerable children, their adoptive parents and birth families in DRC. My friends who are currently in process are counting on you and BEB: please don't disappoint them. But even more than that, the vulnerable children and families in DRC need our protection and support. Failing them would be an even greater travesty.
Holly Mulford, concerned DRC adoptive parent
Addendum: This post was written yesterday (April 5th, it is the morning here of April 6th because I'm in Tanzania). As I went to publish it this morning it was brought to my attention that some of the stated goals of the BED campaign to help DRC adoptive families have changed. I won't make this lengthy post even longer going into what the statements might mean. Please ask about these changes and for clarification on what their wording actually means for ALL families adopting from DRC. Again, it is important how your name and information will be used in their campaign. Any changes should come with a call or letter to all the families involved explaining what the changes entail and mean. Here are the new changes:
"We would like Congress to request DRC consider three actions to help these children and their adoptive families while DRC’s government conducts its review.
1) Require the DGM to process and expedite adoptions for any child whose health is at risk.
2) Direct the DGM to honor its original commitment to process exit permit applications for the families that had been approved prior to September 25, 2013.
3) Provide the families who have received approval to adopt a Congolese child on or after September 25, with a means for obtaining exit permits." (source)
Please also see this post for some excellent follow up comments on the above article. http://lightofdaystories.com/2014/09/20/alleged-child-smuggling-comes-to-light-in-drc-amid-hopes-of-avoiding-a-media-storm/