I am the father of 6 children. My 4 youngest are adopted. I am the President & Co-founder of a human rights organization working to end child trafficking and exploitation. I am deeply conflicted. Here is why:
When I was in Cambodia about 8 years ago, the Director of a large human rights agency asked me; “Do you really want to do something practical to stop child trafficking?” I of course answered yes. She said; “Then do something about international adoption.” At the time, I honestly wasn’t sure what she meant. She then went on to explain about how international adoption, if not done well and with vigilance, can fuel child trafficking.
To be truthful, my immediate reaction was defensiveness. I was even a little offended. Mostly because I am an adoptive father and I believe that adoption can be a viable and compassionate response to the global orphan crisis. But also offended, or more aptly put… mad as hell that traffickers would prey on the most vulnerable; turning orphans into commodities.
Since that conversation I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn, from my daily fight to end child trafficking and exploitation, as well as from our family’s own journey of international and domestic adoptions.
I’ve discovered she was right. Intercountry adoption, if not regulated and monitored can contribute to the trafficking of children. Trafficking occurs within international adoption when children are taken illegally from birth families through “child buying”, coercion, kidnapping, etc. They are then sold (often times with falsified documentation) to orphanages, “facilitators” or to adoptive parents as “legitimate” orphans, implying the child's parents are dead, when in fact the child's parents are still alive. Trafficking can also occur when children are left at orphanages by their parents for temporary care or in the hopes of receiving an education, and they are illegally placed for adoption without the parents knowledge or consent, under the pretense that they are true orphans.
The reports of cases involving the trafficking of children for adoption seem to be multiplying, sometimes resulting in the arrests of “facilitators” and the shutting down of orphanages and even agencies. The US State Department has closed the international adoption programs to several countries due to trafficking.
Many of the root causes behind trafficking and the orphan crisis are the same. Poverty, conflict, natural disasters, disease, injustice, corruption, greed, gender and racial discrimination all create extreme vulnerability. Traffickers prey not only upon vulnerable children, but also the desperate circumstances of birth families and the good intentions of compassionate adoptive parents.
I get concerned when I see an approach of “finding children for families” within the adoption world. This only increases “demand”, and demand fuels the trafficking and exploitation of children. Our approach instead, must be one of finding families for children. And this needs to include extended family or foster/adoptive families within the child’s own country. While I believe that most intercountry adoptions are ethical and not corrupted by child trafficking, the issues still exist and must be addressed.
I think often times we are much better at dealing with the consequences and results of these systemic issues than we are at preventing them. Building more safehomes is not the answer to ending child trafficking, just as adoption is not the solution to the growing number of children who are orphaned. These responses are compassionate, loving and effective acts made necessary by the above causes.
William Sloane Coffin Jr. said; “To show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving.”
It’s like the story I’ve heard of people falling off of a cliff. There are those at the bottom of the cliff scrambling to provide care to those falling off and driving ambulances back and forth, shuttling broken people from the foot of the cliff to the hospital. At some point someone gets the idea of building a guardrail at the top of the cliff to prevent people from falling off.
Frankly…until we build guardrails…until we address and go after the reasons why children are trafficked or why there are millions of orphans on the planet today, there will always be another trafficking victim. There will always be another child orphaned. I long for the day, and will continue to work toward the day, when that will no longer be the case.
Because the issues surrounding intercountry adoption and child trafficking are complex, it would be impossible to cover all of these in a blog post. So if you are interested, here are some links to resources to further understand the issues and possible solutions.
And now…your thoughts?
-Rob (Proud adoptive Dad…and human rights advocate)
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