Just What Were They Thinking?


Did they really think they could get away with trying to smuggle a bus load of kids out of their country?  The arrest of U.S missionaries for kidnapping 33 children was frightening and exemplifies what extreme behaviors people are capable of during tragedies. 

The reality is they will either be sentenced to prison or the charges will be dropped and the story will die.  

Or will it? 

Unfortunately, the answer is no and the kidnapping of these Haitian “orphans” is now causing international organizations to scrutinize child advocacy programs and international adoption.  The actual definition of orphan is one which child advocacy groups just can’t seem to agree.  Just who is an orphan?  Is it an infant whose parents are no longer alive?  A toddler whose parents gave them up? What about a child whose parents can’t be found?  An orphan is all of these, it depends on who you talk to and who is involved.

The bottom line – there are orphans…. They are all over the world from the crumbled streets of Haiti to the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains to the slums of India and the frigid streets of Russia.  And these orphans need loving families.  And there are thousands of families around the world who would love to bring them into their homes. In the Nepal program alone, there are families from Iceland, Sweden, Germany, Spain, France and the U.S…..families who want children – some waiting years to bring them into their lives.

So what will happen in Haiti? The poor country already had 380,000 children in orphanages and that number will now grow significantly.  Haiti was forced to close its adoption program after the earthquake.  Families were displaced, and it will take a very long time to determine if these children are truly orphans.  In the meantime, an imminent solution to the homeless infants and children is needed.

The international advocacy organizations don’t agree on a solution. I was distraught to discover that UNICEF – you know the group that supposedly works for children- is anti-international adoption.  They would prefer a child remain as an orphan in their country of origin rather than be adopted cross culturally. 

Mind you this is the same organization that I supported every single Halloween as I went door to door with a little box saying, awkwardly through my buck teeth, “Trick or Treat for UNICEF”.  Now 32 years later in the midst of adopting internationally, I discover that the same organization that I pounded the pavement for doesn’t support international adoption. Huh? 



UNICEF is anti-international adoption.  I obviously do not agree with this as I believe there are so many orphans without families who do not receive proper nutrition, medical care, nor love.

Needless to say, after the earthquake, I sent a check to Doctors without Borders.

I agree with Elizabeth Bartholet, a professor and director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, and advocate for international adoption, who, in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, (http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/haitis-children-and-the-adoption-question/#bartholet offers what I find to be an exceptional answer to a growing dilemma. She clearly believes that “it is hypocritical to delay or shut down such adoption in the name of protecting children. The real risk of abuses occurs when unparented children are not placed for adoption.”

She is right on – the Haitian children should be placed safely outside of Haiti in temporary homes while investigators determine if there are living relatives who want to care for the children.

The criticism of international adoption stems from the definition of orphan. It is true that the children living in orphanages are not all orphans. And to determine if they are orphans in the aftermath of a natural disaster, like Haiti, is nearly impossible and could take years. 
This is the case in most countries around the world.  Many offer temporary care of children whose parents can’t take care of them. 

This is exactly why it is so critical that the orphanages and embassies in each country work together to ensure the children do not have families from whom they could be displaced before allowing them to be eligible for adoption. It is everyone’s worst nightmare that a child who has a family who cares for them would be placed for adoption.

Remember Madonna? She first adopted David from Malawai, returned a few years later to adopt Mercy James to then discover that she wasn’t really an orphan.  Mercy’s long lost dad came out of the woodwork and said he never gave up the rights to his daughter?  Well, who knows the truth but she was in an orphanage for a long time.  Apparently after paying millions of dollars to the Malawai Government and who knows who else…this story disappeared and you can bet Mercy is leading a pretty good life in London.  This is where it all gets a bit murky and quite scary, if you ask me.

According to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, after the devastating tragedy in Haiti one adoption service provider received over 5,000 inquiries – all about adopting from Haiti.  It’s amazing to me how many people want to adopt.

But for now, the answer to the most commonly asked question is “I won’t be adopting from Haiti.” Did I think about it as I watched Anderson Cooper’s coverage of the orphanages with hundreds of infants and no one to take care of them?  You better believe I did and I still do. 

But, my heart is already invested elsewhere and I am holding out for my girl from Nepal. And I’m hoping that UNICEF and others who are anti-international adoption don’t keep me from being with her.




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  • I have mixed emotions regarding international adoptions. I think it's terrible when children are taken from their homeland, especially if they have 'known relatives' that care about them, like Mercy. I heard that she had a grandmother that wanted her and my heart goes out to that grandmother. No one listened to her and now her granddaughter is gone forever. Madonna could have chosen another child. I'm sure there were many children there that were true orphans. Maybe there were other relatives that could have taken Mercy. Maybe they didn't know she was in an orphanage. However, I ask myself, "Is it better for this child to grow up in an orphanage in their homeland or to live with a family in a prosperous country?" I don't know the answer. I'm torn between the two options, but I would say that it would be better to grow up in a loving family than to grow up in an orphanage where there are so many children that they do not get all of their needs met.

    I think that the missionaries (that you referred to in the beginning of your post) meant well. It sounded like they believed that all of the children were orphans and, as you said, one definition of an orphan is 'a child whose parents gave them up.' I read about at least one parent who said that they willingly gave up their child to missionaries because they believed that their child would have a better life if they let them go to be adopted. If you knew that your child could have a better life if you let them go, would you do it?

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