Personal Thoughts on Ethics in International Adoption. - By Ellen Fitzenrider

     I am by no means an expert on ethical matters in anything (who can totally be?), let alone international adoption. The concept of ethics in itself is fraught with inherent 'gray-areas' that always seem to be open to interpretation, constant reflection and redefinition. It challenges us to be thoughtful, and to try to be our best selves by 'doing the right thing.' In the arena of international adoption there are issues small and large, but the challenge is of paramount importance and cannot wait until we have time in our busy lives to pay attention to them. There are lives at stake. Lives of children. Lives of families. Lives of those of us in the more fortunate areas of the world. Lives of those living in countries less fortunate. There are moral choices and decisions to be made that can so easily be swayed by emotion, desired outcomes and, especially, money.

     Face it. There is a LOT of money flying around this world of international adoption. Lets see, the math would be something like: over 20,000 (we'll go with 20,000 to be easy) international adoptions occurring (just in the U.S.) each year, times $20,000 (assumed, by me, average...as some are less but some are MUCH more) per adoption would be...my calculator says a four followed by eight zeroes...put in the commas...400,000,000. $400,000,000?? FOUR HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS? I haven't run those figures before and I'm sitting here stunned. I have run it again to make sure that I didn't do it wrong, but there it is. People, with that kind of money involved, trust me, there WILL be less-than-honest people in the world wanting to get a piece of that unbelievably large pie. It's no wonder that children are taken from families, smuggled in suitcases and across borders, that documents are falsified, and that lies and deception can become wrapped up in the whole process. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala has resorted to requiring DNA testing on ALL children and the women who claim to be their biological mothers because of instances in the past where babies were stolen and presented/relinquished for adoption by women who were not actually related to them. I know one woman who for several years ran an adoption agency who, when she saw the levels of corruption that exist, even in seemingly small ways, throughout the process, she left the business rather than play a game that she felt ethically unable to participate in.

     Do you think that unethical practices in international adoption are a rare occurrence, and that people speaking out are the 'squeaky wheels who are ruining it for the rest of us?' Think again. There are movements in the industry trying to clean up the abuses (or potential for abuses) and loopholes that make victims of children and families alike. "Each year, the Department of State publishes a report listing the top 20 countries of origin for U.S. adoptions in the preceding year. Over the last 15 years, 40 different countries were in the Top 20 Countries of Origin for U.S. families. Of these, 13 are currently closed or effectively closed (meaning that the number of children being adopted has fallen to 26 or less each year including orphan petitions filed by immediate relatives or those living in the foreign country. Former numbers ranged from 79-1122 per country, with an average of 306). An additional 4 countries are closed, reportedly temporarily, to investigate concerns or establish new procedures. Together, these 17 countries account for 43% of the 40 most common countries for U.S. citizens to adopt from. Virtually all of these countries closed due to concerns about rampant corruption or child trafficking and abduction." (Source: Ethica special report, The Statistics Tell the Story!)

     UNICEF reports that as many as 1.2 million children are trafficked every year. (Source: 'Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation'. (FYI, see also UNICEF's Position on Intercountry Adoption and Ethica's response to UNICEF's position.

     Ethica is a nonprofit corporation that seeks to be an impartial voice for ethical adoption practices worldwide, and provides education, assistance, and advocacy to the adoption and foster care communities. Their website is filled with insightful articles, reports and research on many aspects of adoption. Some that I have found to be particularly noteworthy are:

* Why the Adoption Community Should Care About Ethics

     The foremost event effecting intercountry adoption at the moment is the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention is a multilateral, multicountry treaty, adopted on May 29, 1993 at The Hague. The Convention covers all adoptions between countries that become parties to it and sets certain internationally agreed-upon norms and procedures which Convention countries agree to follow when performing intercountry adoptions. At the moment, the U.S. has passed implementing regulation but has not ratified the treaty, therefore is not yet bound by it. When ratified, the treaty will require from adoption agencies meet specific standards, some of which (that I find most crucial) are:

* The prospective adoptive family must be informed of the parties with whom they will work with in both the United States and the child's country of origin; the responsibilities of those parties; and the usual costs associated with their services;

* The agency must supply a contract, or a sample contract, that the family will be expected to sign;

* All agencies shall have a written policy prohibiting child-buying;

* An agency may not require the family to sign a blanket waiver of liability;

* The agency's must inform PAP's (prospective adoptive parents) of the disruption rate of its placements for intercountry adoption;

* For more, read Ethica's report on the Hague Convention

     Currently, adoption is one of the most unregulated industries in America today. Most states have only minimal requirements for establishing an adoption agency. No federal regulation currently exists. Remember that $400,000,000? No Federal Regulations? Why SHOULDN"T we be concerned?

     When I began walking down the road of my own adoption journey in August of 2001, I had no idea that it would lead me some of the places that it has. I had no idea that it would lead me to develop and maintain a website serving the international adoption community (even learning how to code in HTML in the process!). I didn't expect to be pondering and discussing many of the ethical issues that I now know inevitably surface being a part of this community. I could hide my head in the sand. I could think: "I've got my child...I don't have to worry about what's going on internationally anymore." Instead, I find myself constantly reflecting on a wide range of topics, and I will list them in no particular order. They are things that perhaps all of us can ponder:

* In a 'perfect' world, the birthmother of my child would not have had to give up her child for the reason of poverty. What is my responsibility to those less-than-fortunate in the world? In a perfect (or better) world, money spent on adoption processes would feed, educate and help raise the standard of living for people in third world countries, allowing families to stay togetherwhich would probably leave a lot less children available for adoption by us fortunate ones.

* What if WE lived in a United States where the government forced upon us policies that led us to pre-select/abandon children based on gender? Would we consider that unethical, immoral or intolerable? I'm sure that every citizen would consider it inconceivable. Should we be outraged (or not) that our government accepts and condones those policies indirectly by carrying on trade, diplomatic, and political relations with those countries?

* Why does it cost $20,000 (and up) dollars to adopt a child from a country where the annual per capita income is less than $400 a year?

* In adoption from third-world countries, some of the fees paid are 'expedite' fees, paid in cash, to individuals to help make the process faster and smoother. A crisp $100 bill to get your passport the next day instead of the usual processing time of thirty days. A little extra-on-the-side here and there for those who handle paperwork to put someone on the top of the pile instead of the bottomdon't fool yourself, it happens. How do you feel about this?

* Perhaps a slight aberration in paperwork, an inkling that something somewhere 'isn't quite right' but you don't mention it because we 'just want to get our child home.'

* Agencies take applications and deposits from PAP's for a country that is widely-know to be closing it's doors to adoptions (as happened with Vietnam) shortly.

* Deliberate attempts and lying (even a 'little bit') to circumvent the procedures and policies of our own and other countries' governments to make our adoption happen, speed things along, to get, finally the child that we have dreamed of, dreamed of, dreamed of("How long would I have to live in another country after adopting a child under their rules that doesn't necessarily fit 'our' rules, then just be able to immigrate the child as our own?")

* To have every personal intent to be above-the-board, ethical and moral in our part adoption process and not speaking up when we feel that an agency or facilitator working for us may be less than scrupulous in their activities.

* What lengths will people go to to get the youngest child as fast as possible? How much will it take? Do we surf the 'net looking for the contact or agency that will give us guarantees?

     I have come across news articles that have disturbed me, once again, teasing me with their flirtation with ethical gray areas, for example, Adoption treaty delay puts boy in 'desperate' plight from The Ottawa Citizen. A Canadian family knows that the child waiting for them in Vietnam (but they are held up in the current moratorium in Vietnamese adoptions), the birth-sibling of their already adopted child, is starving from malnutrition. They are in contact with the birthmother, indeed, they have had someone in Vietnam visit her. The child is slowly starving to death. Could they get money to the mother to help feed the child? If the mother had money to feed the child, would she not put it up for adoption? Perhaps they have given the birthmother money for food...in their place, I am sure that I would do so...but if the government knew that the family gave money to the mother for food, would they allow the family to adopt him, perhaps seeing the monetary contribution as a bribe? The article angle is clear: this child is starving to death. Vietnam continues to be closed to both Canada and the U.S. The questions go on and on.

     Some of the questions I have come up with somewhat satisfactory answers to (usually with the help of other newsgroup members), such as, in this country, 'expedite fees' are often charged for passports, visas and other official documents. Sure, here they're officially added to the charges, only in other countries, 'unofficial' fees go directly to the person who has to speed things along. Some issues outrage me. Other questions never seem to have answers, but only tend to create more questions. But I believe that dialogue, about these and other issues, will ultimately help us to solve the problems.

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