The news on international adoption from countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Guatemala.
The news on international adoption from countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Guatemala.

On last week’s Creating a Family show I interviewed Michele Bond, with the US Department of State’s International Adoption section, about the what was happening with international adoptions around the world. Tom DiFilipo was stuck in transit to Vietnam and wasn’t able to be on the show as planned. He is planning to come on at the beginning of this week’s show to give us an update on the results of his meetings with the Vietnamese government on international adoptions from that country.

On the June 18 show, most of our questions from listeners were asking for information on specific countries, so the show was more practical than theoretical. As you would imagine, we talked a lot about what is happening in Vietnam.

It’s no surprise to any of us that the situation with international adoptions from Vietnam is complex. Michele talked about the difficulty of negotiating a new agreement between the US and Vietnam to govern international adoptions. She stressed that the US was not holding out for Vietnam to ratify the Hague Treaty on Inter-Country Adoptions, although they hope that Vietnam will work towards that goal. She also highlighted the many obstacles that are in the way of finalizing a new bilateral treaty. It sounded to me like the main problem for the US was the lack of accountability in Vietnam to follow through with the agreement, and lack of enforcement when there are problems. She gave examples of this, as well as what the US perceives as the disconnect between what happens on the national and provincial levels. I specifically asked about the petition that is circulating among adoptive parents requesting that referral continue after September 1 for those dossiers already submitted. She expressed some reservations, but I don’t want to summarize and risk putting words in her mouth. You can listen for yourself on the radio page of this website.

I guess the bottom line for most of us is when this impasse will be resolved, and although she didn’t give a time frame, I was left with the impression of longer rather than shorter. Maybe we’ll find out more from Tom DiFilipo on this week’s show.

The discussion then moved to international adoptions from Guatemala. Pending cases continue to work their way slowly through the new system. She alluded to an announcement that the State Department released later that day of the release of a couple of hundred of the backlogged cases by the new adoption authority in Guatemala. The hold-up, she stressed, is with Guatemala adoption authority, not the US embassy.

As far as new adoptions from Guatemala, the US won’t allow adoptions to begin again until they are convinced that Guatemala has a system in place that will comply with the Hague Treaty. She said that Guatemala was getting advice from Colombia, as well as other countries, to develop this system, which made me think that the new Guatemalan system might be patterned on the Colombian model.

One piece of good news is that she thought Cambodia would reopen to international adoptions to the US in the near future. She also mentioned that the State Department was seeing more adoptions from El Salvador, and I’m hearing more people talk about Bulgaria. If you are looking for how-to information on adopting from a country that doesn’t place a lot of children for international adoption, I answered this question recently on my Frequently Unasked Questions page (under Adoption Resources).

Unfortunately, we did not have time to discuss the philosophical implications of all of this. How exacting should the US be in demanding a system that is without fraud? This is not an easy question. No system involving humans is without fraud. There will always be people who will by-pass the law. But just because there will be abuse is no reason to deprive children of families, and this is exactly what overly strenuous adoption laws do. In an effort to prevent adults in both the placing and receiving country from abusing the system, it’s easy to become fixated on stopping this abuse, and overlook the far greater abuse of depriving children of families.

I don’t pretend to have the answer, and I don’t underestimate the complexity of what our government is facing. But with really complex issues, I always try to go back to the basics. Everyone seems to agree on the hierarchy of human needs, and at the top is the need of every child to be raised in a family. Preferably that family will be their birth family, and if that isn’t possible, next best is an adoptive family from their community or country. If that isn’t possible then, in my opinion, all efforts should be made to find a family abroad because children need parents more than they need birth culture.

But here’s where things get murky. This theory of what’s in the best interest of children often gets perverted where large sums of money are involved, and “large” is a relative term depending on the poverty level of the country. In an ideal world, no mother should have to relinquish her child solely because she can’t afford to feed, clothe, and educate that child. But we live in far from an ideal world. We live in a world where birth control is either not readily available or socially unacceptable. We live in a world where a woman’s self and societal worth may be based on having children, regardless of her ability to raise them. We live in a world where baby bottles are filled with watered down coffee, and three year olds babysit younger siblings while mothers and the older siblings work. We live in a world where schools require uniforms and tuition. We live in a world where the opportunities for woman are nonexistent, and survival is dependent on having a man to support them. So what is in the best interest of children in this very real world?

The UN says that international adoption should be the last resort. True enough, but it doesn’t take much in extremely poor countries to reach this point of last resort. The US government says that international adoption systems should be free of fraud. Also true, but how clean is clean?

The Guatemalas and Cambodias and Vietnams of the world can’t provide a safety net for poor women any time soon. So what happens to their children? It is a joke to think that they will have enough domestic families willing or able to adopt them. Most of the domestic families that can afford to adopt usually prefer the young healthy babies, not the baby of questionable skin color or ethnic heritage, or the toddler that has been raised in an institution, or the pre-schooler that has been abused.

On the other hand, we don’t want to create a system, or support a system, that encourages a birth mother to relinquish her child because she is being paid, and this is a very real possibility. Unscrupulous businesspeople the world over are looking for ways to make money and are not above selling children. I think it serves us all well—government officials (here and abroad) and adoptive parents—to realize that it is a delicate balancing act to create a system that allows children to be raised in families in a world that will pay highly for the privilege of being that family.

Last year, in an interview with a UN official in Guatemala, he expressed disgust at the number of children being placed by that country for international adoption, and pointed to that as evidence that the Guatemalan international adoption system was broken. He’s not alone in this view. But to me, this view is at the heart of the problem. Rather than judge success by how few children are placed for international adoption, a caring and compassionate world would judge success by the quality of life that it provides for its children. I know that adoptive parents don’t have a right to these children, but don’t the kids have a right to us?

P.S. If you want to help end corruption in international adoptions from Vietnam, without ending a child’s right to a family, please contact your senator and representative about signing the Congressional Coalition on Adoption’s letter to Secretary Condoleezza Rice in support of the recommendations found in Joint Council’s A Child’s Right Campaign for Vietnam.

Image credit: ILO in Asia and the Pacific