The History of Child Adoption: Two Views
Janine Myung Ja, author of Adoption History 101 is the compiler and co-editor of two anthologies: Adoptionland: From Orphans to Activists and The ‘Unknown’ Culture Club: Korean Adoptees, Then and Now.
Myung Ja’s exploration of adoption is far more than a history. She critically examines the “Cult – ure” revealing the hidden side of adoption that has been systematically kept from public view for the benefit of profits.”
“ . . . the inception and growth of the adoption industry, focusing on its roots and its never-ending life-altering consequences kept from public awareness” for “the benefit of profits and proselytizing.”
Because adoption today is rooted in the overseas shipment of children, she starts her 187 page historical journey, packed with quotes from adoptees, with the1618 European Child Migration Schemes that began with Australian Aborigines. From there she explores the 1854 American Orphan Trains followed by the 1954 Evangelical Orphan Planes from Asia. Finally, she takes readers to 1984 and Trafficking from Haiti and Africa, noting that adoption began with:
“…three purposes: to populate colonies, to improve the economy, and to appear philanthropic . . . [by] labeling children first as orphans.”
Myung Ja researches and writes, exposing ugly truths, because she strongly believes that knowledge is power and because “humanity is better able to protect itself from exploitation when given a historical view.” Her hope is to counter the “ignorance is bliss” attitude that is so pervasive, with too few wanting to face the fact that adoption is “lose-win.”
“The idea of adopting appears to be the most natural remedy ingrained into the western psyche. Hearing about the starving children is… commonplace … but no one is told about the mothers and fathers left behind. How did the market become as adored as it is today? Why is it considered ‘in the child’s best interest’?
“The love for the practice is so strong that the uninformed mainstream verbally persecutes and demonizes anyone courageous enough to be a messenger and criticize the act . . . Any unethical adoption case is derided as ‘isolated’ or a mere ‘irregularity.’
“In other industries, unethically sourced products are motive to place a market moratorium. When it comes to children’s lives – not so.”
Myung Ja is just that courageous! Throughout her manifesto, she gives voice to “Taken children from deprived families” by “critiquing a man-made industry that has given itself permission to acquire other people's children."
The author, who like all adoptees had her past stolen from her, brings us this history of adoption because “To find answers, we must unearth the past.” This is so individually and as a society.
Mary S. Payne is an adopted woman who was told her life started when she was adopted, which might account for her interest in history – her own and the collective. She gives us a two-volume set entitled Adoption’s Hidden History. The first volume, 263 pages, including 344 endnotes is subtitled From Native American Tribes to Locked Lives.
Payne uncovers the role of many people and historical facts that even a seasoned adoption researcher such as myself was totally unaware of such as Myra Clark Gaines.
She also sprinkles her pages with photos of the “heroes and villains who molded our court-based adoption system” who “promoted adoption as a way to cope with an expanding number of orphaned and neglected children, as well as unmarried, pregnant women.”
Volume two, another 187 pages and 263 endnotes, is subtitled Steps to Sealing the Records, Payne explores the roles of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justice Department, the Census Bureau, the Social Security Administration, the Children’s Bureau, and the Council for State Governments in shaping adoption and shrouding it in mystery. Payne concludes:
“Pre-adoption birth records were sealed while no one was looking. There was never an open debate or even a dialog between adults who had been adopted and the individuals who wished to curtail openness. The burden of proof now rests with adult adoptees to prove they should have their records, rather than on the state to prove the records should remain closed.
“In a society cherishing freedom of information, states must give adopted adults access to their personal history because the alternative is frightening. If leaders can manipulate adoption records, what is to prevent the closure of other types of information for their personal agenda?
“The adoption contract between the birth parents and the adoptive parents [or between the state and adopters] should not be used to bind a third party (the adopted adult) to its agreement…”
Payne then goes on to state that there is no Constitutional protection for a person’s original birth certificate. While this is true, the Fourteenth Amendment provides equal protection under the law. In other words all laws apply equally to all US citizens and state laws that seal the true and accurate birth certificate of only adopted persons violates that protection. Payne acknowledges that:
“Making the pre-adoptive birth record unavailable to the adult adopted person is a first step in taking away his or her right to self-knowledge and self-determination. It is nothing short of discrimination against adopted citizens, because all others can access their original birth certificates without a court order.”
Is not discrimination based on birth status a violation of the 14th amendment? And is not loss of self-determination a violation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Everyone and anyone touched by adoption personally or professionally will want to add all three of these books to their personal libraries. Each adds to our knowledge in new ways, deepening our insights.