The Long Legal Process to Adopt Internationally

01/03/2017 02:43 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2017

New York Post writer Naomi Schaefer Riley, like many, bemoans the arduous process of adopting a child from overseas. She states that:

“…the desire for greater accountability and transparency in international adoption is understandable — even and perhaps especially to adoptive parents in the US — the result has been a bureaucratic morass and a steep decline in the number of such adoptions each year…”
“Just thinking about the paperwork makes my head spin . . . the piles of documents, the medical clearance, the reference letters and everything had to be authenticated by the county and the state.”

The unequivocal and dire need – not desire – for accountability and transparency in all adoptions, but most especially International adoption (IA), is vital and crucial to protect children in crisis. Whether it is understandable or pleasant or makes things more difficult, more time consuming and even more costly to those seeking to pluck a child from his or her family, culture and heritage is not reason to cut any corners for the sake of expediency on the part of impatient adopters.

The bottom line in all adoption practice is that it must put the needs of the child and his family of origin first before all other considerations.

Instead of seeing the process of adoption - as we as Americans too often do - through the eyes of those “desperately” longing for a child, let us reverse the view. If you, Mr. and Mrs. White American (or Western European or Ausie) lost your job due to an extended illness and lack of sufficient health insurance, or you found yourself destitute as a result of a tornado or house fire: Would you welcome someone from Africa or Asia or Eastern Europe paying someone large sums of money coming to take any of your children away to a foreign country where you would never see one another again because they could provide better for your child than you could? Would you be Ok with your child being taken to place where, even if someday you scraped together every penny you could and flew half way around the world and tracked down your long-lost child, he or she could not understand a word you said and thus you could not communicate your love for him?

It happens. Children from one of the wealthiest nations in the world are in fact adopted to non-relatives outside the US because someone is willing to pay for that to happen and there are always willing brokers to negotiate the redistribution of any child in any direction.

How about imagining IA from the child’s perspective, as the film Lion does? Many adults who were adopted internationally speak of feeling like a stranger in both their adopted nation and their birthplace, neither here nor there. Some, such as Adam Crapser, find themselves deported back to their country of origin with no language skills.

If you are able to see IA from these perspectives, through these other lenses, with true empathy and compassion, you would conclude as have the child protective experts that IA should always be a last resort, and thus we need to make it as difficult as it possibly can be, not ease it to please the paying customers and their brokers.

Tearing a child from everything he has ever known – every sound, smell and taste – with little chance of ever restoring his native tongue or his ancestry - must be a last resort and cannot put the needs of those demanding children above those of the children in need of care, and the families they were born into. Every care must be taken that their inability to provide as well as they would like to for their child is not exploited.

The ugly reality is, however, that children are stolen, kidnapped and trafficked worldwide to meet the demand for “adoptable” children. In Guatemala consent for adoption document were forged or unscrupulous baby brokers got stand-ins to pretend to be the child’s mother in order to adopt children who were not knowingly relinquished.

The never-ending demand for children and huge sums of money people are willing to pay create enormous opportunity for corruption, which closed down IAs from Guatemala. But in its place are a long list of nations being exploited from Ethiopia to China and from Haiti to India. Every natural disaster and war brings strife and children in need. Syria will be next.

The process must not be rushed, lest it be slip-shod or incomplete and risk criminally and permanently endangering any child or family.

The time-consuming documentations and assurances are vital for the protection of the children, their families of birth, as well as the families seeking to adopt them. The process must not be rushed, lest it be slip-shod or incomplete and risk criminally and permanently endangering any child or family. These children are not commodities that you see online and click to buy, though many who enter the process seem to wish it were that simple.

Vetting of those seeking to adopt likewise must be thorough, given the fact that the real reason Russia halted IAs is not, as Schaefer Riley and other pro-adoptionists and profiteers claim, politically motivated, but rather a result of the large number of Russian children adopted by Americans who have been abused and even murdered by their adopters, while others have been abandoned at ranches or shamelessly “re-homed” on the internet, as exposed by Reuters news service.

How would you feel if you adopted a child you thought was an orphan in need, only to find he had been stolen unwittingly from his loving and capable mother? Many are dealing with – or fearing – such an occurrence. Would we not want to prevent such anxiety and reality? How then can there be any complaint about the unfairness of verifying each and every child sent off to a new family was in fact willingly placed for adoption by parents who are fully aware where he is going and that they likely will never see him again, as opposed to being duped into believing their child is going for an education and will return and help support the family?

Angelina Jolie, with all her resources adopted her son Maddox from Lauryn Galindo, the high-profile facilitator who was subsequently indicted in a US federal court on charges of committing visa fraud and conspiracy to launder money. The FBI has also closed Seattle International Adoptions Inc, used by Angelina to adopt Maddox, after its former owner Lynn Devin pleaded guilty to false claims some children the agency handled were orphans.

Zahara was adopted by Jolie after the superstar was told her mother had died of AIDS which proved to be untrue.

Always Follow the Money

Note that I said it is the firm conclusion of child protection experts that IA must be a last resort. I did not say “adoption experts.” Adoption is a mega billion-dollar industry, with each transaction averaging $40-50,000 and many earning their livelihoods redistributing children hither and yon. The money earned from adoption buys lobbyists for the industry who paint a powerful win-win happily-ever-after picture of adoption as a humanitarian rescue mission, which in turn buys a lot of political power.

Those who profit from others’ suffering are as ethical as used car salesman. Some are honorable and in some cases they truly do not know the truth about how any particular child wound up being labeled “available for adoption.” In many impoverished nations orphanages pay finders fees to anyone who brings in a child claiming it was found abandoned. Establishing the validity of such claims is difficult to impossible. Those who once traded in drugs find it more lucrative and less risky to traffic children. We cannot be too vigilant. Anything less in inexcusable.

In other cases the adoption brokers and facilitators – as well as perspective adopters - turn a blind to obvious improprieties as described in the book Finding Fernanda by Erin Siegal McIntyre and also in the film, Wo Ai Ni (I Love you) Mommy. Both this book and documentary very clearly show the major red lights ignored and the justification for large sums of cash payoffs all in order to obtain a highly sought-after child. The adoption industry flourishes on the back of desperation from both sides – those losing children and those lusting for them.

One of the lies perpetuated by the adoption industrial complex and its many benefactors is the number of orphans worldwide. Most children housed in orphanages are not orphans in the way we would define the word – having lost both parents. Rather, children who have family that love them are being taken from orphanages for overseas placements as was the case with Madonna’s two adoptions. Even those with far less resources than the mega star can choose to help build wells for drinking water, provide medical supplies or books to needy nations that would help them in the long run, not need to have their children – their future - snatched from them because of poverty. Taking children one at a time does nothing to help their families left behind, a fact many an adoptive parent will have to wrestle with explaining to their children as they grow into adults. Will they be grateful or horrified and saddened at the conditions of their families that were left unimproved while they benefited from the opportunities of adoption? Many feel both of these powerful and conflicting emotions, as poignantly described in Jane Jeong Trenka’s masterful books.

“I am extremely lucky and grateful every day to my parents for everything they’ve done, for providing me with a life millions of people can only dream about. I have never had to worry …[or] question my ability to go to college and pursue whatever dreams I have for myself …. My family has provided all of this and more.
“And yet there is this whole other side of extreme privilege I’ve felt, and that is intense guilt. I feel ashamed that I haven’t had to struggle so hard, like I may have had to in China, in another life. I feel guilty that I can sit here, typing on my laptop, while anyone else could be in my place, someone who deserves it more. … for all their praise, I can still never shake the thought that my life boils down to a spectacular accident. That right now, my Chinese brother(s) and/or sister(s), whoever they are, could be struggling, and I have no connection or any way to help them at all.
“I have also felt, more so in the last two years, that I have no connection to my Asian-ness, and this upsets me. People always approach me assuming I can speak Chinese, and it’s embarrassing to admit I can’t say more than two phrases.
“…I am so lucky in this life, but at times I feel so lost….”

Vigilance in child protection is paramount. The welfare of children demands no less regardless of how much it irks those who endure the scrutiny. No one has to adopt and certainly no one has to adopt internationally. Let’s focus our concerns where they belong: on protecting against exploitation and corruption which remains rampant in adoption here at home and around the globe.

“Adoption is a child welfare intervention of the very last resort. We know that most children with a bit of help can stay with their parent(s), grandparents, extended families, community. Or in many cases can be reunited with their families. We know that adoption is for many children a traumatizing experience, which often shows later in life. We know that mothers who relinquish their children suffer deeply under that loss and grieve for the rest of their lives. Adoption as an institution reflects poorly on the social services in a country, on the way a country treats its citizens…” Frank Ligtvoet
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS