Years after Guatemala halted adoptions to America, reverberations of the legacy of corrupt adoption scandals continue as the new go-to adoption hot spot nation of Ethiopia follows suit.
On January 8th, the Guatemalan prosecutors' office for human trafficking found sufficient evidence to try Nancy Susan Bailey, an American, with taking children and illegally placing them for adoption for fees as high as $40,000. A 2010 report by Guatemala's International Commission Against Impunity uncovered 3,342 "irregular" adoptions, primarily to U.S. couples.
The commission described networks of child-trafficking in the country for the purpose of illegal adoptions.
Bailey founded and was the executive director of the orphanage, Semilas de Amor (aka, Seeds of Love) in 1996, a year after adopting her Guatemalan-born infant "daughter," Gabriela (Gaby) Maria. She has two older sons.
Bailey was arrested in El Salvador and turned over to Guatemalan authorities by Interpol this past December.
Also, on January 8th, James Harding, 55, of Atlanta, Georgia, the former head of International Adoption Guides, Inc. (IAG), a U.S. adoption agency, pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud and bribery charges in conjunction with arranging "phony adoptions" from Ethiopia.
Harding is charged with defrauding the U.S. government by submitting falsified adoption papers in order to illegally obtain U.S. visas for Ethiopian children. He admitted to bribing two Ethiopian officials who helped with the scheme which in 2008 and 2009 submitted fake documents to the State Department regarding the eligibility of Ethiopian children for adoption by Americans. Harding falsified adoption contracts signed by orphanage officials who were not authorized to give the children up for adoption because, in some cases, the children had never lived in the orphanage.
Harding is the second of four IAG staff members to admit guilt to these charges. Alisa Bivens, IAG program director in the U.S, pled guilty and is currently awaiting sentencing. Jury selection is scheduled for January 14th for IAG executive director, Mary Mooney.
Those who profit from adoption financially and those who obtain the children they seek, insist that incidents such as these are the exception to the rule. Yet, there have been documented cases of adoption corruption, kidnapping, and child trafficking for adoption involving adoptions from Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Romania, Russia, Samoa, and Vietnam. In other words, most every nation that Americans adopt from has been embroiled in scandal.
Adoption breeds corruption for several reasons.
Demand for children to adopt keeps prices high, creating a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of illegal activity. The tens of thousands of U.S. dollars per child that Americans are willing to pay are being directed at nations in the midst of - or in the aftermath - of war, extreme poverty, political unrest, or natural disasters. Combine that with very loose regulations and an almost complete lack of oversight and you have a powder keg for deception, child-stealing, and every transgression imaginable in order to obtain children to meet the demand.
As if infertile and same-sex couples seeking to adopt doesn't create enough demand, adoption entrepreneurs intentionally over-report the number of orphans allegedly "languishing" in orphanages to tug at the heartstrings of liberals and religious zealots in order to increase profits. Even adoption businesses with non-profit tax status still have overhead, including salaries for directors and other employees.
"It's not really true that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption," notes Alexandria Yuster, a senior adviser on child protection with UNICEF.
The fact is, nearly 90% of the estimated 143 million children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans at all, but rather have at least one living parent. Additionally, the children who "languish" are older, sibling group and those with disabilities, not unlike those who "languish" in American foster care while younger children and those believed to be healthier are sought.
Another major problem that the Hague Convention on International adoptions does not address is "finders' fees" paid by foreign orphanages. These fees are enough to incentivize criminals to kidnap children and claim that they were found abandoned. Often, the children who wind up adopted through U.S. agencies are passed through multiple hands in a process known as "child laundering" making it impossible for even the most reputable American adoption agency to ensure the origins of the child involved in any international adoption. The line between legal, ethical adoptions and criminal activity is blurry at best.
Oreskovic and Maskew note that:
"We cannot responsibly conclude that a child must be adopted internationally before we know how the child got to the orphanage, where his or her parents are, and whether the cause of the family separation is permanent and cannot be remedied in a less radical manner than moving the child from its original family and culture to another."
The final contributory factor is silence. Do-gooders, believing that they are "rescuing" orphaned or "unwanted" children, and those desperate to adopt, turn a blind eye to obvious red flags like those reported in "The Lie We Love," by E.J. Graff, and in books like The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce.
Finding Fernanda, by Erin Siegal McIntyre, describes how prospective adopters knowingly ignore obvious signs of wrong-doing, like being shown the same child's photo with different names or two totally different photos with the same name and description. McIntryeMcIntyre further describes how online adoption support forums caution prospective adopters to hold their tongues lest they are black-balled from all agencies and would thus never obtain a child.
The documentary, Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy, shows an American in a hotel room in China counting out cash for bribes as she gets ready to adopt a child. She admits that it looks bad, but it is "how things are done."
Silence pervades the adoption industry. Adam Pertman, former executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, in his book,Adoption Nation, asks:
"Why aren't adoption professionals screaming bloody murder" distancing themselves from" their unethical colleagues?
". . .The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys as well as individual lawyers, should be holding press conferences and passing resolutions and demanding disbarment hearings, for example, when colleagues engage in egregious behavior."
The adoption industry has fewer ethical guidelines than guide real estate transactions and no incentive to police itself. Adoption is thus a free-for-all marketplace full of unscrupulous baby brokers. Those who pay top dollar for children are often victims of scams and rip-offs. Some sue. Some have won wrongful adoption suits. No such recourse however is available to the victimized mothers whose children are commodified. The U.S. State Department has, in fact, ignored an order by the Guatemalans government to return a kidnapped child, nor have they even complied with requests for DNA testing that would confirm or deny the allegations.
There is no outcry however because the public believes that the end -- a more affluent life -- justifies the means by which adopted children are acquired.
The world is aware, however, that multiple countries have stopped permitting their children to be adopted by Americans as a result of terminated adoptions, children sent back to their countries of origin by themselves on airplanes, "re-homing," abuse, and adopted children murdered by their adoptive parents, as well as corruption and child trafficking. America is known as the "Wild West" in terms of adoption, attracting Europeans and Scandinavians to adopt from the U.S., and giving us a black eye.