Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Subject Strikes Back

I'm watching a fascinating case study unfold that falls into many of the trends we've heard discussed. This one involves children, mostly girls, adopted from China. The topic is one very near to me, as my family welcomed a daughter home nearly a year ago. Shoshi has grown considerably since then in every way possible, as have we.

Over the last few months a story has unfolded in China about the possibility that many girls were abducted. This flies in the face of the notion many of us cling to: that our daughters were abandoned by parents as unwanted and would have lived very different, possibly much worse, lives if not adopted. During my trip to Fuzhou, where my daughter spent the first year of her life, I saw certain patterns emerge as to where kids were left. It gave many of us pause and caused us to wonder how much more of a story there was. In fact, standing in front of the orphanage gate, which is listed as my daughter's finding place, I couldn't help but think that I was a bit out in the open, something I wouldn't want to be if I were doing something as illegal as abandoning my child.

In any case, as with any story, the one of baby trafficking is far more nuanced and detailed than any one AP report. But this weekend the Washington Post ran a piece called "Stealing Babies for Adoption" (free reg. req.) in which writer Peter Goodman quoted Brian Stuy, a man well known in Chinese adoption circles for his research. I've written about him before.

The story talks about the illegal baby trafficking in China, and how some girls are stolen, then intercuts stories of parents in China pining for their lost daughters with stories of adopted parents in the US. The implication of the story is clear: we may be treating stolen children as our own.

For me, this obviously hits a nerve.

Stuy was quoted in this story as saying "It's a corrupt system... It's just so driven by money, and there's no check and balance to the greed."

But that's not the end of it. On his blog he notes that his quote was taken out of context, and refutes the notion that any of the stolen children reached the international adoption system. Then there is the ensuing commentary from parents on the topic and a post from Stuy in reaction to that. He also wrote a Letter to the Editor and put that up as well, since the volume of letters the Post receives exceeds what they can print.

There is no black and white here, only shades of grey. The problem with traditional media is that conflict and tension make great stories, so reporters are trained to look for that, it's how they see things. The best part of blogs is that people can fill in the lines and bring more depth to a story, giving it nuance, feeling and emotion.

Added Later:
One failing of Stuy's was not linking back to the article. I'd forgotten that the Post does this, but thanks to Technorati, the posts links to blogs writing about articles, so people reading the article online can find out what's being said elsewhere. It's an interesting move on the paper's part, and something Stuy could have used to his advantage.


Rupert Wolfe Murray said...

I can see how the Post's article on adoption from China "hit a nerve" and it must be terrible to think about where your child may have come from, and never really knowing if he/she was abducted. But I guess it is good that they now have a good home.

I would like to refer you to the Romanian example where there were a series of similar international adoption scandals all through the late 1990s, and even after the Romanian govt banned international adoptions in 2001 the scandals continued as the pressure on Romania to release more babies is still intense, and certain EU and US leaders were involved in this process. There have been a recent flurry of articles on the issue, and if you check the media section of www.childrights.ro you can see some of them (that was an EU funded project which promoted child rights in Romania).

What I can notice is that the demand for babies does create conditions for all sorts of corrupt practises in countries like China where the rule of law is not really up to western standards. The same happened in Romania until the practise was banned and new child rights legislation was introduced, and the whole issue of child abandonment was addressed by preventative mesasures and also by placing children with substitute families -- and not in institutions.

We can now see that the child care institutions ("orphanages" in journo speak) became unofficial processing centres for the international adoption process. In Romania, poor and Roma women were encouraged to place their children in these homes, where they could be declared abandoned after 6 months, and a cosy deal could be cooked up between the children's home director, the local judge and the international adoption agency. Sums of up to 30,000 USD were said to be handed out for each adoption, and when you consider 30,000 kids were sent from Romanian in this way you can realise the value of this industry.

I can see a similar pattern in China with the so-called "orphanages" playing a central role in the process, and corrupt officials and staff acting as lubricant. On the U.S. side of things the adoptive parents are almost always kept in the dark about what goes on behind the scenes and they are fed a convincing story that these kids were abandoned and international adoption represents their only hope.

I consider the adoptive parents to be victims in this unregulated and largely unknown industry, and the adoption agencies to play the role as lead villain. These agencies know the kind of corruption they are causing -- in the Chinese case the stories of baby abduction; in Romania the poor single mothers were more or less forced to abandon their babies -- but they are obviously blinded by greed and high profits.

Another interesting feature about these adoption agencies is that they apparently hide behind adoptive parents, as well as adoptive kids, whom they use as their spokespersons. Who can resist an all-American wholesome family arguing the case about adoption? You will rarely see these agencies come out into the open with statements and yet their support of certain lobbyists and front NGOs is very sophisticated.

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Thanks for the comment Rupert!

One of the reasons we chose the agency we did, was because of the close relationship they have with certain orphanages. Our agency director works closely with the directors and donates money directly to those orphanages. If she isn't seeing results, the money doesn't come in.

As for my daughter, she was in foster care for a year, but the fact is, we will never know what happened, we can only assume.

Also, as with all news, only the unusual gets reported. Meaning, while this may be one isolated case, there could be thousands that fall into the well-worn story.

Read deeper in Stuy's blog and you'll find an interview he did with two birth mothers who gave up daughters. It's a very different story than the one you read in the Post.

Rupert Wolfe Murray said...

Your adoption agency indeed sounds good and I know there are many around. The problem with making comments like these is that some of the good people get hurt by the accusations of corruption, abduction and trafficking.

I just wanted to point out that the emphasis really should be on supporting families in those countries to look after these kids, and not the orphanages. I spent many years in the early 1990s working in a kids home in a remote Romanian village and now I can say this was the wrong thing to do; we should have made more effort to get these kids home, or into foster families, or with the extended families, or adopted by local families. But we didn't know about those options back then. Now we do, and still some of the less scrupulous adoption agencies indirectly support the continuation of these terrible institutions, as they are convenient places where transactions in children can take place.

Again I would refer interested people to Romania where they have managed to make that terrible transition from institutionalising kids to finding solutions in substitute families. Now it is illegal to place kids under two in residential centres and the number of mothers who leave their kids in hospital has crashed (in 2004 over 4500 babies were left in hospitals, but over half of these went home; the others were placed in foster and extended families).

I know of one admirable adoption agency which is supporting this process -- Holt International from Oregon -- but what about the others?

The fact is, local solutions are almost always available but when there is the possibility of making some big bucks by facilitating a foreign adoption....

The State Dept and Congress also play a pretty reprehensible role in this international adoption business; they act as a lobby for countries like Romania to lift their ban on international adoptions, and have managed to drive the issue to the top of the bi-lateral agenda as regards USA Romania relations.

Blowhard Congressman Chris Smith recently introduced a bill which demanded that Romania repeal its child rights legislation and allow American families access to the Romanian kids. Fortunately the Romanian government didn't bend with the wind, as they usually do. The State Dept are just as bad, just a bit more subtle. Their support for international adoptions is blind; they see no evil.

What will they say when China bans international adoptions, which they are bound to do once they realise that its main contribution is to introduce rampant corruption into the so-called "child protection" system.

It has all happened before in Romania -- and I would repeat that the adoptive parents are victims in this process, invariably unaware of the negative effect their adoption is having on the "source" country.

You can see more articles on this issue on www.childrights.ro

Anja said...

Interesting debate, to which I would like to add: did anyone wonder why children need to be stolen from their parents, if the orphanages are full? Perhaps because the children in so-called orphanages are not available for adoption. Perhaps because it concerns temporary placement and the parents will not give up their parental rights. I also would like to refer to a report written by US experts on Romania's case - the report stated that one of the effects of intercountry adoption was that children ended up in state care for the sole reason of being adopted - not because in they were in need of care... So, corrupt authorities, or the children were taken into care by the adoption agencies who themselves had their own orphanages. Their own fattening houses..... How many scandals are needed before the world opens its eyes. Read about Guatemala, Korea, Russia, Ukraine. Babies declared dead at birth, but given for adoption, children stolen, fattening housed. It is the same everywhere. Food for thought

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Again, I refer you to the interview with the two birth mothers that Brian Stuy conducted, both of whom gave up their daughters WILLINGLY because of familial pressure for a son.

There are a lot of assumptions being made in the arguments above, such as that all systems are corrupt because a few are. There is no evidence that the entire Chinese system is corrupt. That is a big leap to make, which is Brian's one of the points Brian makes.

This is a country of 1.3 billion, how can you judge a system based on just a handful of people?

Also, while I appreciate the comments and the discussion this started, I put up the post not to focus on the rights and wrongs of the international adoption system to but to talk about the use of blogs to respond to traditional media outlets.

I think this discussion is great but probably something better handled on Brian Stuy's blog, as he does focus specifically on these issues.