Adoption, Child traficking and the Orphan issue

In the last couple of weeks many articles appeared in the various news papers about child trafficking for the purpose of interternational adoption in India. Similar events have taken place in recent years in: Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Liberia, Nepal, Nigeria, Togo, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile at the Saddleback as part of a question for one of the presidential candidate Rick Warren stated: "Most people don’t know that there are 148 million orphans in the world. 148 million kids growing up without mommies and dads. They don’t need to be in an orphanage. They need to be in families. But a lot of families can’t afford to take these kids in."

Is it just me, or is there a disparity between these two?. On the one hand there are according to Unicef more than 140 million orphans, while on the other hand sending countries have to rely on child-trafficking to meet the demands for international adoption. Here are a few quotes that put the orphan figures into perspective.

Obtaining social history of the children was perhaps the biggest constraint that the assessment teams encountered. It is still difficult to get a clear picture of the children who are real orphans and those who are not but are living in the orphanages. The fact that some of the proprietors have changed the names of the children made it difficult to trace their families especially for children brought in to the orphanages when they were very young.
ORPHANAGE ASSESSMENT REPORT, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Liberia 2006

The research found that, contrary to widely held assumptions, only a small percentage of the children in institutional care were real orphans (6%) with  more than 90% having either one or both parents. Most of the children had been placed in these institutions by families who were struggling economically as well as socially in some cases, with the aim of ensuring their children's access to education. In fact most of the childcare institutions were found to be not about 'care' at all but about providing access to education. This was reflected in their explicitly stated approach to care, the services they provide and the resources allocated by them.
Half a million Indonesian "orphans" institutionalised without proper care, Save the Children UK.

According to reports received from child centre staff, of all the 1,706 children residing in child centres across the 3 study locations, only 15 per cent were double orphans. Twenty-three per cent were single orphans (12 per cent had lost their mother and 11 per cent their father). The remaining 62 per cent of childrenstill had both parents. Of all children, 33 per cent had been declared abandoned, according to child centre staff. Interestingly, centres that conduct adoption in the Kathmandu Valley report much higher numbers of ‘abandoned’ children (44 per cent) compared to child centres that do not conduct adoption located in Pokhara (8 per cent) and the Far West (8 per cent). It is possible that the difference is attributable to the practice of declaring children as abandoned to facilitate the adoption process.
Adopting the rights of children, A study on intercountry adoption and its influence on child protection in Nepal, Terre des Hommes and Unicef

The overwhelming majority (more than 85%) of child victims of the Tsunami in the Children’s Homes still have at least one parent alive. Over 42% of the children still have both parents and 43% have one parent alive. This data is significant because it shows that contrary to frequent reports in the media that the Tsunami has resulted in very high numbers of orphans, the number of real orphans who have been placed in the Children’s Homes is actually much smaller. Only 10% of the Tsunami-affected children in the homes are real orphans with another 4.5% who still do not know the whereabouts of their parents.
A Rapid Assessment of Children's Homes in post-Tsunami Aceh, Save the Children.

“Children in orphanages here are often seen as an opportunity, not as people that need protection.” Children are often no ‘real’ orphans, but disadvantaged families see it as a last resort for survival to send their children to an orphanage. This means that girls within poor families face an additional risk for exploitation.
WFP Field Study in Liberia, World Food Programme

Actually, many "orphans" are not really orphans and some orphanages keep parents away from their children. Domestic child servants are also kept away from their families and often have no choice in the decision to send them to serve as domestic help.
An Assessment of Inclusive Education in Bangladesh, Unesco Dhaka.

The situation described here is not all that different from what is written about the child migration from Great Brittain and the orphan trains that rode in the USA:

Many of the children who were emigrated were not orphans at all but children from families in which one parent had died or disappeared, or was injured, ill, or unemployed, and in which there was no longer sufficient income for the family to survive.
British Child Emigration to Canada, 1869-1933, Margret McNay, The University of Western Ontario.

Often these children [orphan train riders] were not orphans at all---poverty had forced many parents to leave children alone during the workday.
Wisconsin academy review: volume 46, issue 4 (Fall 2000)

The term “orphan train” refers to the trains that carried children to the Mid-West to find new homes. However, many of the children were not orphans. Some had parents who were unable to care or provide for them due to illness or addiction. Many were new immigrants whose parents had no jobs and could not afford to care for their children. A majority of the children on the trains were teenagers who could work as farm hands for the Midwest families. In many cases the result was positive and the children found caring homes. However, there were also families who used the children as free labor and neglected or abused them.
Train to Somewhere, Heartwood Institute

The orphan train movement wasn't stopped because at the time it was seen as unethical, it's only in retrospect that we realize that. It stopped because of the Great Depression. Let's hope the western world doesn't need a serious economic crises to end its practice of international adoption. It would be a cynical repetition of history if child trafficking would only end because the purchased goods can no longer be afforded.

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