Posted by Jennifer Howze
March 27, 2009 / Times Online
News that Madonna is expected to start the process of adopting another child from Malawi this weekend gave me a funny feeling.
There are of course all the questions regarding Malawi's adoption procedures - as a rule it doesn't approve adoptions for single or divorced people and critics have accused the government of sidestepping laws banning foreign adoptions because Madge is the greatest pop legend of our time, er, a wealthy celebrity.
But whenever I hear of people adopting babies from foreign countries, I feel uneasy. Naturally it is a Good Thing to give a child an opportunity of a life away from poverty and the care system.
Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law School professor, faculty director of the Child Advocacy Program and a outspoken proponent of international adoptions, wrote in 2007:
Why close down international adoption? The real-world alternatives for the children at issue are life -- or death -- on the streets or in the types of institutions that a half-century of research has proved systematically destroy children's ability to grow up capable of functioning normally in society. By contrast, we know that adoption works incredibly well to provide children with nurturing homes and that it works best for those placed early in life.
Critics of international adoption argue that children have heritage rights and "belong" in their countries of birth. But children enjoy little in the way of heritage or other rights in institutions.
Unicef has been influential in the matter, but it focuses on domestic adoptions and discourages adoption by Westerners. An article in Newsweek reported:
Alexandra Yuster, a senior adviser in the child-protection section, claims the organization advocates the inclusion of international adoption in the mix of potential solutions for countries seeking homes for orphaned children. But it is much more focused on helping birth families get adequate support from their governments so they can take care of their own kids. "That's our priority because that will help a much larger number of kids—as will promoting domestic adoption," she says. "It's not that we're against intercountry adoption; it's just not a main focus for us."
I'm the first to admit that my understanding of the issue is far from exhaustive. I've had friends who have adopted babies from abroad and I couldn't fault their motives or how seriously they take parenting - including educating their children about their birthplace.
Yet I wonder why - with so many people trying to adopt (people I know interested in adoption are always up on the latest news on which countries allow it) - why aren't we focussed on making adoption easier with the underprivileged and needy children within our own culture and country? Perhaps their poverty doesn't fit our image of "real" poverty - cooking maize over an open fire in the desert, for example - but does that mean their chance at a good life with loving parents is any less worthy than a child in a foreign country?
This will become a more pressing issue as foreign adoptions fall because of countries tightening their rules. Newseek reports that after nearly tripling between 1990 and 2004, international adoptions in America have fallen three years running.
Before anybody starts shouting about how heartless I am toward the orphans in developing countries, let me stress that I'm asking a serious question. Why aren't we focusing on making adoption "at home" easier for the would-be parents and children it could benefit?
Some interesting articles on the topic:
When there's no place like home
Video: Who Will Fill the Empty Cribs?
International adoptions are on the decline, despite growing demand and an endless supply of orphans
Slamming the Door on Adoption by Elizabeth Bartholet