Samoan leader discusses adoption

Date: 2007-03-14

Herald Journal, The (Logan, UT)
March 14, 2007
Author: Charles Geraci

News of an alleged adoption scheme involving the Wellsville office of Focus on Children has Samoa's prime minister weighing in.

According to a federal indictment unsealed March 1, the agency allegedly duped Samoan families into giving up their children under the premise that they would receive an American education, return to the country at age 18 and keep in close contact. Adoptive parents in the United States, however, viewed the placements as permanent.

In Samoa, it is not uncommon for children to move about freely among their extended family, and much has been made about the cultural differences between Samoan and American conceptions surrounding adoption. But the country's prime minister contends that the United States does not have a good grasp on the adoption system in Samoa.

"They think we only have customary adoption," Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoli'ai Sa'ilele Malielegaoi told the Samoa Observer earlier this week, referring to the common informal practice of adoption in which children frequently return to their birth parents.

But the country also has court-directed adoption policies in place regarding permanent adoptions. In April 2004, Samoa tightened adoption guidelines based on concerns stemming from Focus on Children and another agency, Journeys of the Heart, based in Hillsboro, Ore.

Under the revisions, birth parents had to specify in an affidavit that they understood there would be "no further contact" with the child and that the respective adoption agency did not give any impressions that the child would return upon reaching a certain age, among other rules.

Government regulations were made more stringent after the death of a child the following year who lived in a "nanny house" operated by Focus on Children.

With adoptions to foreign countries, Samoa's attorney general must now verify that family members are not able to care for the child and no alternatives are available.

However, it seems unusual for those conditions to exist, according to Paul Cox, director of the Institute for Ethnomedicine, who has worked in the country for about 30 years.

Cox, a scientist who studies the ways indigenous peoples use plants, said that the family structure in Samoa is far different than in the United States, where the nuclear family is the basic unit. Samoans, however, are part of a large extended family, and members look out for one another.

"The children are very mobile within that extended family," Cox said from his Provo office. "That sort of adoption system within their culture is not a one-way street."

E-mail: cgeraci@hjnews.com

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