Joint Council on International Children's services on the wrong side of history again
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Last week the Children and Youth Affairs Office of the Ethiopian Ministry of Women's Affairs (MOWA) announced their intent to bring down the number of children placed for intercountry adoptions by 90%, starting March 10, 2011. This decision is not only predictable, it was long overdue.
Since the year 2000, American adoptions from Ethiopia have seen a more than 26 fold increase:
Such growth figures are actually not uncommon in inter-country adoption. Similar increases were seen in Romania and Guatemala before those countries closed down, and are an indication that corruption is systemic and rampant.
Not only do figures indicate the Ethiopian adoption system has become out of control, concrete child trafficking cases have emerged too over the years:
|Better Future Adoption Services case|
|Eskedar Tsegaye case
|Eyob Mesfin Gebremichael case
|Haregwain Berhane case|
|Johnson siblings case
|Joshua Dawit case|
|Journee, Meya, and Maree Bradshaw case
Australian Broadcasting Corporation showed how adoption agencies operating in Ethiopia were actually "harvesting" children for adoption in their documentary Fly Away Children and in the follow-up Fly Away Home. Dutch broadcasting organization KRO aired the documentary Children for Sale, demonstrating misleading and fraudulent adoption practices in Ethiopia. Similar practices were described in the report Fruits of Ethiopia - A study on intercountry adoption in Ethiopia, compiled by Against Child Trafficking, based upon an investigation of adoption files at Dutch adoption agency Wereldkinderen. The report shows irregularities in 19 of the 25 investigated adoption files.
The corruption in the Ethiopian adoption system cannot be solved without drastic measures, since it is a direct result of predatory practices by the international adoption industry.
Just as the decision of the Ethiopian authorities to reduce foreign adoptions was entirely predicable, so is the response of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), the trade association of American international adoption service providers.
Over the years JCICS has been on the wrong side of history wherever they could. They criticized the US ambassador to Vietnam for being too active in fighting corruption in that country, they organized the Guatemala 5000 Initiative, to keep the gravy train running, and exerted pressure on UNICEF, the US Department of State and foreign governments on every other occasion a country took the necessary step to close their borders for inter-country adoption.
Just like predatory lenders present themselves as financial institutions providing liquidity to the market and big pharma presents itself as a champion of mental health, so does JCICS present itself as an organization advocating the rights of children.
In their push back against the Ethiopian decision to reduce their inter-country adoption program, JCICS made the following statement:
The Ministry’s plan is a tragic, unnecessary and disproportionate reaction to concerns of isolated abuses in the adoption process and fails to reflect the overwhelmingly positive, ethical and legal services provided to children and families through intercountry adoption. Rather than eliminate the right of Ethiopian children to a permanent family, we encourage the Ministry to accept the partnerships offered by governments, NGOs, and foundations. Such partnerships could increase the Ministry’s capacity to regulate service providers and further ensure ethical adoptions.
The Ministry’s plan which calls for the processing of only five adoption cases per work day, will result not only in systemic and lasting damage to a large sector of social services, but will have an immediate impact on the lives and futures of children. Moving from over 4,000 adoptions per year to less than 500 will result in thousands of children languishing in under-regulated and poorly resourced institutions for years. For those children who are currently institutionalized and legally available for adoption, the Ministry’s plan will increase their time languishing in institutions for up to 7-years.
Let's dissect this statement:
The Ministry’s plan is a tragic, unnecessary and disproportionate reaction to concerns of isolated abuses in the adoption process and fails to reflect the overwhelmingly positive, ethical and legal services provided to children and families through intercountry adoption.
For members of JCICS, whom have over the last 7 years seen the supply of children for their business go down from as high as 24,000 in 2004 to less than 12,000 children in 2010, it is certainly a "tragic" decision. Executive compensations in the order of $400,000 as was common place for Ethiopia champion Buckner International, will probably no longer be sustainable.
The level of isolation of abuses is of course always debatable. Nineteen out of twenty-five adoption files containing irregularities can be seen as a pattern, but they can also be called nineteen isolated incidents. JCICS apparently chooses to see each incident of fraud and illegal practice as isolated, just like they choose to do with cases of abuse in adoptive families. It says more about JCICS point of view than about the prevalence of corruption and fraud.
The final part of the sentence is a complete fabrication, though. JCICS doesn't know if the services provided by their member organizations are positive, ethical or legal. Former JCICS members such as Focus on Children, Claar Foundation, Inc, Commonwealth Adoptions International Inc. and Reaching Out Thru International Adoption proved to be unethical and engaged in illegal practices, but it's a long shot to claim that therefore the rest of the agencies all operate ethically and within the law.
Rather than eliminate the right of Ethiopian children to a permanent family, we encourage the Ministry to accept the partnerships offered by governments, NGOs, and foundations. Such partnerships could increase the Ministry’s capacity to regulate service providers and further ensure ethical adoptions.
This is a rather classic approach of JCICS, which is very much in favor of self-regulation, aka putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Corruption and fraud has been known to take place in Ethiopia for years and all these years JCICS members have happily shipped children to America, knowing well that MOWA didn't have the capacity to regulate inter-country adoptions. JCICS never contributed to regulation of the adoption industry and never will contribute to regulation of the adoption industry, just like Exxon, Shell and BP will never contribute to the regulation of the oil industry.
The Ministry’s plan which calls for the processing of only five adoption cases per work day, will result not only in systemic and lasting damage to a large sector of social services, but will have an immediate impact on the lives and futures of children.
Part of this statement is certainly true. The decision of MOWA will certainly result in lasting damage to a large sector of social services, namely to the American adoption industry. The impact on the lives and futures of children remains to be seen. Ethiopia has a population of 85 million, 46.3% under the age of 14, mostly living in poverty. How does the adoption of 4,000 children impact the lives and future of a legion of 39 million?
JCICS continues the fable that inter-country adoption helps children, when in reality it only helps Western families obtain children and helps adoption service providers to make a buck. Inter-country adoption is not even a drop in a bucket when it comes to providing aid to children in need. At most it is an H2O molecule in a pond.
Moving from over 4,000 adoptions per year to less than 500 will result in thousands of children languishing in under-regulated and poorly resourced institutions for years. For those children who are currently institutionalized and legally available for adoption, the Ministry’s plan will increase their time languishing in institutions for up to 7-years.
Ironically most of the institutions the statement speaks of, are being built by members of JCICS. Over the last ten years the number of orphanages in Ethiopia has exploded, and if they are under-regulated and poorly resourced, this is much the fault of JCICS' own members, hastily building children's homes to warehouse the goods that sell so easily on the American adoption market.
These orphanages and children's homes didn't exist because of the orphan-problem in Ethiopia, but helped create an orphan problem, just like it did in Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia and Guatemala. If there were so many truly adoptable children in Ethiopia, agencies and facilitators wouldn't have to rely on coercive practices, wouldn't need to cheat parents into giving up children, and they wouldn't have to falsify paper work. Still 19 out of 25 adoption files at Wereldkinderen contained irregularities, because there is a shortage of young, healthy children that are so much in demand on the Western adoption market.
There are plenty older and/or disabled children in Ethiopia that need help, but those are not much in demand when it comes to inter-country adoption. Most adopters prefer infants, and few accept a child over the age of five. Most adopters like to adopt one child, or two at most. At the same time most orphans are older (dead people don't procreate) and often belong to sibling groups. This mismatch between supply and demand is constantly used by organizations like JCICS to trump their importance in helping children, pointing out the large number of orphans that exist to justify their business.
At long last Ethiopia has taken appropriate steps to curb the business JCICS members are involved in. The trade association may perform its ritual outrage dance, but just like in Vietnam, Guatemala and Romania, they will fail to protect the interests of their industry and once again prove they are on the wrong side of history.