Joint Council on International Children's services on the wrong side of history again

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.

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And what about MOWA?

While the position and  strategies of the "trade unions" in that situation are as predictable as obvious,  the MOWA's motifs do not seem to be that easy to understand.  I heard and read of quite a number of people who are wondering if this is predominantely  a move towards more thourough research in paper work, or if there could also be other reasons and explanations for that step. What do you think?

Jared

What about influence on MOWA

It is hard to say what exactly MOWA's motives are. Unlike JCICS, they don't have a website, they don't have a blog, they don't have a face book page, they don't have a twitter channel.

What they do have, is a signed treaty by the name of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states in article 21:

States Parties which recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration and they shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that:

  1. Ensure that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child’s status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may be necessary;
  2. Recognize that intercountry adoption may be considered as an alternative means of child’s care, if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child’s country of origin;
  3. Ensure that the child concerned by intercountry adoption enjoys safeguards and standards equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption;
  4. Take all appropriate measures to ensure that, in intercountry adoption, the placement does not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it;
  5. Promote, where appropriate, the objectives of the present article by concluding bilateral or multilateral arrangements or agreements, and endeavour, within this framework, to ensure that the placement of the child in another country is carried out by competent authorities or organs.

Unlike the United States, Ethiopia has signed and ratified the UNCRC and is therefore legally bound to operate by its rules. With the current number of inter-country adoptions, MOWA is unable to properly do so.

Ethiopia is not in a position to disregard international law, something a more powerful country like the United States can and will easily do. When a poor country does not oblige by the international treaties it signs, there are consequences. Foreign countries can make developmental aid dependent on the implementation of the UNCRC, and so can large humanitarian aid organizations.

These are all worries the US does not have and does not know, neither does a country like China, which does not allow monitoring of their implementation of the UNCRC.

In that light, I am not surprised "people are wondering if this is predominantly a move towards more thorough research in paper work, or if there could also be other reasons and explanations for that step".

Quite a few American adopters are parroting JCICS talking point, whispering, "UNICEF is behind this".

<nefarious back ground noises>

Of course UNICEF is involved in this, just like UNICEF was involved in the crack-down of Guatemala. That is the consequence of signing a treaty. After all UNICEF is the international body responsible for the implementation of the UNCRC. It is their job to intervene when inter-country adoption is not done according to article 32.

It is also very well possible, the United States as a signatory of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption, put diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia through the Department of State. The Hague convention states:

  1. No one shall derive improper financial or other gain from an activity related to an intercountry adoption.
  2. Only costs and expenses, including reasonable professional fees of persons involved in the adoption, may be charged or paid.
  3. The directors, administrators and employees of bodies involved in an adoption shall not receive remuneration which is unreasonably high in relation to services rendered.” The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (see page 647) obliges States Parties to criminalize any improper financial gain from the adoption of a child as an extraditable offence (articles 2, 3 and 5).

The US Department of State intervened in Vietnam too and recently decided not to reopen adoptions from Guatemala, because "adoptions under the pilot program would not meet the requirements of the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention".

So to answer the question, there are probably other reasons and explanations for MOWA"s step, very good ones in my book, such as respecting the UNCRC and being compelled by outside forces to do so.

Let's be frank...

One has to understand "the vast majority" of foreign adopters want a) children under the age of 3  b) healthy children (or at least healthy enough to survive childhood and be well enough to enjoy adulthood with a measure of success)  c) the adoption-process to be as quick as possible.

Many can and will argue the reason behind the fast-tracking is because they don't want the child to suffer the ills that come with institutional living.  I myself am inclined to believe a hidden part of that equation has to do with length of required orphanage "donation" payments.  PAP's don't want to extend payments for care if monthly payments for crap care can be avoided.  That's totally reasonable and understandable; common sense dictates, the less time an adoptable child is in an orphanage, the less harmful effects that child will have to deal with, once better home-care is provided.

So here are the first questions people within the child-welfare sector have to ask. How are these hefty foreign fees being utilized, and what would happen if orphanages did NOT receive the hefty cash fees foreign adopters are required to pay for their so-called "orphan"?   

I know if I were working as a case-manager, I'd be looking at the money being used, saved and spent - knowing damn well before foreign adopters came along, (and demanded the right to adopt these "orphan" children), an orphanage would have to provide a service with X amount of money budgeted through domestic assistance and Y donations.  In order to conduct an efficient study of spending, one has to follow the paper-work.... which is tricky, since most unethical deals are paid in-cash.  [These scam-artists are not idiots!]

I don't know many people who say there is NOT something VERY fishy about the ways some orphanage directors and select staff-members operate.

The way I see it, closing the door to foreign adopters (and their "required cash donations" for a so-called orphan) is a good way to see what the hell is going on in these institutions.

Brilliant past examples that feature unbelievable "business arrangements"  (in infant/small children-capital, India) can be found here:  Mother Teresa - Where are her Millions? , (the follow-up piece, Mother Teresa's House of Illusions , is just as fascinating to read ).  And fresh from recent headlines, Bhasin used kids to make money: CBI provides a new twist to old common practices.  All three articles give a great introduction to the dark and questionable ways in which an orphanage director -- a "charitable human being" -- will put their own special interests before the basic needs of a child.

It's sickening.  Truly truly sickening.

Ideally, once people see what's being done, and NOT being done for children put in-care, better solutions and recommendations can be made by those paid to trouble-shoot child-welfare programs.

Very little said aboutthe

Very little said aboutthe children. Have any of you ever spent time in Ethiopia? Have you ever visited one of their orphanages? As a worker in 3rd world countries and one who has spent a lot of time in Ethiopia, I can tell you that there are MANY children who need a home who are either starving, or living in very crowded orphanages. On the other hand I know of at least one adoption agency here in the US that recently started a program in Ethiopia. They have trafficked children in other countries before and I highly suspect they are doing the same in Ethiopia. So, what is the answer? Very strict regulations and complete transparency in the entire adoption process.

solutions

I don't think there is a dispute whether children in countries like Ethiopia need support and proper care, the question is whether inter-country adoption reduces the problem.

Given the fact that "only" some 2,500 children, out of a population of nearly 40 million, are adopted annually, makes it completely dubious that inter-country adoption is an effective solution, especially when we look at value for money. Annually some $50 million is spent on the adoption of Ethiopian children. How much more effective could that money be used to help hundreds of thousands of children?

On top of that, inter-country adoption actually contributes to the abandonment of children. Don't take my word for it, even Tom DiFilippo, CEO of the Joint Council on International Children's Services agrees to that vision, according to cables of the American Ambassy in Vietnam:

Difilipo made an interesting point about the availability of better orphangage care, through American ASP [Adoption Service Provider] support, being a contributing factor to the increase in numbers of orphans that we're seeing. it's the 'you build it and they will come"  theory, or as he put it 'a dentist opens up shop in the village and suddenly everyone has more problems with their teeth.

Personally, I believe a solution that doesn't solve much and actually contributes to the problem, should not be considered first choice. Inter-country adoption works very well in the interest of others (adoption service providers, prospective adoptive parents), but has very little to do with the best interest of the child.

Strict regulations and complete transparency are very much needed to curb the negative impact inter-country adoption has on child welfare, but that still doesn't do anything positive for children in need of proper care. Too bad only a few people will be interested in contributing to real solutions, when no children are given in return.

Pound Pup Legacy