Children trapped between supply and demand



By Jennifer Lowe

June 16, 2011 / nepalitimes.com

Kathmandu Valley has dozens of children's homes and orphanages, Thamel is plastered with fliers looking for volunteers and donations to help parentless children. Foreigners can often be seen holding their newly adopted Nepali babies as they dine in hotels.

It is clear that the business of adopting orphans has taken off in Nepal. Below the surface, however, lies complicated political and social conditions that affect the lives of thousands of Nepali children.

Since international adoption from Nepal became legal in 1976, there was a huge increase in the number of both registered and unregistered childcare facilities as well as an increase in incidents of trafficking, false documentation and bribery. This led to the temporary suspension of adoption from Nepal in 2007 by the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare.

But by January 2009, the self-imposed ban was lifted, resulting in an even more disturbing situation.
Inside a small orphanage on the outskirts of Kathmandu live dozens of 'orphaned' children. Younger children lie in small rooms tied to cribs, with the door shut, screaming, in desperate need of a diaper change. Older children stand barefoot outside as they wait for the small amount of food they are allotted each day.

Sadly, this is an all too common scene in Kathmandu. Organisations like UNICEF and Terre Des Hommes Foundation estimate that more than 15,000 Nepali children live in residential care facilities, but no one knows how the children are treated because the shelters are rarely monitored. Shockingly, more than half of the children in the 'orphanages' actually have biological parents.

Inside the same orphanage, a 15-year old girl nervously confesses having living parents and two younger brothers. "I want to go home," she whispers in English as her biological younger brother climbs onto her lap. Her parents voluntarily gave their children to shelters in the city because they couldn't afford to feed and educate them. In many cases parents are promised their children's safe return following the completion of their education, but many never see their children again because they are sold to foreign adoptive parents.

Many child-care facility owners see the struggle of poverty-stricken parents simply as a lucrative business opportunity. This is not surprising because the average price of an international adoption can be up to $10,000.

On the other hand, many adoptive parents also endure great personal turmoil as they wait for their children. Over the past year, 11 countries including the United States, Canada, and Britain have suspended adoption from Nepal, citing an unreliable adoption system and the documentation practices. Although no new adoptions can be initiated from these countries, parents who have already begun the adoption process have been forced into legal battles with government embassies in their efforts to acquire visas for their newly adopted children.

Dozens of families from these counties have put everything on the line to bring their children home, spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and months stuck in small hotel rooms in Kathmandu. Sharon Vause is one parent. "I am meeting families here who are risking everything to bring their children home," she told Nepali times, "some have sold their homes, taken loans, but we are doing it for our children, we can't give up on them."

A growing group of foreign and domestic voices are once again calling for the suspension of international adoption from Nepal. However, those who oppose this fear that children will be forced to live in bleak orphanages for years before adoption is resumed.

In order to bring adoption practices in Nepal up to the standards outlined by The Hague Convention, child care experts say, there is a need to completely reorganise the process. In the meantime some agencies like Next Generation Nepal are concentrating their efforts on rescuing children with their biological families in hope of one day healing shattered lives.

SOS for children

Even though the plight of non-orphans in orphanages seems insurmountable, there are some glimmers of hope. The SOS Children's Village in Sano Thimi is part of a chain of international long-term care facilities started in Austria by Hermann Gmeiner in 1949.

SOS facilities are based on a family structure with on-campus schooling, extra curricular activities, and family style housing with 10 children living in each of 14 homes with a single "house mother". SOS ethos also includes a unique integration program that helps children learn how to live on their own while still benefiting from the SOS infrastructure and support. No SOS facility offers children internationally or domestically for adoption, expect by extended family members of the children.

In stark contrast to commercial 'orphanages' in Kathmandu, children can be seen at all hours of the day singing in classrooms, playing football outside, eating healthy snacks, and helping to care for their new brothers and sisters. Perhaps such facilities provide a glimmer of hope in the face of uncertainty for the future of adoption in Nepal. "We create a sense of belonging, children have lost their lives and here they can feel important and valid and like they belong," says Khagendra Nepal of the Sano Thimi SOS Children's Village.

www.sosnepal.org.np

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"their" child

I'm not sure which set of parents the journalist is referring to in the following sentence:

Dozens of families from these counties have put everything on the line to bring their children home, spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and months stuck in small hotel rooms in Kathmandu. Sharon Vause is one parent. "I am meeting families here who are risking everything to bring their children home," she told Nepali times, "some have sold their homes, taken loans, but we are doing it for our children, we can't give up on them."

...but I'm going to presume the parents to be pitied are the adopters from Canada, United States, and Britain, as mentioned in the paragraph above my questioned quote.

How is it the children put in children's homes/orphanages are "their" - the adopters - children?  Are adoptions finalized THAT quickly, leaving no time to monitor and asses the placement decision?  [This is much worse than the adoption process when I was sold back in '68/'69; back then it toke at least a year or two before an adoption became final.  I believe I was four when I became a citizen of the USA.]

I'll be honest, contrary to what many PAPs claim, I believe the international adoption process seems much too fast.  It's too easy to overlook fraudulent paper-work that looks very similar to authentic legal documents.  In fact, many times it's the very small almost un-noticeable details, like color of ink, or location of a stamp, that makes a seemingly genuine record nothing more than a fictitious document. As such, I find it really arrogant and offensive each and every time an adopter will assume ownership of title to a child the moment he/she has seen and fallen in-love with a photo of a so-called orphan.  These are NOT 'their' children... not until it's proven without any doubt the child is an orphan, the child has no chance of being adopted domestically,  and the inter-country adoption agreement had been checked for flaws and irregularities and the adoption has been legally finalized.  Until then, that child belongs to someone else... another parent, another living family member, or the state... no matter how much the adopter pays. 

The tragic irony is, in any and all cases - whether the child remains in state-care, private institutional-care, or adoptive parent care, there is no monitoring of the child put in-care... and this fact makes all options not at all in a child's best interest.  Period.

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