Orphan scandal prompts scrutiny, action by Kyrgyz authorities

By Tolkun Namatbaeva

November 16, 2012 / Washington Times

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — Kyrgyz lawmakers are considering stricter regulation of international adoptions after officials have been accused of “selling” orphans as thousands of children languish in poorly funded state-run orphanages.

Stricter rules are expected to further slow Kyrgyzstan’s international adoption process, which already has been hobbled by the recent license suspension of all international adoption agencies working in the country amid an ongoing bribery investigation.

In September, Ravshan Sabirov, head of the Ministry of Social Development, which oversees adoptions, and his deputy — Gulnara Derbisheva — were arrested and charged with taking tens of thousands of dollars worth of bribes from adoption agencies.

What’s more, Kyrgyzstan’s international adoptions had been halted from 2009 to 2011 following reports of orphanages falsifying certificates of illness and disability in order to expedite adoptions — accusations that still plague the system.

“Strict rules must be set down,” says lawmaker Erkin Sakebayev. “Then, of course, we can give Kyrgyz kids up for adoption to foreigners. It’s better that a poor child live abroad and find happiness and normal parents than stay in our orphanages, where the conditions are terrible.”

According to the Ministry of Social Development, 11,000 children reside in state-run homes, which officials say are underfunded and poorly run.

As many as 80 percent of the children are “social orphans” who have one or both parents living but unable or unwilling to care for them, according to the Integrated Regional Information Networks, a service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“Today, a child has become a commodity, and there is no one to protect his interests,” says Chinar Kozhobekova, a former orphanage employee who specializes in children with health issues.

“Government agencies assigned to supporting families and children misreport mothers as alcoholics, or as dysfunctional families,” Mr. Kozhobekova said. “Orphanages are ready to give children up for adoption in exchange for financial support for the institution.”

Particularly difficult to place are children with disabilities.

“Here in Kyrgyzstan, people don’t like to adopt unwell children,” says lawmaker Shirin Aitmatova. “Sadly, those ill children can’t find parents. The best-case scenario is when a child is handicapped and [nurses] wipe kids’ butts and put on dry pants.

“But with a single nurse on a tiny salary looking after 50 kids [in these homes], they have no stimulation that could help them overcome their disabilities,” she says.

“We can’t leave them there as they will rot there — it’s sin,” Ms. Aitmatova says. “But it is also sin to sell them like goods.”

Activists say more should be done to keep children with their families before of sending them to live in far-flung corners of the world.

“First, the state must just take all steps to house a kid in his or her family surrounding, to be brought up in their biological environment by blood relatives,” said Nazgul Turdubekova of Defenders of Children’s Rights. “And only if there is no such surrounding should a child be put up for adoption.”

Edil Baisalov, who has taken over as acting head of the Ministry of Social Development since Mr. Sabirov’s arrest, says the top priority is to find adoptive families in Kyrgyzstan but that is not easy, particularly in the case of children with illnesses and disabilities.

“[Illness] is the most likely reason that biological parents bring their children to state orphanages,” he says. “We are not going to avoid our duty to those kids. We can’t let them grow up and be a burden on our society either as these kids in car often end up being institutionalized or in prison while suffering throughout their lives.”

Mr. Baisalov insists that everything is being done to restart the adoption process. He hopes that new legislation aimed at closing loopholes that allowed corruption will be in pace by mid-December, and aims to see the number of international adoption agencies working in the country increase from 10 to 15.

But observers bemoan an atmosphere of paranoia in which accusations of “selling” Kyrgyz children have been aggravated by Russian TV reports in Kyrgyzstan documenting cases of Russian children suffering abuse at the hands of adoptive parents in the U.S.

Meanwhile, three of 65 children set for adoption by Americans and Canadians have died since 2009, as officials wrangle over the shifting bureaucracy.

“No child should wait days, months, years for family, love, caring,” says Elena Voronina, a human rights activist in Bishkek. “While state officials decide who should deal with international adoption, how to avoid corruption and what mechanisms should be in place, 36 [of the remaining 62 children] are in need of complex operations, which they will not receive in our country. Are they doomed to a slow death?”

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Observers bemoan????

... observers bemoan an atmosphere of paranoia in which accusations of “selling” Kyrgyz children have been aggravated by Russian TV reports in Kyrgyzstan documenting cases of Russian children suffering abuse at the hands of adoptive parents in the U.S.

You know, a little 'aggravation' in Adoptionland is not entirely a bad thing.... especially if that annoying aggravation brings better practices within the adoption industry.

Is abuse in ill-prepared adoptive homes paranoia?

Is child-trade for profit imaginary?

Is the manufacturing of "orphans", through falsified documents, unreal?

Is the fact that the rights of children (put in-care) are often violated and part of "false reporting"??

There are many reasons to bemoan ICA programs and the ICA process; feeding into the wants, needs and interests of foreigners (in want of a so-called "orphan") should not be reason to moan; violating the rights of children, BECAUSE OF THE ICA ADOPTION PROCESS ITSELF  should create enough moans -- children forced into orphanages do NOT need the added annoyed foreign PAP's voice. Such bemoaning voices created the crisis these poor children are in.

Very good points and

Very good points and bemoaning is not a word I'd use to describe the situation...

But I like this comment too

“We can’t leave them there as they will rot there — it’s sin,” Ms. Aitmatova says. “But it is also sin to sell them like goods.”

It is the dilemma of caring for kids..... providing the care they need (for kids who TRULY need it)
..in qualified homes
..without pulling in kids who have families who could care for them.

Did you read the part that said children died?

I'm a strong supporter of your site and I urge everyone I know with an interest in adoption to read it.

But there are times when I feel your ideological committment outweighs good sense. For instance, when you support halting/suspending/outlawing ICA, when it could have prevented the *death of children*, such as those kids referred for adoption by American families who have been waiting for years to be cleared in Kyrgyzstan. No one wants them in their homeland, many are seriously sick, and three have died waiting.

Are you willing to see more of them die to rid the world of this evil that is ICA?

Have you ever been to Kyrgyzstan? Do you think if the foreign adopters go away these kids will magically get even a fraction of the care/love/medical treatment/sustenance they require? Ummm.....I have, and no, they won't. And no, foreign PAPs did not create the crisis orphanage kids in Kyrgyzstan are in. The Kyrgyz people did that, their Soviet heritage of institutionalization, their screwed-up clan based political system, etc., etc.

end-results

I appreciate the opportunity to bring to light a reality many pro-ICA advocates fail to see, and in-turn, I hope I can show why PPL is both respected and hated... and has become both advocate for and enemy to ALL touched by adoption, domestic or international. 

I feel your ideological committment outweighs good sense. For instance, when you support halting/suspending/outlawing ICA, when it could have prevented the *death of children*, such as those kids referred for adoption by American families who have been waiting for years to be cleared in Kyrgyzstan. No one wants them in their homeland, many are seriously sick, and three have died waiting.

By no means is the adoption industry ideal for any/all children put in-care.  However, let's not get distracted by the ways in which ALL care-systems need to improve, for the sake of the children placed in them.

Many deaths of  adopted children happens at the hands of pre-screened vetted adopters living in evaluated and approved homes.  The institutionalism of adopted children is seen in far too many post-adoption stories. These unwanted adopted children (and their stories) become the USA's problem and burden.  I have recently read a blog piece written by an  Amother facing the problems associated with a very problematic adoption.  In essence, she has to face the realization that her adopted son will either end-up in an outrageously expensive RTC, or one of many prison systems in the the USA.

The fate for some of these most damaged and unwanted children essentially remains the same, no matter where that child is sent to live.  Their fate will include a form of exploitation, abuse, neglect -- and a whole lot of hate. So where is the benefit through ICA?  (Are care-systems and treatment programs getting any better?)

I think in most of these more troubling cases, the children prove to be UNADOPTABLE in the first-place.  Too much damage has already been done rendering all the love in the world NOT ENOUGH for that unfortunate little life.  What I myself see is the ongoing problem and pattern present in pro-adoption communities:  few want to recognize there are those fit to be adopted and live within a family-home structure -- and there are those who are NOT fit to live in a home far far away from all that is already known and familiar.

The problem with ICA is this:  it does not weed-out the fit from the unfit.  This applies to both the adoptee and the PAP.  [See:  Discrimination in Adoptionland is NOT a bad thing ]

The end-result is catastrohic, for almost all involved.

The only people NOT hurt by the status quo are those profiting from ICA services.  I find that "benefit" tragic, insulting, and sad.

points all well taken

I can't disagree with anything you've written. It's true that many of the kids in institutions here in Russia, and probably in Kyrgyzstan too, have been so damaged either by their institutionalization, or by substance abuse or neglect in the home, that they would have trouble integrating in most families. Especially, as you point out, since PAPs are not particularly well-screened or prepared. It takes a truly exceptional family to raise a child with many of these disabilities. I get a sense though that many of these specific Kyrgyz moratorium cases are of parents who have sought out Downs, or cerebral palsy or limb difference kids purposefully, and I really don't have much doubt that the children's fate would be improved via adoption.

I guess I still come back to the idea that there are such exceptional families out there, and that via some miracle of chance, there are kids in the system who could end up in them. But there's no denying that in other cases, some of the kids placed have ended up twice victimized, by the system and by their adopters.

The other note I'd make is that care systems and treatment programs in these countries are going to get better (or not) independently of whether or not ICA exists--it does not really provide a "safety valve" that allows countries to walk away from their obligations, as I believe you've asserted or implied in other posts. The idea that states will promptly attend better to these kids' needs if they shut off ICA has not been borne out in most of the post-Soviet space (save for maybe Georgia). We are seeing that writing on the wall now, sadly, in Russia.

Thank you as always for your passion and logic.

p.s. thank you for the link

p.s. thank you for the link to the piece on the mentally ill son. Heartbreaking.

Final Verdict

According to recent reports, the social minister accused of soliciting up to $20,000 from an international adoption agency seeking accreditation, was acquitted; his assistant received a different final decision from the judge:

Sabirov's assistant, Tokhir Mirzakhmedov, was detained the same month after being caught receiving a $10,000 payment. Mirzakhmedov will serve his sentence in a high-security prison.

It's reported such high-level prosecutions are rare.

Update

Today (June 21, 2013), Social Development Minister of Kyrgyzstan, Kudaybergen Bazarbayev, told journalists "Kyrgyzstan to resume international adoption".

Amusingly, in regards to the process involving the accreditation of agencies engaged in international adoption, the press-release ends with the following warning:

And it is wrong to say that this is the sale of children, one should not create an atmosphere of suspicion and negativity. The issue needs to be discussed calmly and carefully," the Minister said.

Time will tell if the lifted ban shows an increase in the number of children placed in-care, and if ICA will indeed be used as "the absolute last resort" so many spokespersons claim it will be, for those put in poor/negligent care.

 

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