Christian Saviors and the Adoptions Industry in Congo
- Reviewing Jedd Medefind's response to "The Evangelical Adoption Crusade"
- Adoption from Africa: Concern over 'dramatic rise'
- Is the US State Dept. Opposed to Inter-Country Adoption? - A rebuttal
- Challenging time for Christian adoption movement
- Pursuing what you want to pursue in the world of inter-country adoption
Exploiting Africa's Most Precious Resource: Children
by Jennifer Fierberg and Keith Harmon Snow / dissidentvoice.org
June 20th, 2013
All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have his name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a Father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation.
— The Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689
The fact that people are starving to death, or unable to provide for their children, due to a system of international plunder, does not justify purchasing children from desperate people and trafficking them abroad into the homes of white people. The wars in DRC are part of the global business where the most expendable are lives of poor Congolese.”
— Congolese Professor in the USA (name withheld)
La Procure Saint Anne is a Catholic Monastery built in 1920 in what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo. Abutting Kinshasa’s first cathedral church, La Centre d’aceuil Saint Anne (in the local French) sits just off Kinshasa’s main thoroughfare, the Boulevard 30 Juin, named for the date of the Congo’s supposed independence from Belgium on June 30,1960.
At La Procure Saint Anne you can see black Congolese ‘orphans’ meeting prospective white American ‘parents’ before these children are packaged for export, with all the requisite paperwork and necessary U.S. Government approvals, and trafficked into international commerce for transshipment to the United States. Cloistered behind 10-foot stone walls, with a lush tropical garden in front and a shady courtyard in back, La Procure sits just a few hundred feet from the United States Embassy.
No longer a mainstay of the Belgian colonial enterprise, La Procure is now run like a tight profitable business. The original, quaint, simple but truly charming colonial era furnishings, which were evident throughout the austere halls of the monastery even as recent as 2006, have been replaced by tacky furniture and cheap post-modern décor with as little character and as much charm as the cold business dealings of the head priest. Listed today as a lower- to middle-range lodging option in the city, these days La Procure accommodates foreign couples for weeks at a time, generating substantial income, especially in Kinshasa.
Curiously, most of the white foreign couples flying to Congo to adopt a Congolese child identify themselves as devout worshippers of Jesus Christ: Bible-Belt Baptists or Southern Baptists or Seven Day Adventists or Lutherans or other evangelical Christian fundamentalists. An industry in adoptions has arisen almost overnight in the war-torn Congo, and, like any capitalist enterprise, there is little oversight, plenty of greed, and a lot of victims. The victims include well-to-do Americans (Canadians, Europeans, etc.), mostly white, at the same time naïve and predatory, and whose culpability cannot be excused, and who themselves are victimizing people lower on the hierarchy of exploitation: the children and families of the Congo.
In a recent feature, Eager to Adopt, Evangelicals Find Perils Abroad published May 31, 2013, the New York Times called this “a fast-growing evangelical Christian movement that promotes adoption as a religious and moral calling.” The New York Times article zooms in on an evangelical pastor and his wife, a Montana couple, from Journey Church who typify the ‘adoption obsession’ that is fueling the evangelical Christian movement sweeping America. The couple had four biological children; then adopted three children from Ethiopia; and now are adopting four children from Congo. They claim that God has called them to adopt, and so they are fulfilling a biblical prophecy and insuring their own salvation. While saving lives, they say, they are also part of a vast social-religious movement involving conferences, workshops, prayer meetings, support groups, family adoption camps, and what we herein call the ‘adoption-tourism’ industry. The movement is also part of a bigger billion-dollar industry in human trafficking.
“But the movement has also revived debate about ethical practices in international adoptions,” wrote the New York Times, “with fears that some parents and churches, in their zeal, have naïvely entered terrain long filled with pitfalls, especially in countries susceptible to corruption. These include the risk of falsified documents for children who have relatives able to care for them, middlemen out to profit and perhaps bribe officials, and even the willingness of poor parents to send a child to a promised land without understanding the permanence of adoption.”
In its typical fashion, the New York Times article obliterates the deeper context of international power relations, protects the interests of certain powerful elites in the western world (and their comprador associates abroad). The first erroneous and unstated premise is that the United States (Canada, Europe, Australia) is not amongst those ‘countries susceptible to corruption’. The New York Times juxtaposes the supposed ‘good’ (USA, Europe, etc.) versus ‘evil’ (Africa, Asia, Latin America) paradigm typical of our system of managed inequality and resource exploitation. Meanwhile, the New York Times creates the appearance of mildly challenging the international adoptions movement.
Further, this New York Times feature provides favorable coverage to evangelical minister Rick Warren, a powerful ally of U.S. corporations and the Pentagon. “In their work abroad,” the New York Times wrote, quoting a Christian spokesman downplaying the problematic Christian adoption movement, “more churches are supporting family preservation efforts and indigenous adoption. Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Southern California, for example, has won praise in Rwanda, a country hoping to close down orphanages, for working to keep children with their relatives and aiding poor families.”
While the statement above is true, it is only a small part of the truth, and such selective use of fact is a mainstay tactic of propaganda. In fact, Rick and Kay Warren both spoke at the Eighth Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, held at Saddleback Church, and they have consistently and ardently called for adoptions as the only solution to orphan care. By 2012, Warren’s Saddleback Church had set and surpassed a recent goal of 1000 adoptions, with more than half of these being international adoptions.
“If we are going to take care of children the way that we believe God does, which is relationally, we will not build orphanages, we will empty orphanages.” Kay Warren passionately proclaimed, her voice wavering, at the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit VIII (August 2012). “We used to have as our goal to help orphans live a better life as orphans. Now our goal is to help orphans become sons and daughters… This can only happen through the Church [of Jesus Christ].”
The Warren’s, the Saddleback Church community, the Christian Alliance, and the New York Times all ignore the huge trafficking and related violence inherent in international adoptions.
Further, the New York Times obliterates the role of Rick Warren in perpetuating international human rights atrocities and genocide: Warren’s dark clandestine role behind the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s, his support for Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front guerrillas, and his profit-making ventures amidst massive suffering in Rwanda, have never come under scrutiny. Warren’s evangelical proselytizing in Rwanda renders invisible the severe state-sponsored domestic repression that continues on a daily basis in Rwanda and Rwanda-occupied eastern Congo.
As usual, the New York Times does not give voice to any Congolese people, and instead of exploring the nefarious presence and operations of the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, which has a long history of facilitating the exploitation of Congo’s natural resources and sponsoring covert military and intelligence operations to protect western corporate crimes, the New York Times paints the U.S. Embassy as an adoptions watchdog, since the Embassy has “stepped up its own investigations of prospective adoptions, resulting in delays of up to six months.”
Finally, there is the New York Times article’s title, where the foreign country — in this case Congo — is perilous, and the Evangelicals are painted by the New York Times as the victims, and the Congolese victims as the perpetrators. This is a handy blame the victims inversion that exemplifies the pathology of racial superiority.
Contrary to superficial appearances, the New York Times feature is disinformation, and it will do nothing to help stop the trafficking of children from Africa.
In God We Trust
Across from the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, La Procure Saint Anne has become a sort of mid-station rendezvous point for child trafficking. It is the perfect respite for prospective parents who have flown to the Congo to collect the child (or children, plural) that these parents have been paying for, that they have been pining for, that they have been praying for, and that one or another international adoption agency has allocated for them. By the time that most of these Americans arrive at La Procure Saint Anne, seeking to pick up ‘their’ new child, they have already paid out thousands of dollars in adoption agency services and, as some adoptive parents have confirmed, someone in the chain of child procurement and delivery has almost certainly paid out a string of bribes.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has at least one official who is also independently supporting American parents in snatching Congolese children. While described elsewhere as a ‘former U.S. Embassy official’, as of June 9, 2013, Africa Adoption Services agent Danielle Anderson is listed as a ‘Consular Assistant’ at the Embassy in Kinshasa.
Africa Adoption Services, One World Adoption Services and Wasatch International are three international adoption agencies that surfaced in connection to La Procure Saint Anne. DRC Adoption Services described themselves as a “consulting service that does not have referrals or make referrals’, but they seemed to be deeply involved in all aspects of Congolese adoptions, and their successes have led to their expansion into other African countries under the new name Africa Adoption Services.
How much of the typical $US 25,000 to $US 46,000 in ‘fees’ that adoptive parents dole out to obtain a child from Congo are allocated for greasing the skids of the process? Perhaps the Congolese lawyers in Kinshasa or Goma have paid these bribes: no Congolese lawyer in Congo would communicate with us about their involvement in ‘adoptions,’ and none would respond to enquiries from our Congolese contacts.
These are lawyers like Simon Nzita Kumbu, who is connected to some of the international adoption agencies addressed herein. “I am a lawyer advising American international adoption agencies,” reads Simon Nzita Kumbu’s Facebook profile, “and also the President of the Private Center of Orphanages for the Accommodation of orphans and abandoned children for international adoption.”
Perhaps the in-country (Congolese) manager or caseworkers working for the international agencies facilitate these bribes. However, no in-country personnel would speak with us about their role in the adoptions industry from the Congo. These are caseworkers like ‘Bodine’, also employed at La Procure in Kinshasa, and an associate of Congolese lawyer Simon Nzita Kumbu.
Perhaps the international adoption agency’s American caseworkers or agents pay the bribes. Agents like Julia Holtgrewe, the ‘DRC facilitator’ at Wasatch International Adoptions, or Danielle Anderson, the U.S. Embassy official who is also director of the agency Africa Adoption Services. Although Julia Holtgrewe and Africa Adoption Services both responded to our initial inquiries, neither Holtgrewe nor Danielle Anderson would speak with us.
While it is easy to blame the Congolese system, and while ‘corruption’ is rampant in Congo, the Congolese people have always faced exploitation and slavery at the hands of whites. Little has changed. There is a hierarchy of violence in the world, and a hierarchy of suffering, and in these hierarchies, and there are hierarchies within hierarchies, and the Congolese people are not at the top. There are others of greater privilege taking advantage of the weakness of the Congolese system in international power relations. There are also predators at all levels.
To Congolese people inside and outside Congo, the situation is grim, unjust, unfair, illegal, immoral and openly criminal. What is worse, they are constrained to silence out of the fear of retaliation from a criminal regime in league with a criminal ‘international community’ that has been plundering the Congo’s resources since the ‘red rubber’ days of the ruthless Henry Morton Stanley.
“In the beginning, a few years ago, the American woman Julia [Holtgrewe] used to come to Congo to adopt children.” Pastor Ilunga Michel, not his real name, lives and works in Kinshasa, near the U.S. Embassy and La Procure Saint Anne. In past years, Pastor Ilunga Michel frequently worked with journalists staying at La Procure. “When the demand in the adoption market increased, Julia started her own orphanage whose goal was to arrange adoptions in exchange for money that Julia and her Congolese manager and her Congolese lawyer shared among themselves. Now, there are even children from Goma [eastern DRC] going to the U.S. I saw one woman crying because her husband had sold their child. They are selling children for between $4750 and $6000.”
Julia Holtgrewe is involved with a domestic Congolese ‘non-profit organization’ called ZAPE, whose principal contact is Congolese lawyer Simon Nzita, and which includes an orphanage, animal farming, and a plantation. Between 2008 and 2012, Wasatch International handled 60 adoptions from Congo, they work with at least three orphanages in Kinshasa, and in 2012 they opened their own orphanage, Arms of Love.
According to Holtgrewe’s blog, the U.S. Embassy recommended the attorney working with Wasatch International.
Over the past few years, Pastor Ilunga Michel has watched an industry unfold as children come and go with white couples from La Procure. He once worked for an international NGO operating in Kinshasa, in the health sector, but he was fired for being too efficient and for trying to do the right thing in combating teenage prostitution and sexually transmitted diseases.
If there is a Saint in Kinshasa, it is Pastor Ilunga Michel: he has in the past been detained and beaten for standing up for the downtrodden Congolese people. He has been hunted by the foreign-backed military regime under President Hippolyte Kanambe (alias Joseph Kabila). He believes in God, and he knows that his real name cannot be used, or he will be arrested, imprisoned again in one of Kinshasa’s nasty city jails, or taken to a government ‘safe house’ and tortured or, worse, possibly disappeared, his body casually dumped into the Congo river as thousands of people have been disappeared under the current regime.
“When the demand for Congolese children increased, this motivated Julia to better organize the supply of children.” Pastor Ilunga Michel sees the money, power and privilege of white people who suddenly appear and as suddenly disappear with black children. He knows the ins-and-outs of the Congolese system, how things get done there, and why they don’t, and he knows that the language of ‘orphans’ and ‘adoptions’ is mere cover for something much more insidious: trafficking in children. “Over the past few years a network grew with people in place to promote and advance international child trafficking under the front of ‘adoptions’.”
One Congolese professor ‘Benjamin’ teaching at a university in the USA is equally outraged. “Last summer a Belgian colleague of mine spent two weeks in Kinshasa and I booked him a room at [La Procure] Saint Anne. He spent two weeks there and saw many American couples in the process of adopting Congolese children. I knew about Saint Anne but I did not know that the adoption process was systematic until my colleague told me about it.”
This professor also wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation against him or his family in Congo. “As for the children, my wife’s nephew was given as an ‘orphan’ by his uncle, but when the family realized that he was missing the uncle had to disclose the whereabouts of the child. When my wife went there she found lots of children introduced to her as ‘orphans’. She was able to take our nephew back home. Later we learned that the uncle left the child there in exchange for a few dollars.”
The uncle was paid $500 to declare his nephew an ‘orphan’.
International adoptions are big business. International adoption agencies are often no different than the so-called ‘humanitarian’ aid sector, otherwise known as the misery industry. Western people coming to ‘help’ Africa often consider ourselves saviors, heroes, and martyrs, and we never question our own positionality in the industries of misery, refugees, development and adoptions. Instead we consider ourselves ‘innocent’, and we use their privilege like a badge and a shield to gain access, to exploit less powerful populations, to procure salaries, immune from criticism, immune from oversight, and certainly immune from prosecution and, in the case of trafficking of children, to act paternalistically and as the Great White Hope for Africa and deliver to a clean, shiny, happy white couple the promise of a ‘happy life’ with an otherwise doomed African child.
How does child trafficking from Congo occur?
A Child is Born
In Congo, the ‘richest country in the world’, and one of those with the poorest most disabused and suffering people, trafficking in children has become another industry of exploitation, and it has happened almost overnight. It has been going on in Ethiopia and other countries for years.
A survey of Internet web sites where Successful Adoptive Parents or Prospective Adoptive Parents have posted feedback on adoption agencies they worked with in Congo reveals an across-the-board awareness of significant ethical and moral issues associated with international adoptions from the Congo. There are also plenty of horror stories, making it clear that this is serious child trafficking.
What do adoptive parents who have returned to the USA with Congolese children have to say?
There are many waiting families eager to adopt and many who already have and often they will open pages on social media (Facebook, Twitter, personal blogs, etc.) to share their excitement with friends and family, to fundraise their ‘adoption’ project, and to post updates during their process. Numerous families were contacted to discuss adoptions from Congo, but no one wanted to talk. Facebook pages came down or were made private, nasty emails were received from some, and almost everyone expressed anger that someone was asking such questions: there was a tacit assumption of the purity of motivations and the unchallengeable sanctity of ‘providing a loving home for a homeless child’.
“[I] was forewarned about you [Keith Harmon Snow]…” Adoptive parent Tessy Fuller lives in Missouri and studied at the Central Christian College of the Bible. Fuller’s blog Divine Moments is about faith, scripture, and her adoption journey to and from Congo. Alerted by someone connected to Wasatch Adoptions, her email responses to our inquiry were hostile from the beginning. “A sheep in wolves clothing?! May God give you what you deserve.”
Most adoptive parents are silent. They are afraid to speak with a journalist. They are terrified that they might for some reason lose the Congolese child that they have claimed as their own. Some newly adopting parents are self-righteous: they believe that they have saved a child from a life that would otherwise be nasty, brutish and short. They offer the specter of starvation, disease, war, prostitution, suffering, and a life without a home and without love. To question their motivations or intentions is akin to heresy or Satanism. As far as they are concerned, it seems, they do not have to answer to anyone but their God, and He has already answered their prayers with a (adopted) child.
Many newly adopting parents are perhaps terrified that they have erred. The little voice that they heard telling them that there was something wrong with the process, the little red flags that they ignored, have turned into what they fear is a pestering journalist intent on exposing the crimes they perhaps know in their hearts were committed. Adoptive parents, like most parents, are very possessive: No one wants to lose their new child.
While their fears are understandable, their reactions beg the question: Why is no one willing to talk about it? Some internet chat rooms on DRC adoptions and blogs had interesting insights, like this one, which suggests that the tail is wagging the dog, and ‘orphans’ (supply) are being generated to meet the ‘parents’ (demand): “You submit documents and then a referral is found, and your fees go to make that child eligible for adoption.”
Some adoptive parents have spoken openly about their experiences with One World Adoption Service and reported their negative experiences on an Adoption Agency Ratings website. In one case, One World Adoption Services issued a legal notice (posted here) threatening a potential adoptive parent with legal action if they did not cease discussing the agency’s DRC adoption program. One family discussed their adoption experience on a blog post and the heart wrenching details (here under a post entitled ‘What happened?’). In this case, prospective adoptive parents saw the warning signs in their adoption process and investigated for themselves.
“The documents that were used to support the children’s cases were all fraudulent,” these parents reported. “The children were the nieces and nephew of the fired [orphanage] director, who had falsely indicated that the father was ‘unknown’ in order to complete the adoption. The mother and father are in a committed relationship, have other children and live about a four-hour plane ride from Kinshasa. Because the documents were fraudulent, we could not proceed with the adoption.” (Even these potential adoptive parents refused to discuss their negative experiences.)
“We started with One World Adoption Services,” another adoptive parent wrote. “We ended up with the director, Susan Manning, as our caseworker. She was very difficult to work with. Some of her mistakes cost us thousands of dollars extra. We also sent money for the care of our daughter and by the time we went to pick her up it was very obvious she was not fed on a regular basis, so we have no idea where that money was going.”
Another adoptive parent shared the following information on February 13, 2013:
Let me be clear that I did not adopt from OWAS, but I personally know two families who have. Both families had horrible, horrible experiences. Why does OWAS keep asking for money? They ask and ask and ask for money. Another problem is the gag-clause in the contract. Why is it there? To keep families from speaking up about the unethical practices of OWAS. One of the families received a referral for a child that another family received a referral for (yes, at the same time) — BOTH were paying “orphanage fees” for this child. This same family was horrified when they learned (from their adopted child) that they only received one small meal each day. The orphanage fee was OUTRAGEOUS — especially considering the child wasn’t being taken care of. OWAS continued to ask for more money from these families until one family got tired of it and decided to GO BRING THEIR CHILD HOME without any clearance from OWAS. And that’s what they did. And if they hadn’t, OWAS would probably still be milking them for money.
Beth Lyles and her bi-racial family are devout Christians at an evangelical Baptist church in a well-to-do community. The Lyles’ family has already adopted one Congolese child, and they are waiting to complete the adoption of another Congolese child, with the help of Wasatch International Adoptions. One of their agents in Congo is Julia Holtgrewe. In response to our inquires, Beth Lyles made her blog private, but after a few days, on February 14, 2013, she brought it back on line offering a long rationale for adopting from the DRC.
Earlier today I received some information that made me rethink having our story so public. I reacted as any mother would under the circumstances, yet when the initial shock wore off I questioned whether retreat was the right thing… and I’ve decided no. It’s not. I only have one thing to say, and for those who are aware of the situation you will understand where this is coming from:
Everyone who cares about their neighbor, whether it’s the neighbor next door or their neighbors on another continent they have something in common. They care. How they go about that caring may look different. Even questioned. But the bottom line is not every human rights activist is a worm, and not every adoptive family is guilty of buying their child. It is the opposite. The MAJORITY of both groups are going about their convictions and decisions in a moral and ethical manner.
Too often we run in fear of the minority. I’m not running. I have no need too.
We have adopted from the DRC recently and we are doing it again. Why? Because One: I like kids. Where is the evidence of that? I have SIX biological kids. Is that enough proof for you? Two: I have lost several children during pregnancy, two in my second trimester. I held them, i named them. And we as a family knew we still had room in our hearts and busy life for another one and pregnancy didn’t seem like a viable option. Three: I have my own opinion on whether a child should remain in a country to starve because there is no means within their own country to have a future or a family. And the last time I checked we are FREE to have our own opinion on a matter and to act on it. Some care about the children, some care about the soil, the whales, the owls, the trees, and everyone who cares about what they care about are free to act on those convictions as long as it is done in an ethical and moral manner. And for every adoptive family to turn tail and run because unethical practices do take place, child buying does take place, in fear of the mantra that All DO IT, is a shame.
Beth Lyles and her family are now waiting for a Congolese child that might be everything that they have been told: orphaned, unwanted due to her age, destined for a life of poverty, a life of suffering, she might even be destined to prostitution. And, she might not. We recognize that genuine orphans do not deserve to be punished — denied the love and caring they might get for a life of misery — due to the corruption of an industry, but it is the structural violence of the greater system that we are questioning. And, even if this child’s future might be as bleak as has been painted by either the adoption agency or by Beth Lyles, why not raise and delegate the necessary funds to allow the child to be raised healthy, happy and safe within her own culture and land?
Like many fundamentalist Christian families jumping on the adoption wagon, the Lyles’ couple already had at least four biological children of their own. The Kipke family from Michigan had seven biological children before they adopted two children of color. How many children does a family need? If Christians adopt the Biblical imperative: the more children the better chance of one’s salvation under God. It seems profoundly unfair to couples that are unable to have children that other couples with more than three biological children already have adopted one and sometimes more children.
From God’s arms, to our arms, to your arms
Wasatch International Adoptions staff member Julia Holtgrewe reportedly spends much of her year facilitating ‘adoptions’ from the DRC. Wasatch is a Hague Accredited agency but since the DRC is not a participant in the Hague process the DRC adoptions process is open to abuses. Wasatch also describes the violence in Congo as a ‘civil war’, when it is an international affair involving gun running, offshore tax evasion, land grabs, military occupation and resource plunder, involving western officials, western militaries, AID organizations, and countless western corporations.
Ms. Holtgrewe’s public blogs about her travels in the DRC and updates on DRC adoptions for families back in the U.S. have included the following troubling information:
We are now being asked to bring birth fathers to the U.S. Embassy to prove the bio[logical] father is aware of the adoption. This has proven to be a bit of a challenge but I think they will have the last tidbit of information on Monday AM. This stems from something that happened days prior to our travel. A bio[logical] parent kidnapped a child and they had to arrest the bio[logical] parent and go to court three times. Nothing I would ever want an adoptive parent to go through…(incomprehensible text)… They are checking and rechecking the orphan status. Now that we know what needs to be done we are good to go at least until the next rule change. Lol [Laughing out Loud].
We contacted Wasatch International Adoptions about this case; their explanation about the ‘bio’ parent who ‘kidnapped’ a child diverged wildly from Julia Holtgrewe’s blog post. “It happened in the airport where an airport official took the child, and wanted $20 to give it back,” Wasatch agent Cyndi Peck explained. “Upon receiving the $20, the airport person gave the child back. Out of about 70 adoptions, this is the only time that has happened.”
Cyndi Peck also runs Compassionate Hearts, self-described as a ‘non-profit’ Christian ‘homestudy agency and orphan relief’ organization based in Montana.
The following statement made in February 2012 by the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa should raise red flags about adoptions in Congo:
Prospective adoptive parents considering adopting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) should be aware that the U.S. Embassy has received reports that a number of legally adopted children, including those with valid immigration visas to the United States, have not been promptly released by the orphanages to their new adoptive U.S. citizen parents or their legal representatives. In most cases, the orphanages have eventually released the children into the care of their adoptive parents or legal representatives. Police intervention has been reported in some cases at the request of both orphanages and adoptive parents.
Congo, as all the adoptive parents and agencies will tell you, is “one of the most corrupt countries in the world”, but it is no more or less corrupt than its paternalistic role model, the U.S.A. In Congo, children sold into ‘orphanages’ can easily be trafficked, through bribery and racketeering. With the help, support, participation and/or acquiescence of the U.S. Embassy, they are transformed from children with a legitimate birth family (whose parents are living) into children declared or certified to be ‘legally adopted’. The adoptive parents can even gain possession of valid immigration visas to the United States. Thus the above statement by the U.S. Embassy implicitly demonstrates that:  orphanages can often expect or demand additional funds, either in the form of legitimately expected or legitimately promised payments, and/or fees, or in the form of pay-off;  biological parents are not always willing participants in the ‘adoption’ (read: sale) of their children;  biological parents who have sold their children often have a change of heart and seek to retrieve their children;  extended family members who were not informed about the sale of children by other relatives often may seek to recover the child; and  police, immigration officials and lawyers are astute at the manipulation of business deals to increase their profits. Thus, the (above) statement by the U.S. Embassy is deceptive at best, criminal at worst. Criminal because they aid and abet child trafficking.
Amongst the many culture barriers that help to destroy a child’s identity are language barriers: Congolese officials and lawyers often speak very little English, and most U.S. adoptive parents speak very little French. Language barriers don’t matter to hungry adoptive parents: this is just something else to laugh about and shrug off as ‘part of doing business’ and, for a Christian, part of ‘getting into the water’. The great African Nationalist intellectual Franz Fanon wrote volumes about the destruction of a people’s identity — the deracination or uprooting of a culture proceeds through the destruction or confusion of identity.
Responding to questions of ethics posed online by prospective adoptive parent Lydia McCune Rabon on January 5, 2012, the unidentified DRC Adoption Services (now Africa Adoptions Services) agent replied: “Lydia, DRC adoption is risky and there are definitely questions of ethics. There are some fantastic agencies that put a lot of things in place to do their best to ensure ethical adoptions (emphasis added). We can help you connect with one if you chose the agency route. Independent adoption is also a fantastic choice.”
Wendi Sundsted Lewis, questioning DRC Adoption Services online on December 31, 2012, wrote: “As far as all [of] your children being ‘true orphans’, I’m assuming you mean in the legal sense and not in the literal sense, as I know your attorneys place children that were found abandoned and therefore it would be impossible to know if they had living parents or not.”
In their immediate response, the unidentified DRC Adoption Services agent (probably Danielle Anderson) who was then in the Congo wrote: “When it comes down to it — we know very little and have little understanding of the truth. DRC is extremely corrupt and cases are very risky. I can never 100% say that a child is a true orphan based on the documents we review.”
“We were very impressed by the in-country staff of DRCAS,” wrote another DRC Adopting Services reviewer. “They were friendly, highly ethical, and everyone we met had a special place in their hearts for the orphans of the DRC. From our experience, the staff of DRCAS is in this “business” for all the right reasons.” The latter comment makes it clear that there is a conscious awareness that this is a business.
Amanda Bennett is one prospective adoptive parent whose blog proclaims: “I am a sinner saved by grace, a wife, a dog lover, a lawyer, a bookworm. I am delighted in the Lord.” Amanda blogged about her negative Congo adoption experience:
“We attempted to adopt a sibling group of three children through One World Adoption Services in 2011/2012,” Amanda Bennett wrote on October 26, 2012.
One World completely failed to provide the services necessary to complete an ethical and legal adoption. From day one, the information we received about our children was fraudulent and falsified by their in-country staff. One World did nothing to verify their orphan status. The children were being illegally adopted and trafficked out of Congo. It wasn’t until we traveled to Congo in August 2012 that we discovered the extent of the fraud. Moreover, it was not just our kids who were being trafficked. There were many others. Nevertheless, One World has not changed their procedures and their U.S. staff has still not traveled to investigate. They have been unrepentant and unwilling to assist families to complete legal and ethical adoptions. They refused to refund any of the over $40,000 we spent on this illegal adoption despite the fact that their staff was fully aware of the fraud. I would never under any circumstances recommend working with One World or Susan Manning as they have proven that they do not understand international adoption.
Amanda and her husband refused to participate in the trafficking of Congo’s children through OWAS. The couple is now resettling in the new Christian hotspot Rwanda, and still considering an adoption from Africa. “I don’t want to give up,” she wrote in May 2013, “but I am scared of getting back in the water. I don’t want to screw it up! As a Christian, I am called to get into the water. All the way to the deep end. Yes, we can’t fix all the problems with international adoption. The whole idea comes out of a broken, messy tragedy. Same with global poverty, world hunger, sex trafficking, war. There are no easy answers. But we have to try, don’t we? Because sometimes it works. Sometimes there is redemption.”
The Worth of a Soul
The international adoption process involves a labyrinth of paperwork, intrusive interviews; parenting classes, criminal background checks, and all the recommendations and statements from friends and family that one will be an adequate and loving family to receive an adopted baby into. For the average family, there are also overwhelming financial obligations. It is not a process for the weak of heart or spirit. This web of confusion can take twists and turns that one never expects such as delays in paperwork, host country holidays that delay processing times or even international events, such as the Olympics, that will halt many adoption processes in their tracks.
Waiting parents long to hold their child in their arms and begin their new life together. These parents prepare rooms, buy clothes, make webpages, blog about their emotions and cry in the silence of the wait that never seems to end. The process is full of stops and starts and waiting parents can feel hopeless, desperate or even discouraged at times. Finally, the day arrives and you see a picture of your child for the first time and your heart stops! You are instantly in love and begin a flurry of phone calls to friends and family that your baby now is known! It is a moment that only parents can understand.
There are many resources on the Internet including blogs and websites that keep families informed and hopeful. One such website is the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs on Intercountry Adoption where information, alerts and statistics are provided on a per country basis. In reading this site the DR Congo stands out as having some very odd statistics and even more troubling warnings to waiting families.
In April 2008 an international agreement went into effect that is purportedly designed to protect the interests of children who are being adopted abroad and ensure that adoption is in the ‘best interest of the child’ — a philosophy that has also been deployed to traffic and abuse children in the USA. Not all countries that participate in international adoptions are accredited. This agreement, the Hague Convention, provides specific adoption requirements from the country of origin, the adopting parent(s) and adoption agencies.
Countries not party to The Hague Convention do not automatically have questionable adoption practices, but the U.S. State Department website on International adoption keeps families and programs up-to-date on specific alerts and concerns about the different countries. A Hague versus non-Hague process is sufficiently explained on their site and families seeking to adopt from a non-Hague country should be concerned about the differences in the programs.
Researching adoptions in the DRC we soon found there has been a 99.2% increase in adoptions over seven years: adoptions from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo have risen dramatically. From 1999 to 2008, the total number of adoptions from Congo was 48 — a few kids a year during the absolute worst war years (1999-2003), and a few more annually during the later war years (2004-2008). There were 21 Congolese children shipped abroad in 2009; 42 in 2010; and 133 shipped to the U.S.A. in 2011. In 2012, the number of Congolese children trafficked to the U.S.A. through the international adoptions sector was 240.
Do the math: multiply 373 DRC adoptions (2011-2012) times $US 35,000 to 40,000 per DRC child adopted to the USA and you get $US 13,000,000 to $US 14,920,000 dollars (2011-2012). How many children can you feed, clothe and educate for 14 million US dollars? How many schools — real schools, not cement shells with corrugated metal roofs — can you build with $US 14,000,000? This is how structural violence maintains permanent managed inequality, and the trafficking of children out of Congo is part of the greater Congo genocide.
Sarah Schaffer is a U.S. State Department agent who specializes in DRC adoptions. Ms. Schaffer told us that “document fraud is widespread” and that “fraudulent information can be put on legal documents for the right price.” She believes that there are legitimate orphans in the DRC, and in many of the adoptions programs, but she said that documents that are 100% legitimate and paired to the correct child are rare and uncertain.
The above statements should raise red flags with adoptive parents. Instead, adoptive parents often subordinate the truth and consciously ignore the red flags to enable them to carry a child home to America. They romanticize the poverty of underdeveloped nations, without accepting any personal role in relation to the entrenchment and perpetuation of that poverty and suffering. This is structural racism at work, and it is being redefined, reconstituted and recodified in response to criticisms, critiques and challenges, further institutionalizing the structural violence. Western (mostly) white parents — evangelical Christians or not — pat themselves on the back for rising above racism, and churches that once underpinned American slavery, for example, now gain credibility by supporting increasing numbers of adoptions of children of color, claiming that they are ‘integrated’ and ‘colorblind’ and racially ‘diverse’ institutions, when in fact they are as deeply biased, privileged and entitled as ever. The evangelical international adoptions movement offers a newly enshrined and entrenched system of biracial inequality and exploitation.
As a perfect example, consider the many blogs created by adoptive parents that essentialize the Congo and its people, distilling the complex realities of international power relations down to a few facts, otherwise true, which misrepresent, distort and decontextualize the realities. In fact, the text is ‘boilerplate’, lifted directly from the highly dubious U.S. intelligence front entity: the International Rescue Committee:
Congo is currently the world’s least developed country in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators, like maternal and child mortality. Following years of economic and political decline, the war of 1998-2002 led to extreme violence, massive population displacement and widespread rape. Despite several formal peace agreements, violence continues in eastern Congo, causing loss of life and uprooting families. The state is unable to provide protection and basic services to its people, who continue to suffer from poverty and neglect.
How do adoptive parents know if their target child is a legitimate orphan? Is the story they are provided about the background of their adoptive child remotely accurate? Are they being given the correct date of birth for the child? The ground is shaky and the issues very troubling. Ms. Schaffer’s most disturbing statement was: “buying children and buying false adoptions is common practice.”
Given that this is a known problem, why isn’t the State Department ensuring that these children are legitimately adopted? Ms. Schaffer clearly stated that the DRC government must ensure the legality of all adoptions, not the U.S. State Department. She reported that the State Department has begun a new field investigation procedure that takes 3-6 months per child to complete in order to review individual cases for authenticity. But this procedure is problematic: it is not done on all adoption cases and cannot confirm orphan or parental status due to the problematic documents.
Ms. Shaffer stated: “DRC is the latest ‘hotspot’ for international adoption because it is the cheapest.” Further, she confirmed that U.S. adoption agencies working in Congo need not be accredited in the U.S.: only four out of the twenty-five U.S. agencies working there are.
Further, agencies working in the DRC are not allowed to operate independently: they must be partnered with an attorney or orphanage. Ms. Schaffer stated that many birth families have come to Congolese orphanages and retrieved their children during the DRC visits of prospective adoptive parents from the U.S. These Congolese families have rescued their children from an international ‘adoption’ — trafficking — sometimes with and sometimes without the support of orphanage personnel. The recent state department actions tacitly acknowledged the U.S. Government’s awareness of serious problems with DRC adoptions.
The U.S. Embassy recently instituted procedures requiring accreditation of all agencies with DRC adoption programs. This law does not take effect until July 2014, and it is no safeguard against illegal adoptions and child trafficking.
“I would be VERY VERY careful about a program where they are referring kids who are not paper ready and/or legally free for adoption…,” another adoptive parent complained online in 2011. “Agencies who have done it that way have a lot of heartbroken families (both birth and adoptive) and are also the ones with the most serious ethical questions surrounding them… Prospective Adoptive Parents are much more likely to contact members of [the U.S.] Congress when the adoption of a specific child is at stake than when they are adopting ‘a’ child. Members of [the U.S.] Congress, especially the likes of Barbara Boxer and Mary Landrieu, are known to use their influence to put pressure on the [U.S.] Department of State to expedite the processing of [an] adoption visa.”
Several of the higher profile U.S. government officials involved in the international trafficking from Congo have records of involvement with the Great Lakes countries that point to their support for, and participation in, an unjust system of exploitation. Their motivations in the adoptions sector are questionable at best.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has been involved in numerous policy and legislative initiatives that have favored multinational corporations and the interests of the Pentagon in Central Africa. U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has supported U.S. policies and military actions in Central Africa, and she has played along with the fictions about Ugandan ‘warlord’ Joseph Kony. Landrieu sponsored the Northern Uganda Crisis Response Act, a program that facilitated another expansion of Pentagon covert military operations in Uganda in 2012.
Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Russ Feingold presided over joint hearings of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women’s Issues and the Subcommittee on African Affairs. One of these hearings, titled, “Confronting Rape and Other Forms of Violence Against Women in Conflict Zones,” focused specifically on Sudan and DRC, the few ‘experts’ invited to give testimony included John Prendergast of the U.S. national security apparatus and the front-organization ENOUGH; and Eve Enlser, whose work in eastern Congo has itself turned into a money-making calamity for which she has come under severe criticisms.
Speaking at Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) The Way Forward Project Summit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded Mary Landrieu as an ‘absolute stalwart advocate’ on adoption for the world’s children. Landrieu has supported congressional bills expanding the misery industry in Congo under the guise of humanitarian relief. These include the so-called Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act (S.2125) 05-S2125 on Dec 16, 2005, which passed into public law, but she has never said a word about the western corporate plunder or U.S. covert operations and militarization of Central Africa.
As U.S. Consul to Rwanda during the Clinton administration from 1998-2001, Beth Payne, the current head of U.S. State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues, worked with the military dictatorship of Paul Kagame to cover up the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees — innocent men, women and children — and the massacres of countless Congolese displaced persons during the U.S.-backed Rwandan and Uganda occupations of the Congo. Payne received a M.S. in National Security Studies from the National War College in 2008, and she has close ties with the U.S. intelligence apparatus.
African Solutions to African Problems?
The adoptions industry has been running rampant for years. Buyers (adoptive parents) are shuffled from one country to another as rules and regulations evolve, as domestic awareness about corruption and trafficking prompts new controls, international scrutiny, and as new methods evolve to achieve the same ends: trafficking of children. Congo is just one of the latest countries where Westerners can quickly and more easily snatch children; Mongolia is another.
Ethiopia offers an example of a country where international child trafficking under the aegis of adoptions has been going strong for many years. Western media personalities like Angelina Jolie (from Ethiopia) have taken babies of color from Africa, and Jolie, at least, has legitimized the international plunder of Africa through her celebrity actorvism as a special “ambassador to Congo” through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Jolie is also the main character in the Hollywood film Beyond Borders, which is nothing more than a sales pitch for the misery industry, especially UNHCR, and propaganda tool for the intelligence establishment.
Obang Metho, an Ethiopian-born Christian and director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, points to the massive problem of child trafficking through adoptions as just one of the interrelated problems and structural violence confronting Africa’s people. Problems like land grabbing, militarization, low-intensity warfare, intractable poverty and state-sponsored crimes. The Ethiopian regime is very tight with the Pentagon, and Ethiopia supports several U.S. military bases, covert forces and, for example, UAV drone operations.
“According to a recent study by Global Financial Integrity,” Mr. Metho told us, “in the year these land grabs began in full force, 2009, the amount of money leaving [Ethiopia] from bribes, kickbacks, corruption and export mispricing doubled from the previous two years to $3.26 billion while exports were only $2 billion. The author concluded: ‘The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage’.”
Everything is being ‘grabbed’ by the [Ethiopian] regime: our land, our children, our women and our futures: anything from which a kleptocratic regime might profit. In the case of our children, investigations have revealed that in many cases, these children are not truly orphans, but regime cronies are getting away with it because they are above the law. These children are sometimes exploited as commodities to unknowing and sincere prospective adoptive parents.”
How much is that baby in the window?
“It is important to examine the intentions and motivations behind these international adoptions.” Pastor John Stone is a Southern Baptist pastoring a family-integrated Christian evangelical church in Southern California. Out of respect for his church and his community he asked that his real name be withheld. He initially contacted us (through Facebook) in support of a family from his church that contacted him after we questioned their Congolese adoptions.
“The family who is desirous of adopting [from the Congo] is a very fine family. They are members of our church and are doing an excellent work. They have already adopted one child from this orphanage and [name redacted] will be the second. How familiar are you with children who are put up for adoption in the [DRC]? Has anyone done any research? Are these children legitimately qualified to be adopted? Has the very corrupt [Congo] government seen this as a way to bring money into their coffers?”
Pastor John Stone is both offended and worried about the growing adoptions industry. He is particularly offended by the deeply hypocritical actions of evangelical Christians who he says are ‘snatching children’ from foreign lands. He sees adoptive parents showing off their ‘exotic’ children: “It becomes a prestigious move amongst families to be able to say, ‘Oh, we adopted our child from Kazakhstan’.”
“The Bible is very explicit in caring for widows and orphans, but we have to be sure they are orphans.” Out of a deep sense of belief in right and wrong, and the importance of Truth under God, Pastor John Stone feels that his criticisms of the evangelical Christian adoption movement must be addressed with urgency.
I vehemently disagree with snatching kids out of any country without verifying that they are orphans. I am concerned about adoption out of countries instead of establishing good, solid orphanages that turn out solid, believing [in Christ], responsible young adults equipped in all ways to be productive in their own culture. That’s where my heart is. I am for the truth. I’m for doing what is right. And if we have evangelicals who are doing wrong they should be dealt with. That is the way of life. We are called to a holy life, a life of truth. Anything else is false Christianity.
Children have obviously become pawns in this international game of family making. Parents should be alarmed at this story and the anger they feel should be directed at the agencies that are placing children with them with false and fraudulent documentation. Every adopted child anywhere in the world will one day grow up to ask difficult questions to their adoptive families: “Why did my birth family give me up?” and “Where exactly was I born?” “What village?” “What tribe?” If the background of the child is known from birth and the documentation is false then parents and agencies are denying these children their fundamental right to know where they come from. Every adopted child deserves answers to these questions. Adoptive parents must be prepared with comprehensive answers to the ‘why’ and ‘where’ of the child’s adoption. Such facts are being obliterated in the rush to snatch children out of selfishness, greed and hubris.
“There is no way that any foreigner coming into Congo from the USA (Canada, UK, Europe, etc.) could tell if the children they are receiving are real orphans or not,” says Congolese Professor ‘Benjamin’. “By ‘real orphans’ I mean nobody in the extended family of (possibly) deceased parents would take care of the children. Congo is full of stories where children grow up with their relatives and not with the parents. The very concept of ‘orphan’ does not have the same meaning as in the West, which favors the nuclear family. The entire fabric of society in Congo is based on this kind of extended family solidarity that capitalism has not (yet) destroyed completely.”
“Most Westerners do not take time to understand what they are involved in, and what they are doing: they want to supply some charity in a vacuum, a non-contextual social space where they are pure and good and generous. Many of the children ‘abandoned’ by their parents to the orphanages in Kinshasa have been paid to ‘abandon’ these children.”
“In fact, most if not all adoptive parents who have made the journey to the Congo will never invest their time and energy to assure that the child they have come to know, the child they have been promised in advance, the child that they have spent thousands of dollars on already, and the child they so long to take home with them is genuinely an orphan.”
Congolese Professor ‘Benjamin’ and Pastor John Stone and many others believe that investigations should immediately determine who the children are who have been snatched out of Congo, where they have gone, and what their true origins are.
“I see a lot of greed,” says Pastor John Stone. ”There need to be investigations on the ground, where people come from Congo and say, ‘You have a child whose birth parents want their child back’. It shouldn’t end here.” ~
Jennifer Fierberg is a social worker in the US working on peace and justice issues in Africa with an emphasis on the crisis in Rwanda and throughout the central region of Africa. Her articles have been published on many humanitarian sites that are also focused on changing the world through social, political and personal action. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keith Harmon Snow is a war correspondent, photographer and independent investigator, and a four time (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010) Project Censored award winner. He is also the 2009 Regent's Lecturer in Law & Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, recognized for over a decade of work, outside of academia, contesting official narratives on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide while also working as a genocide investigator for the United Nations and other bodies. The first UCSB Regent's Lecturer, in 1960, was Aldous Huxley; other recipients include Margaret Mead, Peter Matthiessen and Meredith Monk. Read other articles by Keith, or visit Keith's website.