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Is the US State Dept. Opposed to Inter-Country Adoption? - A rebuttal


This weekend, the Christian Post published its third installment of their saga about inter-country adoption, under the title: Is the US State Dept. Opposed to Inter-Country Adoption?

It is a curious little piece, claiming to give an answer to the question why the number of inter-country adoptions over the last 8 years have dropped significantly. Unfortunately the article doesn't investigate the matter, but tries to prove a preconceived idea, that the Hague Convention, UNICEF and the policies of the Department of State are to be blamed for this decline.

The bias of the article is overwhelming, so we'd like to dissect it for our readers and put this piece into perspective. The author starts with the following:

In 2004, Americans adopted 22,991 orphans from other countries. That number has steadily declined to only 9,319 in 2011, according to State Department records. This decline is happening due to a set of complicated factors based partly upon different views regarding what is best for an orphaned child.

While the numbers mentioned are not disputed by anyone, we have to remind ourselves of the aphorism popularized by Mark Twain, which states that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. This is certainly true for the use of inter-country adoption statistics.

Let's look at a graph representing the time-frame mentioned in the Christian Post's article.

This picture seems to suggest that up until 2004, everything was fine in the world of adoption (at least according to the proponents of inter-country adoption), but then a decline set in, leading to "only" 9319 inter-country adoptions in 2011.

However when we take the time frame 1995-2011, we get a very different picture.

Those of us who have at least read some of the economic news of the last decade, will immediately recognize this as a bubble. The question therefore is not what caused the decline, but what caused the preceding boom.

From 1995 to 2004, the number of inter-country adoptions more than doubled, an increase of 13,445 adoption per year. This rise in the number of adoptions was almost entirely caused by increased exports from only three countries: China, Guatemala and Russia, which together contributed to 87% of the overall rise.

China alone contributed to 37% of the increase of foreign adoptions, being the result of starting inter-country adoptions in the early 1990's, in response to its one-child-policy and an overall expansion of its foreign exports.

Russia, after the fall of the communist regime in the early 1990's was still very much in turmoil and didn't have appropriate child care facilities of their own, leading to large numbers of children being sent abroad.

Guatemala up until the mid-1990's was involved in civil war; once the dust settled a very lax legal system was implemented, leading to ever increasing numbers of children being put up for adoption. At some point one of every hundred children born in Guatemala ended up being adopted by an American family.

Ironically, none of these countries had a huge orphan problem, at least not when using the conventional definition:

a child whose parents both have deceased


The decline in inter-country adoptions between 2004 and 2011, can largely be contributed to the same three countries that were responsible for the rise of inter-country. China, Russia and Guatemala together, were responsible for 93% of the fall of the number of adoptions over the last 8 years.

The Christian Post claims there is a complicated set of reasons behind this decline, but singles out one particular issue:

different views regarding what is best for an orphaned child


While it's understandable that the Christian Post focuses on this particular issue, it is after all the only wedge-issue that can be introduced into the discussion, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Both China and Russia are big and powerful countries that set their own agenda, irrespective of international pressure. Together these two countries contribute to 69% of the decline in inter-country adoption, making the different-views reason only a marginal issue.

Let's get back now to the article.

The Christian Post spoke to several international adoption experts to understand why the decline is taking place, and why adoptive parents have recently run into difficulties with the State Department when trying to bring their children home.

Part one of this series was about Becky Morlock, a missionary in India who has been living there for four years because she has been unable to get a visa from the U.S. State Department to bring her child home. Part two followed the Carrolls, Gerigs and Reeveses as they struggled with alleged falsified information and witness badgering from State Department officials when they were getting visas to bring their adopted children home from Ethiopia.

Interestingly enough, the first case is a very odd and rare situation where an American living in India adopts a boy there and later on has difficulties receiving a visa for his entrance in the USA. Formally this is not even a foreign adoption. At the time of the adoption Becky Morlock was a resident of India, working there as a missionary, so the adoption itself was purely a domestic Indian issue. Therefore the whole visa-issue is entirely immigrations related and has nothing to do with inter-country adoption.

The second case is somewhat more interesting, but the reporting is so overwhelmingly one-sided that it is impossible to distill any useful information from it. The article takes the information of the prospective adoptive parents at face value and prints it without any validation. It's not all that difficult to find three families angry with the Department of State, but that doesn't necessarily make a story. If this piece were journalism, at least an attempt was made to contact the American Embassy in Ethiopia for their side of the story, but no such effort seems to be made.

"It's an enormous collapse of a really valid service to children. It didn't just happen by accident. There's a reason that this all happened," Tom DiFilipo, president and CEO of Joint Council on International Children's Services, said in a Jan. 19 interview with The Christian Post.

Sure there is a reason, may we hear it too, or is this just a statement to make things sound nefarious.

Which is a priority: a child's need for a loving family or a child's race and ethnicity? How one answers this question drives some of the disputes over inter-country adoptions, according to Jedd Medefind, president of Christian Alliance for Orphans and former head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the George W. Bush administration, in a Feb. 2 interview with The Christian Post.

"Both internationally, as well as domestically in the U.S., there have been fierce debates over which is more important, a child's ethnic background, or their need for a family," Medefind said.

For those who place a high priority on keeping an orphan close to their country of origin and with families who share their race and ethnicity, an international adoption is a low priority.

"Most everyone is, theoretically, supportive of inter-country adoption," Medefind explained. "Some just place it as such a last resort that it effectively never would happen."

Though a diversity of opinions can be found, the United Nations and UNICEF, the U.N.'s program to help children, tend to be biased toward placing race and ethnicity at a higher priority than a family, according to Medefind.

Never shy to create a false dilemma, Jedd Medefind, here comes to the central argument of the Christian Post's series about inter-country adoption, and of course it has to do with race.

Race, just like abortion and gay marriage is a convenient wedge issue that takes our mind off the issues that really matter. It also helps to instigate there are problems that effectively do not exist.

Like we demonstrated earlier in our post, both the rise and the decline of inter-country adoption is by and large the result of the internal affairs of three countries, two of which (the biggest two) are far too powerful to be influenced by either UNICEF or the US Department of State.

Of course, Medefind knows this, but transparently chooses to throw in this wedge issue to prevent us from looking into what is really going on.

As head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Medefind was responsible for the distribution of money for public services to religious organizations. As such money was funneled to adoption agencies to promote infant adoption promotion campaigns, abstinence only education and various other programs.

After his stint at the White House, Medefind became President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, a group of churches, christian media moguls and adoption agencies.

Throughout his career Medefind has shown a great interest in the financial position of the adoption industry, which has taken a huge hit over the last couple of years.

In short, adoption business is not what it used to be, but since that is too crude to mention, let's instead talk about race issues.

The U.N. is an important player in international adoptions due to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption, which was designed to facilitate inter-country adoption and help ensure that every inter-country adoption is done ethically and in the best interest of the child.

In every country where the Hague has been implemented, however, inter-country adoptions have declined, according to attorney Kelly Ensslin in a Jan. 10 interview with The Christian Post.

Ensslin specializes in representing parents in international adoption cases and was hired by the Carrolls, Gerigs and Reeveses. She first got involved with inter-country adoption cases when she adopted a child from Vietnam four years ago and also ran into difficulties with the State Department.

"I'm a trial lawyer. I used to just fight about money. When my own kid got stuck, I realized there were not very many people in the country who could help me get her out. So, I had to figure out, on my own, how to fight the system, and when the system is your own government, it's damn crazy," Ensslin said.

Ensslin represented 25 families who had adopted children in Nepal in 2010 and is currently representing close to 20 families who adopted children in Ethiopia.

Kelly Ensslin, also a party with financial interest in inter-country adoption, of course knows better than to make silly statements like these. All receiving countries have ratified the Hague Convention, many of them as early as the mid-1990's. Nearly all these countries imported large numbers of children from both China and Russia, and nearly all these countries have seen the number of inter-country adoptions fall, because these two countries reduced their exports.

It is silly to contribute the decline to the implementation of the Hague Convention. If so, it would be equally valid to state that the Hague Convention leads to an increase of inter-country adoption, since France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland all saw the number of adoptions increase, immediately after ratification, during the boom phase between 1995 and 2000.

The U.S. State Department appears to take the position that all inter-country adoptions should, eventually, be done through the Hague Convention. Susan Jacobs was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the newly created Special Adviser for Children's Issues in 2010. The Christian Post contacted her to get the State Department's view on these issues, but she has not returned our call.

A press release announcing Jacobs' appointment stated, "Secretary Clinton has created this new foreign policy position to address inter-country adoption and international parental child abduction."

Concerns over child trafficking, or child abduction, could also be driving some of the State Department's greater scrutiny of international adoptions. There was a case where a couple in Missouri had adopted a child from Guatemala in 2008. Three years later, the child's birth mother claimed the child was stolen from her and went to court to get her child back.

All three experts that The Christian Post interviewed believe, however, that concerns over child trafficking are overblown.

"The claims of child trafficking are definitely not rooted in fact," Medefind said.

We know it is a strong accusation, but when someone lies, we do call him a liar, and in this case Jedd Medefind proves to be a liar.  On this website, we have documented 151 cases of child trafficking related to inter-country adoption. These cases have all been investigated and many articles in notable news outlets have been written about these cases.

Child trafficking for the purpose of inter-country adoption is a proven fact and has been demonstrated over and over in nearly all sending countries. Claiming otherwise makes Jedd Medefind a blatant liar.

The Christian Post is not without blame here either. Though not as obviously pinocchio-like as Medefind's statement, their portrayal of child trafficking is entirely disingenuous. From their article, it seems as if there has only been one case of child trafficking and even a dubious one.

The Christian Post also spoke with a source in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) who confirmed that fraudulent adoptions are very rare.

There are so many truly orphaned children around the world that a potential child trafficker would have little to gain financially by stealing or paying for children. Those involved in adoptions still need to remain diligent, though, to avoid the possibility of child trafficking, Medefind believes.

At least in this case, Medefind keeps to his beliefs, which are completely false, but at least a belief cannot be called a lie. As is the case with beliefs, they are not necessarily rooted in fact. The fact is that there is child trafficking for the purpose of inter-country adoption, and people do make financial gains by stealing or paying for children.

The reason Medefind's belief are refuted by reality lies in the fact that not all orphans are equally adoptable. Prospective adopters have a preference for infants and children up to the age of five. Yet loss of parents has the exact opposite pattern. There are far more orphans in the age-group 12 to 17 than in the age-group 6 to 11, while the age-group 0 to 5 contains the fewest orphans.

With such a skewed distribution of both supply and demand, there is an incentive to create "orphans" in the age-group 0 to 5 to meet the demand for adoptable children. This is especially true since the number of sending countries with a considerable inter-country adoption program is relatively small (70% of inter-country adoptions come from only five countries).

"Poverty, in some cases, is so severe that the promise of a certain amount of money could lure a parent who is on the edge of survival to give up one of their children in exchange for money."

The most difficult adoptions do not have anything to do with fears of child trafficking. Rather, they have to do with figuring out what is in the best interest of the child when the mother is in a desperate situation.

"The place where the hardest ethical decisions are made," Medefind explained, "are when there is a parent, who is still alive, that potentially could still care for this child, but that parent has chosen to give the child up. And the decision of whether to accept that child for adoption or to force the birth parent to keep the child, and to do all you can in supporting them in that, can be a very difficult decision."

Again, the discussion revolves around a subject only partially related to the issue at hand. The top five sending countries (70% of the supply) in 2011  are: China, Ethiopia, Russia, South Korea and Ukraine. Of these five, only Ethiopia is a really dirt-poor country, while South Korea is actually a rich country. China's population may not be the richest in the world, but the country itself is capable of financing much of the debt of United State of America, so should be very well capable of taking care of its own children.

While DiFilipo, Ensslin and Medefind all support the concept of a properly functioning Hague Convention, they all agree that is has not worked in practice.

DiFilipo put it this way: "A good law that can't be implemented is a bad law."

One of the issues with the Hague Convention is that many developing countries do not have the resources to implement it. The Hague Convention requires a plethora of documentation to prove that a child is an orphan before she can be adopted.

"One of the complaints in Ethiopian cases," Ensslin said, "is that the police don't adequately document their investigation into abandoned infants. Well, you go to these police stations and they are essentially lean-to sheds with a desk and a cot and 64 officers. No computers, no filing cabinets. What would we have them do?"

It's funny how Ethiopia is suggested to be an example of how the Hague Convention does not work properly in practice. Ethiopia has not even signed the Hague Convention! For that matter neither have Russia, South Korea and Ukraine. In fact, only 29% of inter-country adoptions relates to children from Hague countries.

The issue then becomes, how much should be demanded to ensure that a child is an orphan before allowing them to be adopted? The more that is demanded, the more orphans there will be without a chance to be adopted by a loving family. The less that is demanded, the more the possibility that children could be adopted for whom adoption is not the best option.

The U.N. and UNICEF also tend to be biased toward making inter-country adoptions more rare, Medefind believes, because officials at these agencies generally believe that orphans are better served by reducing poverty and government corruption than by inter-country adoption. The two approaches to caring for orphans do not need to be exclusive, however.

"Many in the foreign aid world see a zero-sum game between a focus on investing in programs and an openness to inter-country adoption. It doesn't need to be that way," Medefind said.

UNICEF not only tends to be biased towards making inter-country adoptions rare, it is rightfully a goal to do so. Inter-country adoption exists by the fact that sending countries don't have the means or the will to take care of children without parents. Instead of maintaining a dependency on foreign countries to absorb their unwanted children, UNICEF rightfully aims to help countries to become capable of handling their own issues. Calling such a laudable goal a bias, can only be seen as a smear.  Of course maintaining a dependency is good for the adoption industry and for prospective adopters, but has nothing to do with the plight of children in need.

The recent events in Ethiopia and elsewhere suggest that the U.S. State Department may also share a bias against inter-country adoption.

"What you're seeing is a clear position by the U.S. government," DiFilipo said. "There is a strong preference for international adoptions to be completed through the Hague Convention. And, countries that are not party to the Convention, you're seeing a lot of push, and a lot of criticism, and a lot of accusations about corruption and poor practice."

Ethiopia decided this past October, just a few weeks before the backlog in adoptions occurred at the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia, that it would not sign onto the Hague Convention.

Of course, the US government has a preference to work with countries that have signed the Hague Convention too, why else ratify a treaty?

Governments and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) also tend to favor solutions that can be delivered on a mass scale, such as food aid and rooting out corruption in government.

"Adoption cannot be delivered by governments, so, those seeking to solve problems through large scale programs naturally would emphasize the types of solutions that they are best at delivering," Medefind explained.

What a curious statement: "adoption cannot be delivered by governments". Has Medefind ever heard of a country called China, which happens to be the largest supplier of adoptable children, a program run by government officials? Has Medefind ever heard of adoption from foster care in his own native country, programs ran by state governments? Of course it reads well to the small-government crowd, but please keep it fact based.

Domestic politics can also be a source of reductions in the number of adoptions, according to Medefind. A party out of power may criticize a party in power by pointing to the number of adopted children leaving the country as evidence that the government is not working well. The party in power may respond to the criticism by reducing the number of inter-country adoptions.

Sure it can

The USCIS official said there are no current plans or discussion of plans to stop inter-country adoptions from Ethiopia. They also said that they were working closely with officials at the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia to alleviate some of the problems the embassy had processing the adoptions, and they are satisfied with the progress made thus far. The Christian Post also discovered from a congressional source that a meeting was planned for mid-February among the State Department, USCIS and members of Congress or their staff to work out some of the difficulties in the inter-country adoption process.

In the Ethiopian cases investigated by The Christian Post, the problems that the Carrolls, Gerigs and Reeveses faced were not simply a matter of the embassy being more diligent or applying greater scrutiny. They were problems that could only have been created by either incompetence or an intentional desire to reduce adoptions.

"What we're finding, in every [Ethiopian adoption] case," Ensslin said, "is that the children are orphans. The indicators of fraud are nonexistent and are really the product of sloppy work, at best, by the embassy."

Are your pants on fire too, Ms. Ensslin?

The suggestion by the Christian Post that the "problems" created were either incompetence or an intentional desire to reduce adoptions, is again an example of a false dilemma. The Department of State has every incentive to be of assistance to the citizens of the United States as long as it prevents international scandal. Dubious and fraudulent practices in Ethiopia have been rampant and well documented. Of course this has created an atmosphere within the Department of State to be careful about adoptions from Ethiopia. Turning this into a desire to reduce adoptions is not only false, it is completely silly.

Adoption, through-out the ages has been a great topic for politicians of every political leaning to pander to their constituents. Nearly every politician likes to present him/herself as a champion for adoption, because it pays political dividend. Claiming otherwise is foolish beyond reason.

DiFilipo offered suggestions for improving inter-country adoptions out of Ethiopia and making the Hague Convention more workable.

The U.S. embassy in Ethiopia should have more resources to deal with the number of inter-country adoptions from that nation. Plus, the embassy should have a USCIS officer on site to help process the visa applications.

Also, if a developing country is encouraged to sign onto the Hague Convention, there should be resources offered to help that nation implement the convention so that there is not a sudden drop in adoptions.

"Partnerships must be brought to bear. Resources must be brought to bear. Not just encouragement. Not just criticism. There needs to be partnerships and financial assistance," DiFilipo said.

Sure, Tom. Whatever you say.

by Kerry and Niels on Monday, 20 February 2012