International Adoption in Boston Globe

I just wanted to point out an op-ed and its aftermath that I spotted in the Boston Globe this past week.

The first op-ed written by E.J. Graff, has some valid points and criticism.  I think this notion of adoption as “Rescue” and as “Humanitarianism,” is a very real issue.

One point that I want to emphasize is how the author indicates that the act of adoption is actually the end of a vicious cycle where poverty, fuels this inability for many families to take care of their children.  Graff says that perhaps what we should be focusing on is strengthening these counties’ socio-economic infrastructures.  Too often we look at adoption forgetting the circumstances and socio-economic realities that created these adoptions in the first place.

Overall I believe this article touches upon themes that are often missed.  I look to Graff’s earlier notion that it is the pre-existing socio-economic conditions that have led many of these sending countries to where they are today.  And that adoptions are and have been a band-aid approach to many countries’ experiences with poverty, and the social stigmas of out of wedlock births.  Let’s not forget that adoption is and always has been a temporary solution as countries attempt to regain their socio-economic footing.

The results of this op-ed are a number of comments which you can read on the Boston Globe website, and a few Letters to the Editor.   I’ll post the original Op-ed, and letters to the editors below.

I also want to mention that E.J. Graff also works for the The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.  She is also the author of tarticle titled “The Lie We Love.”

I hope you’ll take a look.  -GS

The problem with saving the world’s ‘orphans’

IT’S THE TIME of year when we are deluged with appeals to save the world’s millions of orphans. On TV, in the newspaper, in our mailboxes, we see sad-eyed children who are starved for food, clothes, and affection. Surely only Ebenezer Scrooge (or his Seuss-ical incarnation, the Grinch) could turn away with a hard heart.

But when these appeals are combined with glamorous examples like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s world adoption tour, would-be humanitarians can arrive at a dangerous belief: Western families can – and should – help solve this “world orphan crisis” by adopting.

It’s true that, sometimes, international adoption can save a child’s life. But be very careful. By heading to a poor, underdeveloped, or war-torn country to adopt a baby, Westerners can inadvertently achieve the opposite of what they intend. Instead of saving a child, they may create an orphan. The large sums of money that adoption agencies offer for poor countries’ babies too often induce unscrupulous operators to buy, coerce, defraud, or kidnap children from families that would have loved, cared for, and raised those children to adulthood.

How does this misunderstanding happen? One problem is the word “orphan.” UNICEF reports 132 million orphans worldwide. UNICEF’s odd definition includes “single orphans” who have lost just one parent, and “double orphans” being cared for by extended families. Admirably enough, UNICEF is trying to raise money to offer assistance and support to these children’s families, and to build functioning child welfare systems that will benefit entire communities. But few Americans would think of these children as “orphans.”

Another problem is that the abandoned or orphaned children who actually do need homes are rarely the healthy infants or toddlers that most Westerners feel prepared to adopt. The majority of children who need “forever families,” as the adoption industry puts it, are five or older, disabled, chronically ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need of extra care. The exception is China, where the one-child policy led to an epidemic of abandoned girls. But China’s abandoned babies are historically unique. In Africa, for instance, children may be orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS or malaria or TB. In the former Soviet bloc, the parents may have died or lost custody because of alcohol-related illnesses or domestic violence. In Asia, the children themselves may be HIV-positive or suffer from chronic hepatitis B.

But from an adoption agency’s standpoint, these needy orphans are not very “marketable.” So here’s the bad news: to meet Western families’ longings to adopt healthy babies, many adoption agencies pour disproportionately enormous sums into poor, corrupt countries – few questions asked – in search of healthy children ages three and under. Those sums can induce some locals to buy, coerce, defraud or kidnap children from their families. Traumatically, these children are deprived of their families, and families are deprived of their children.

Consider that, after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, institutionalized Romanian children desperately needed families. Thousands of generous Westerners went to Romania to adopt – but were swindled into buying babies directly from families who would not otherwise have relinquished. Similarly, for more than a decade in Guatemala, few Westerners were adopting needy abandoned children; far too often, they were effectively – albeit unintentionally – buying healthy babies solicited (in some cases, apparently, conceived and borne) specifically for the adoption trade. Guatemala and Romania have halted international adoption because of widespread corruption. As the respected nonprofit World Vision UK put it, “The urge to adopt across continents is well meaning but misguided.”

Don’t harden your heart to those sad-eyed “orphans” – but don’t feel guilty if you can’t (or don’t want to) become a Jolie-Pitt world adoption mission. Rather than trying to rescue a single child, which can induce trafficking, invest in and rescue a community, thus preventing children from being orphaned by poverty or disease. Buy supplies for underprivileged schools. Invest in clean water or housing. Go on a medical mission. And remember that most families – like your own – would do almost anything to keep their babies home and to raise them well.

E.J. Graff is associate director and senior researcher at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Read her investigation into adoption corruption at

Critique of adoption is out of touch with reality

RE “THE problem with saving the world’s ‘orphans’ “ (Op-ed, Dec. 11): E.J. Graff promotes her negative point of view regarding international adoptions without taking into account the reality of life for millions of children around the world who live without a family or home, clean water, medical care, or an opportunity for education.

I have traveled to orphanages in more than 20 countries and seen the enormous needs that exist for children who have no parents to care for them. Graff should know that US agencies put enormous efforts into programs abroad for disadvantaged families as well as the work that goes into the successful adoptive placement of thousands of older children and those with special medical needs. She does a great disservice to so many underprivileged children as well as the ethical agencies involved in the work of helping children all over the world have a better future.

Vicki Peterson
Executive director of external affairs
Wide Horizons for Children

Loving parents, not heroes

DON’T PUT adoptive parents in the same nursery as Brad and Angelina (“The problem with saving the world’s ‘orphans’ “). People who adopt internationally are doing so to be loving parents, not heroes, and do not want to be stopped and told, “Your children are so lucky,” as we were when our South American children were young.

Prospective parents take the difficult foreign route because it works. A baby or young child is usually available within a year as opposed to multiple years for domestic adoption.

Through our long visits to each country, we met the children’s birth mothers and learned about the families’ cultures. Corruption may exist. What we saw, however, were supportive and loving people ready to help us build a family.

Cynthia Sorn
Paul Anagnostopoulos


One Comment on “International Adoption in Boston Globe

  1. First world governments have tried for much of the last 50 years (longer perhaps) to improve the socio-economic status of the third world through aid packages. Somehow, all this money, in the trillions of dollars, has not made it to the “little structures” that impact childrens’ lives. Little things like orphanages that need screens on windows to prevent mosquitoes or blankets for winter months or … The list is surely endless. So, when those government officials or NGOs or contractors make off with enough money to provide for orphans’ basic needs, why don’t we blame them for THAT. It is one thing to convict or arrest for fraud. It is quite another to use an opportunity cost argument to say that the $1,000 you swindled cost the lives of 6 orphans who died of preventable illness. SO, you are hereby accused of 6 counts of manslaughter. Which is more outrageous? Which will sell more papers or rivet the news audience more?
    No, we aren’t aware of the consequences of our actions OR those of others. So, adoptive parents continue to do what they can, until the rest of us wake up some more… Let’s save the harsh judgment for our own inability to solve the big problem, and leave them, their families, and the changes and the help they do offer, alone.

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