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Adoption And The Role Of
The Religious Right

By Mirah Riben

04 November, 2007

November is National Adoption Awareness Month: time to take stock and rethink our adoption practices and goals.

Recent headlines reveal such contradictions as:

- 3,700 U.S. families in the process of adopting children from Guatemala are concerned, upset and unsure about their pending adoption because of Guatemala’s crack down on child trafficking.

- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his wife are joyously celebrating their second adoption: both adopted as newborns fresh from American delivery rooms.

- Six French “child rescuers” are among sixteen jailed for illegally taking 103 children from Chad who were neither starving nor orphaned.

Adoption Awareness Month was intended to increase the awareness of the needs of US orphans in foster care who could benefit from adoption. Today, such children number in excess of 100,00 of the half million children in foster care, while we promote and encourage adoption without distinguishing these children from infants who are sought after.

The U.S. imports more infants for adoption that any other nation, while also exporting Black children to Canada and white infants to the wealthy in Britain, Mexico and elsewhere in a seeming endless redistribution redistributing these marketable commodities as private entrepreneurs profit from their demand with little to no regulations.

L. Ann Babb, author of Ethics in American Adoption. reports that American adoption “[professionals] have yet to develop uniform ethical standards… or to make meaningful attempts to monitor their own profession … In other professions and occupations, licensing or certification in a specialty must be earned before an individual can offer expert services in an area. The certified manicurist may not give facials; the certified hair stylist may not offer manicures ….Yet…individuals with professions as different as social work and law, marriage and family therapy, and medicine may call themselves ‘adoption professionals’.”

Babb continues: “There remains no national professional organization for adoption specialists, no professional recognition of adoption practice as a specialty of any discipline, no established education and training requirements, and no regular professional meetings and forums for adoption ‘professionals'.”

Brits are lauding America’s lax regulations that allowed the Miliband’s to twice adopt an American infant. The British media articles bemoan the fact that Britain does not allow such exploitive measures, as if adoption was about providing babies in the quickest way possible with the least amount of red tape, eliciting comments such as:

American websites currently offer[ ] mouth-watering
incentives to would-be buyers. "Delivery within four
months", "Discounts of up to $19,000", they proclaim.
If it were cars they were selling this would not seem
odd, but it's babies that are for sale – bright,
smiling newborns to tempt the childless into parting
with about £20,000.
There is no shame in treating babies like any other
purchase in America, where the adoption industry is
largely privatized… (“Why adoption is so easy in
America” 10/31/07)

Is there no shame?

Why are infants such as these are leaving the US while US couples are traveling half way around the word to meet their desire for a baby when both countries have children in foster care?

The answer is that adoption is far from an altruist social program to care for needy orphans. Instead, adoption is a business; babies are priced based on age, race, ethnicity, health, and physical ability. It all sounds vulgar because it is.

“It feels harsh to use concepts like supply and demand when talking about children and obviously it’s wrong to say that international adoption is just a trade in children,” says Riitta Högbacka, University of Helsinki, Finland, reporting on the global market for adoption . “But if we look at the direction of this human flow—which countries are sending children, which countries are receiving and who is doing the adopting—then it is very clear. It goes from the South to the North and from the East to the West. The recipients are always the richer countries in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Evan B. Donaldson Institute for Adoption, Anaheim Conference “Money, Power and Accountability: The ‘Business’ of Adoption” summary: No., 1999, concludes:“Thinking of adoption in economic terms is an uncomfortable reality. There has been a deterioration of the constraints once put in place to protect members of the triad from exploitation, with market factors such as inflated inventories, scarce commodities, demographic trends in the marketplace, products in oversupply, and the principles of supply and demand affecting adoption services.”

“Profit-based motivation in child placement [that] is … loathsome” and “largely driven by money… Money has become the critical variable for determining who gets a child….” according to L. Anne Babb: The fees western adopters are willing to pay to obtain a child often support a lucrative black market coercing mothers, stealing and kidnapping babies and children that are sold to orphanages to be internationally adopted.

International adoption has become an unregulated “entrepreneurial venture,” according to Debra Harder, network director for Adoptive Families of America. (Laura Mansnerus, “Market Puts Price Tags on the Priceless” New York Times, October 26, 1998)

Högbacka additionally finds that internationally, as well as domestically: “Demand is focused on quite a small group of under three-year-olds, where the number of potential parents far exceeds the supply of children.” (Feb 22, 2006 “The global market for adoption.” SixDegrees cover story)

Child trafficking for adoption is an issue of concern addressed by UNICEF and other non-profit watchdog agencies throughout the world. Sandra Soria, executive director of Peru’s nonprofit Institute for Infancy and the Family said: “It’s a situation that favors the proliferation of these trafficking rings and creates the markets and conditions for these international networks to operate,” said. Soria notes that it is impossible to know how many children are sold each year, for adoption, forced labor, or the sex trade. (Rick Vecchio, “Pregnant Teen’s Murder Shocks Peru.” Associated Press, March 13, 2006.)

The recent incident in Chad illustrated the fact that worldwide 80% of children targeted for international adoption have parents. Even those in orphanages have family who visit them and use these institutions for temporary care. Such was the case with the family of David Banda who Madonna adopted. Children who are truly orphaned, could be adopted within their own nation if not for the competition of foreign fees to orphanages.

Program director of International Social Service, Chantal Saclier is responsible for the United Kingdom’s ISS Resource Centre on the Protection of Children in Adoption. Saclier finds that although inter-country adoption is intended to find stable homes for children who do not have the opportunity for a loving family environment, many of the children being adopted have a family that could have been preserved. Factors such as pressure from wealthy adoptive families, and the selfishness and greed of officials, have created a situation in which economically disadvantaged children are exploited and sold. (Chantal Scalier, “In the Best Interests of the Child? International Resource Centre for the Protection of Children in Adoption.” In: Selman, P., Ed.)

Peter Dodds, author Outer Search\Inner Journey: An Orphan and Adoptee's Quest finds: “International adoption isn't the answer to improving the overall plight of children in developing countries. Even the strongest supporters admit the movement of adoptees across international borders represents only a tiny fraction of the neglected, abused and abandoned children in these countries. And supporters of international adoption are quiet about the children who are not adopted and left behind.”

The stripping of children from eastern Europe, Asia and South has been called colonialism and cultural genocide. According to Ethica, thirteen countries have suspended or ended their adoption programs in the past fifteen years. Another half dozen countries have temporarily stopped adoptions to investigate allegations of corruption or child trafficking, the latest Chad.

Jane Jeong Trenka ( a Korean born adoptee whose Korean mother searched and found her after she was sent to the U.S. and before she was legally adopted. Trenka was raised in rural Minnesota by white American parents, and has been going back and forth from Korea since 1995 maintaining continuous contact with her Korean family since 1988. She writes extensively about the need to end exporting children from Korea. Other Korean born adoptees are returning to their homeland, and some are filled with pain and anger that they were torn from their rich cultural heritage. (Vanessa Hua, “Korean-born in U.S. return to a home they never knew Many locate lost families, others work to change international adoption policy” San Francisco Chronicle. September 11, 2005)

Trenka says, “South Korea’s dependence on the international adoption program has stunted the growth of more appropriate government-funded social welfare programs, as well as delayed the social acceptance of single-parent families….International adoption is NOT the solution. Instead, the South Korean government must find its own solution by investing in sex education, supporting single parents and creating incentives for domestic adoption.” (Adoption from South Korea: Isn’t 50 Years Enough? Jane’s Blog, June 27th, 200)

Jae Ran Kim, a South Korea-born/American raised adoptee and social worker in the field of adoption and child welfare laments: “It is ethnocentric and arrogant to think that the United States has any business telling another country how they should manage the problem of orphaned, abandoned or relinquished children. We can’t even solve this problem within our own shores.

Maureen Flatley political consultant and media advisor specializing in child welfare and adoption, observes: “Our national policy allows large sums of cash to leave the country in an entirely unregulated system and browbeating foreign governments into surrendering children in a decision-making process for their foster children that none of our fifty states would permit for America’s waiting children….Lacking training in foreign policy or a sound regulatory framework, would-be adoptive families and their adoption agencies are encouraged to navigate the increasingly complex and treacherous geopolitics of countries around the world with virtually no training and in many cases a vested self interest. The result has been diplomatic and emotional chaos.” (“Federal Regulation of International Adoption,” Decree, American Adoption Congress, 1999.

Who is behind it all?

The Brits have also rightly pointed to U.S. restrictions on birth control and abortion as a contributing to “marketable” infants in the U.S. The religious right’s imposed morality is perfectly partnered with those whose livelihoods depend upon the redistribution of children.

In May, 2007 Evangelical Christians organizations such as Focus on the Family and pastors from across the nation held a three-day summit in Colorado. members of to promote adoption via a media blitz.

Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, a major player in this new path of evangelism, and present at the summit, expressed concern that foster parents typically are permitted to take children to church but cannot force religion on them. They must adhere to other state guidelines as well, some of which may contradict their faith such as parents “disciplining” their children physically with switches as taught by Dobson, a child psychologist.

While some of the flock may in fact adopt children from foster care, concern for orphaned and abandoned children is a smoke screen to use adoption as a tool against abortion, against single parenthood, and for evangelism. That is why, among those present at this event was Tom Atwood, president of the National Committee for Adoption, the largest lobbying organization of adoption agencies, primarily those of the Later Day Saints. The NCFA is also the major opposition to legislation aimed at restoring adoptees’ right to their own true identity.

The NCFA web page purports to be about finding homes for children in foster care, yet their mission page shows in black and white their first and foremost agenda item: “Train pregnancy counselors and health care workers in infant adoption awareness, so women and teens with unplanned pregnancies can freely consider the loving option of adoption.”

And, contrary to promoting the adoption of U.S. orphans, on the NCFA agenda is “Work[ing] with the U.S. and foreign governments to establish sound policies for inter-country adoption, so foreign orphans can be placed with loving, permanent families.”

The NCFA and the religious right are partners in a full-fledged propaganda war being waged to recruit Christian soldiers through adoption. With all the ingenuity and marketing skills available to them, the NCFA and the religious right couch their pro-adoption stance as a noble plan to help the hundred of thousands of children in foster care, using these kids as the foot in the door by both to get tax incentives and other benefits for their clients who seek to adopt primarily infants. All good social engineers know the advantages of starting with a “blank slate.” (For more on American adoption as social engineering see Barbara Melosh, Ellen Herman, and E. Wayne Carp.)

Ken Connor, the attorney who represented Governor Jeb Bush in the Terri Schiavo case and Vice Chairman of Americans United for Life, reporting on the pro-adoption summit (A Selfless Choice: In Celebration of Adoption, May 12, 2007) calls abortion big business and extols the “virtues” of adoption—a far bigger and corrupt—multi-billion dollar industry.

Connor goes on to tout infant adoption as a win-win for everyone including the mother who suffers a lose-lose: the irrevocable permanent loss of parental rights, her child, and her relationship with him.

Lost in the dogmatic rhetoric being spewed by both ideological extremes among pro-choice and pro-life proponents….is pro-family. UNICEF’s position is that adoption should be a last resort. “Families needing support to care for their children should receive it, and that alternative means of caring for a child should only be considered when, despite this assistance, a child’s family is unavailable, unable or unwilling to care for her or him.”

The only reason to encourage and promote more relinquishments and more adoptions is to fill a “demand” for healthy white infants, which, in fact, is counter to a goal of finding homes for older, non-white, or physically challenged children being supported by state funds. It is uncharitable and un-American. The same is true for supporting and encouraging international adoption.

Other items on their agenda list include the promotion of anti-family, anti-parenting programs such as so-called “safe havens” that allow for the legal abandonment of infants and putative father laws to speed relinquishments of newly born babies, causing one to ask if the real reason is to maintain the supply of “adoptable” [read acceptable] babies for their contributors, cronies, constituents or clients.

Pro-life organizations can be known by whatever family-orientated, all-American cutesie “baby saving” and “hope-filled” names…they may even invoke the name of, or believe that they are doing the work of, God…. but their tactics are all counter to true Family Preservation as spelled out in the constitution of the United States which protects parental rights; the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; and message of Judeo-Christianity. Being pro-family means being supportive of all families…not judging who has the necessary finances or marital status.

Worldwide 80% of children in orphanages have families, most who visit them and hope to regain custody. Poverty is the major cause of children needing adoption, not abuse, neglect or abandonment. Removing children from impoverished families does nothing to ameliorate the plight of the family, village or nation from where they originate.

Not all international adoptions—nor all domestic infant adoptions—support corruption, but there is no way to distinguish which do or to determine the accurate source of children offered by international orphanages. We thus need to rethink our romanticized view of adoption as a “rescue” mission as well as ethnocentric international adoption policies that in many cases support black market trafficking operations. We need to rethink our child adoption policies that ignore the needs of hundreds of thousands of children in domestic foster care who cannot be reunited with family and might benefit from caring homes, and reduce tax loads, while we continue to import children for placement with families ill-equipped to handle their special needs.

Only when adoption puts the needs of orphans first before the demands of those seeking to be parents, can it be “celebrated”, encouraged and promoted.

Mirah Riben is the author of shedding light on…The Dark Side of Adoption (1988) and THE STORK MARKET: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry (2007) and on the Board of Directors of



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