Adoption Globally and Locally

Differences between the U.S. and Russia over a variety of international security, Arab Spring, and diplomatic issues appeared to come to nadir in December when Russia’s legislature banned adoption of their orphans by Americans. While it is hard to see Russia’s action as anything other than revenge for American criticism of the Vladimir Putin government’s constraining of civil liberties, officially it was the highly publicized abuse of Russian adoptees that resulted in the ban. The coverage in Russia was highly inflammatory and provoked outrage. 

Abuse of any child must be taken seriously, but any objective observer would likely agree that cases of ill treatment of Russian adoptees by American parents are rare. No family is perfect but Russian politicians seem to be content that the cash-strapped domestic institutional system for orphans will be better for its most vulnerable youth. The reality is that children everywhere who spend significant time in various orphanages, or are bounced through foster systems—or their foreign equivalents—are at much greater risk for such things as poverty and suicide attempts. Whatever culture or country children reside in, they all require a loving home. 

The Russian kids who are essentially being treated as pawns in this geo-political battle are far more likely to face pervasive abuse (whether verbal, physical, and/or sexual) while in domestic centers says Jedd Medefind of Christian Alliance for Orphans [1] in a recent article for the Center for Public Justice’s Capital Commentary, as compared to being placed in an American home. [2] 

Another criticism advanced by Russians is that, due to the increasing permissiveness of American society, the Russian Orthodox Church fears its children will not be raised in a proper Christian environment, or will be doomed to Hell because of unknown American variations on the Faith. While there may be some grains of truth to this assertion, Cathy Young reported in The Weekly Standard that Russian journalist Yulia Latynina replied sarcastically to the Church’s view by writing that, given the state of Russia’s orphanages, the children would be sure to go to Heaven very soon! [3]

What really may have struck a nerve in Russia is that the world is aware of how many orphans its country has, and its pride has been wounded in that a seemingly powerful country can’t take care of its own people to the point that thousands of outsiders need to look after them instead. A narrative like this simply can’t fit in with Putin’s vision of an assertive and active international role for Russia. Perhaps the ban on Americans may lead more Russians to advocate for and adopt their most vulnerable children. But the traditional American enthusiasm for adoption appears to far outstrip that of other G-20 nations, so, inevitably, there will be needy children denied potential loving homes. 

Christian organizations, particularly those involved in child welfare, should aid diplomatic efforts to remove the ban as soon as possible. In the meantime, reputable organizations can assist couples to locate kids elsewhere in the world, or right here at home. The fallout from Russia, though, is a reminder that adopting kids from another country often is a grueling, emotionally-charged experience for the parents involved. Locating a reputable agency or broker, navigating the complicated laws of the host country, preparing and receiving documentation, potentially making trips to the nation of origin, and paying a variety of fees and expenses can be draining- financially and psychologically. Even after the legal process has been completed, adoptive parents will need to work to socialize a child into a new culture.

Unfortunately, as long as there has been international adoption there have been corruption and the exploitation of children that have gone along with it in some quarters. In some of the worst examples, rings of child traffickers in some countries abduct or coerce poor parents into offering up children and then pass these kids off as orphans. In nations where laws about adoption are sketchy, or facilities to house at-risk kids are sub-standard, the allure of accepting large cash payments from often wealthy American (or other Western) couples is a great temptation for illegal activity. The brokers or agencies that adoptive parents employ, too, can overcharge, or be too closely aligned with the authorities in the sending country to not raise questions about their practices. 

The U.S. government has had to investigate the practices of the adoption systems and networks in a number of countries. International agreements, like the Hague Convention, which was updated several years ago, aim to standardize practices, and report unscrupulous or exploitative actions of what has often been an unregulated and dangerous “market” to enter. Still, couples looking to adopt need to be diligent in selecting only reputable representatives to work with.

It is not being suggested here that foreign adoption is a flawed idea. Nor is it being posited that American couples looking to assist a child from areas of the world riddled with war, political instability, poverty, or harmful cultural practices won't bring about a healthier, more pleasant way of life for the children involved. It is suggested, however, that Americans looking overseas for a child to raise might strongly consider a domestic adoption or provide foster care to an at-risk youth in the United States

The growing income disparity and dysfunction in our society sadly means that American orphans can suffer to a level approaching their peers away from these shores. Babies that have been spared the fate of abortion also need loving homes that can provide for them. While all kinds of adoptions prayerfully entered into are means of providing faith, hope, love, and benefit to all involved, we should remember those in our communities, as well as the high-profile cases beamed on to our screens.

Kirk G. Morrison

Kirk G. Morrison is an organizer of the American Solidarity Party