Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Orphan Fever: Deception and Misunderstanding

Wenxin's Arrival in America Back in 2010

Christians, orphans and international adoption. My post over the weekend about the evangelical orphan care movement generated some good discussion in the comments section.

Kathryn Joyce, author of the Mother Jones article, Orphan Fever: The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession, recently did a radio interview for NPR. The radio interview is actually much kinder to evangelical Christians than the article in Mother Jones.

Ms. Joyce uses examples from Guatemala and Ethiopia to illustrate the deception and misunderstanding that can occur in international adoption, although these are not, by any means, the only countries where problems have been reported.

Most parents who want to give an orphaned child a home would be horrified to discover that their newly adopted child was not abandoned or orphaned, as they'd been told, but had actually been recruited by a child finder. 

Most parents would be shocked to find that their adopted 10-year-old was, in reality, a 14-year-old whose date of birth had been altered to make her more adoptable.

And after sacrificing and spending tens of thousands of dollars to give a child a forever family, who wouldn't be heart-broken to realize that their new child had living relatives in their home country and viewed this not as a permanent arrangement, but as a great opportunity to get an education in America?

Deception and misunderstanding. Although it's not talked about very often, it happens. Well meaning adoptive parents and needy children sometimes fall victim to greed, corruption, and the law of supply and demand in the adoption industry. Cultural misunderstandings abound. Many adoptive parents find out after the fact that the information in their referral paperwork isn't 100% accurate.

By way of contrast, Ms. Jones highlights the country of Rwanda as an example of adoption and orphan care done right. She even gives a shout out to Saddleback Church for their initiatives in Rwanda noting that for Saddleback, orphan care is broader than just international adoption. You can read the entire transcript of the interview here.

I'd love to know what you think. What can prospective adoptive parents do to guard against being deceived in an international adoption? What concerns do you have about international adoption as it stands today?

I have a few thoughts on this issue myself, but I think I'll stop for now and give you a chance to say what's on your mind.

Ni Hao Yall


  1. My brother came from Korea with a treasure trove of "mus-understanding", which is a kind word giving benefit to the doubt. He was presented to our family as environmentally delayed because he was in an orphanage with severely handicapped children. He came to us at 3 yrs which is exactly one year over his mental age of 2 which is currently registers at at the age of 30. My mom said she knew something was amiss when we got him from the airport (the way things were back then....) that something was off. Also you mentioned the age. It was off, by exactly who knows how much, but my 30 year old brother looks far older and doctor's have said it could be by seven years....

    All that being said. 30 years later my brother is a light for mother who has gone through some very hard times. I think some days he is her only friend. It is very hard to see down that long 30 year tunnel to see the light. But it is there. May be 3 days for some, 3 years for others and 53 years....but the light is there for those struggling with untruth, deception, matter how that child Got to you, ultimately it wasn't by accident....Love found a way.

  2. As and adoptee who also adopted internationally it has taken me a long time to come to this. Although some adoption is necessary there are so, so many that are not. My original mother would have been a fabulous mother to me, but she did not have the financial means at the time and no one would help her.

    I have learned recently that our beautiful daughter we adopted may have been available for adoption because her orphanage offers and incentive program for Chinese parents to abandon their children making them available fro adoption.

    To is not your brother's job to be a light for your mother. It is her job to be HIS mother since he lost his original parents. I believe that our thinking about adoption is faulty and we have got to face it. God calls us to HELP orphans, but no where in the Bible does it say in helping them that we should take them from the country of their birth. We have got to look to helping children where they are. It is a complicated maze and we have got to keep talking about it.

    Does adoption have to occur sometimes...absolutely. But as a person who was adopted my loving people who have essentially been strangers to me my whole life, I have to think that we need to start really looking at the best interests of the child...we are not doing that even though we believe we are.

    We have got to stop asking kids to validate what we adults are lacking....

    julie in Tennessee

    1. Julie, thank you so much for speaking up. As an adoptee and and as an adoptive parent and as someone who obviously is thoughtful about international adoption, you have a voice that needs to be heard. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

  3. After adopting our son internationally (at age 10), we have delved more into why he was with a foster family for his first seven years, and then taken to the orphanage, where he was made available for adoption. He lived in the orphanage for 3 years before we picked him up. The name and information about the foster family, the only family he had ever known, was not provided to us, and there is a lot of secrecy around giving out that information. Because our son remembered their phone number, we have been able to reconnect. I have since learned that they were heartbroken to have him taken away and that it was for purely financial reasons (they get more money from an international adoption) that he was not allowed to be adopted in his own country by the family that raised him for his early childhood. I know not all foster families are good ones, and I am so grateful that my son had a loving family, because they are why he is a friendly, happy kid. But I still wonder if the greater opportunities he has with us are worth taking a child from his home country, language, culture, and a foster family who loved him. My husband and I have struggled with some ill feelings about the financial gains that countries get from adopting their children out. I'm sure each child's story is different, but I think there needs to be more transparency about the process in these countries so adoptive families know when there are, in fact, other options for some of these kids that might not be so traumatic as being taken to a completely new life.


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