Looking for a Big Picture

When I first asked my ethical question last week, it was with a very specific reason in mind. Before I move on from discussing  human trafficking, I want to do full justice to that topic (as well as touch on a couple of things brought up in the comments on these posts).

As a review, my initial question was:

If you were offered the chance to buy a child, knowing that if you did not, they would be sold to slave owners as laborers or sex slaves, would you do it?

Some of you said no. Some of you said yes. Those who said yes frequently said that you would view it as an adoption. This, interestingly, touches on the root of what I wanted to discuss.

The first time that I heard adoption linked in any way to human trafficking, I was incredulous. I suppose that what my family always accused me of growing up may have some truth–I can be naive. It is hard for me to look at an institution created to make families and see anything other than the positive. And, I believe, the institution of adoption is overwhelmingly positive. That doesn’t change the fact that corruption can, and does, exist.

Before choosing domestic adoption as my initial route to motherhood, I did a lot of research. That research included looking into the programs of just about every country that was doing international adoptions six years ago. Certainly, I knew that there were problems at the time. There were a lot of questions about the practices in Guatemala and Cambodia. The expectation of bribes in former Soviet countries was discussed openly (I remember reading that you should go with cash and vodka).

The information was there but, somehow, I really missed the significance of it.

As I said last week, there is a definite correlation between some of the worst countries for human trafficking and countries that have been investigated or closed to international adoption over concerns of baby buying. My initial disbelief of the idea that babies are bought, then placed for adoption, is gone. I accept that it happens (although, again, this is not a majority-of-the-time issue–I truly believe that most adoptions are done ethically).

I just don’t know the right solution for the problem.

Here’s the thing: If someone is desperate enough to sell a child, they are going to sell a child. Unethical adoption agencies are not, by far, the only option for doing so. While the method is wrong, the adoption itself may just end up saving a child from a much worse fate. However, as some of my commenters pointed out, human trafficking is a supply and demand industry. No one would be buying these children (for adoption, sex slavery, forced labor…) if the market didn’t exist.

So, which is worse? Certainly, children should not be bought and sold. Buying a child, even for a “good” reason, is wrong. Let me make it clear that adoptive parents do not go to other countries and buy babies–adoption would cost a heck of a lot less if that were the case (Average cost of a person being trafficked? Ninety dollars. That’s it.). In fact, potential adoptive parents can take every precaution possible against unethical adoptions and still end up in the middle of one without knowing it. The countries where these things occur are notorious for misinformation and scant or changed documentation. The parents are generally acting ethically, while the governments and orphanages/agencies are doing shady things.

Shutting down a country for adoption, however, does nothing to benefit the children caught in this crisis. I found it interesting that, from the comments I received on my other posts, the perception seems to be that people being trafficked are sold by “others.” I believe people kept referring to them as “the traffickers.” The thing is, while there obviously are the middle men that deliver slaves to their destinations, the initial traffickers, very frequently, are family. Parents. Siblings. Aunts and Uncles. In some societies, it is not uncommon for a family to find a wealthy “benefactor” for their daughter when she is still very young. This benefactor will give the family monthly stipends until the child comes of age, at which point she will go “visit” for a couple of weeks. Even in countries that are notorious for sex tourism, little impact would be felt if outsiders stopped paying for their unique brand of services. The cancer, largely, comes from within.

So, what can be done?

I wish I had answers. In the realm of adoption, certainly, accountability is important. Unethical agencies are sometimes more obvious than you would think (and, sometimes, not). Sometimes, however, people choose not to see the signs or question the actions. Obviously, the answer is for everyone to always act with integrity–but that can seem a tough road to travel. Choosing to wait longer for a referral from an ethical agency is hard. Worrying that something will happen to your paperwork that might prevent you from bringing your child home if you don’t pay a bribe is terrifying. But, if the problem is going to stop in the adoption world, it is necessary.

And in the rest of the world? Well, that’s a tougher question. The fact is, deeply held social mores have to change. Bone crushing poverty has to be alleviated. Things like prostitution need to be seen as a much greater evil than is currently the case. Organizations that help keep former slaves free need to be funded. Beyond that–I don’t know. People who do know more have made proposals for ending slavery. I plan on reading Ending Slavery by Kevin Bales to see what his suggestions, after many years of researching this issue, are.

I understand that this is an issue that is so large that it seems overwhelming. If you are capable of nothing else (and so inclined), pray for these people. Sometimes, the biggest changes are started by the smallest acts of faith.



Filed under adoption, Books, Faith, modern slavery, politics

5 responses to “Looking for a Big Picture

  1. I followed the Guat adoption scene quite closely for the past year. Like you said, closing the country does nothing to benefit the children there that are still in need of families. Like you said, the whole issue is so loaded and involved. I’m interested in reading the book you talked about, but I don’t know if my heart can handle it right now.

  2. I won’t lie–it hurts to read some of the stuff in the book. I haven’t even talked about the hardest part to read (child soldiers). I totally get not feeling like you can handle it. I remember reading Night by Elie Weisle shortly after C~ was born, and I wasn’t ready for it. It caused me major anxiety for a long time.

    This is a really charged issue, especially when the adoption angle is put in with it. I tried to be sensitive to it because I really do think that it is so important that kids have the opportunity to be adopted. As I’ve been reading today, adoption has been mentioned in the book–specifically, that there isn’t enough room in the orphanages already and that many of the kids that age out of them get picked up by traffickers. Some orphanage directors even help the traffickers abduct them.

  3. Christina

    Clearly I need to put your blog on my bloglines. Because I missed this conversation and it was a good one.

    You are right, all too often it is the family selling the child. That said, I do believe international adoption contributes to the problem – imagine this scenerio: Woman sells child to orphanage (or gives child to orphanage and orphanage gives woman a “humanitarian” gift of rice or something…there are SO many grays in all of this). A year later, the American family who adopted her child, feeling an obligation to their child’s first family pays to have a new house built for the woman and her family. Everyone in the village sees that selling your child for adoption = new house. Now people who may not have even considered giving up one of their children suddenly has serious incentive to do so. The scenerio I spelled out is not a “what if” – I know of multiple cases of Americans buying houses for Cambodian first families. And other families who arrange for the family to get money periodically, or outfit them with a small business. All of these things are done with the best of intentions, but the unintended consequence is the message it sends to everyone in the village.

    So yes, I do think that sometimes shutting everything down is the only way to stem the tide of trafficking. The key is to then also work on the sex trafficking issue and other things… and to provide families with a better way to support themselves. Which is why we are big supporters of World Vision – they work through the sponsorship of children (thus making it “profitable” to keep them in the family) to bring all kinds of good changes to families and entire villages – and they also have effective campaigns against trafficking.

    Human slavery is a horrible thing and we can’t turn our backs because it is right here in our own backyards… the good news is there are many very good organizations on the front lines who just need our support to make a difference.

  4. Christina

    I just realized it might sound like I’m putting all the blame for adoption-related trafficking on AP’s. I totally didn’t mean to do that. Though I do think they bear some of the burden (too often people just refuse to educate themselves, as you’ve pointed out)… there’s also the issue of unethcial agencies and/or orphanage directors who send people into the villages to “find” children and offer the families money for them. So again you have a case where someone may not have even been considering it, but this finding agent comes along, shows them pictures of happy Cambodian children living the high life in the West, tells them the child will come back and/or sponsor the family to move to the West, and gives them cash on the spot… well that’s a heck of a lot of inducement. It happened in Cambodia, it happened in Vietnam, and I’m guessing it happens all around the world. (for that matter, one could argue it happens to some extent right here in the good ol’ USA, considering how much money goes into some domestic lawyer-driven adoptions).

    For the record, I am not anti-adoption. How on earth could I be with two beautiful SE Asian kids of my own who came to me through adoption? I’m just a lot more aware of the world as it really is than I used to be… but I totally believe ethical adoptions are possible (and more common than unethical ones) and there are good agencies out there. PAP’s just need to do their homework and be willing to wait a little longer.

    And now I’ll hop off my soapbox!
    Christina –
    AP and also co-editor of Voices for Vietnam Adoption Integrity

  5. Christina,

    Thanks for your input! When Elaine was adopting Quinn was the first time that I really heard about the baby buying issue with international adoption. My reaction (before reading this book) was definitely that the countries needed to be shut down. Seeing the trafficking issue discussed outside of the adoption realm, though, does have me questioning that. Obviously, unethical adoptions need to be stopped. And every single one of your points is 100% valid. I wouldn’t argue any of them with you. From what I can tell, though, adoption has such a minor contribution to the problem, but can have such a positive impact. I’m starting to wonder if complete shutdowns throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. Since most orphanages really don’t do much to prepare the kids there to survive in the real world, kids who age out of them are easy pickings for those involved with trafficking. Complete shutdowns just create a greater supply.

    All that being said, I still don’t know the best answer to the problems in adoption, or if they can be fixed without the shutdowns. I just ache for those children who have their chances at a good life decreased that much more when a country is closed.

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