The developing world’s latest export: adoptable children
Many bad things that are done in the world are done by people who are convinced that what they are doing is unquestionably good. In 1992 at an open air mass in Knock, Ireland, Mother Teresa, no doubt under the apprehension that what she was saying was divinely warranted, called for contraceptives to be driven out of the republic. “Let us promise…that we will never allow in this country a single abortion. And no contraceptives.”
Sticking (slightly at least) with the divine theme, Madonna (not the appellation of Mary the supposed mother of Jesus but the pop singer) made her own, more benign intervention in the African continent a decade later to adopt a one-year-old child. Racial, geographical and financial barriers were seemingly broken down and a child with, let’s be honest, little hope of a decent future was given a chance – a real chance – at a better life. One might even call it an act of internationalism. And if there is anything the world needs more of these days, it is internationalism.
It isn’t only Madonna who appears ready to overlook domestic kids in favour of sprogs from overseas, however. The eight agencies that undertake inter-country adoption in the UK received 895 enquiries in 2010-11, which equates to almost 11 per cent of all enquiries about adoption (domestic and inter-country). According to the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies (CVAA), it now receives more enquiries through its website relating to inter-country than to domestic adoption. (Interestingly, the number of enquiries it received spiked in 2007 which, coincidentally, was the year Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie adopted a three-year-old boy from an orphanage in Ho Chi Min City. We are all celebrities now.)
There is something very modern about inter-country adoption. No longer are potential adopters confined to the selection of a child – a baby, very often – from a finite domestic pool, but they can, as in the modern supermarket, sample a blend of exotic variations from far and wide. Money also talks louder on the international stage. Taking a more direct route, the former Dragon’s Den star James Caan, whose estimated wealth is in excess of £100million, offered an impoverished family 100,000 rupees – about £745 – to buy a baby on a trip to Pakistan in 2010, an impulse he later apologised for.
The boom in inter-country adoption has no doubt been encouraged in part by strict rules governing UK adoption: the average time for an adoption to go through is two years and seven months. The rules on inter-country adoption have gotten considerably tighter since the notorious case of the Kilshaws, however, whom the tabloids dubbed “the most hated couple in Britain” after the pair “bought” two American babies over the internet in 2000.
The growing number of inter-country adoptions has unfortunately also brought with it instances of adopters getting “buyers’ remorse” when the fairytale has not been forthcoming. In April 2010, Torry-Ann Hansen of Tennessee sent her seven-year-old adopted son back to Russia together with a note addressed to the Russian authorities saying she no longer wanted him. Citing behavioural problems, she returned the child, together with his one-way Aeroflot ticket, like an unwanted purchase.
Most of those looking to adopt abroad have, I imagine, the same motivation for doing so as those hoping to adopt domestically: a desire to give a child the best possible start in life. And yet the disparities in power and wealth (as with all disparities in power and wealth) inevitably set up a grossly unequal relationship between budding parents in the west and those who “produce” the adoptees of the future in the developing world. Ethiopia accounted for nearly a quarter of all international adoptions to the US in 2010, second only to China. Adoption is fast becoming Ethiopia’s new export, perhaps soon to overtake coffee. Yet not everybody is happy with the way things are going. “We want people to invest in Ethiopia rather than take our children,” Dr Bulti Gutema, head of the government’s adoption authority, has said. Media investigations have also found evidence to suggest that some adoption agencies have recruited children from intact families.
Without wishing to sound too much like a dyed-in-the-wool nativist, one also need not go all the way to Africa or China to find deprived children. The number of kids in care in the UK has increased by 4,510 – a rise of almost eight per cent – since 2006, when there were 59,890. Yet there were 500 fewer adoptions last year, down from 3,700. Research has shown that children in care are more likely to have no educational qualifications, to become homeless, to commit crime and, in the case of girls, to become teenage mothers. We also know that for every year that a child in care is not adopted, his or her chances of finding parents decreases by 20 per cent. Do not, whatever you do, accept the idea that the “deserving poor” (if you really must use such definitions) exist only overseas.
I have listened to young women in my peer group say on a number of occasions that they have no plans to get pregnant because it will “ruin” their bodies. “Why have a baby yourself, and put yourself through all that, when you can adopt?” as a female friend rhetorically put it to me. As a man I am in no position to judge the pros and cons of pregnancy. How could I possibly make a judgement on that? All the same: how very modern. If the statistics are correct, and if these young women follow through on their plans, there is a good chance one or two of them will look to the developing world for children. Which leads me to a thought I’m not sure that I wanted: would we then, as a society, have arrived at a place where childbirth, like so many other unpleasant things, was being contracted out to the women of the developing world?
Follow James on Twitter @ObligedtooffendTagged in: Adoption
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