This article by EJ Graff is a fascinating look into international adoption practices. It pulls the cover back on the myth that there are thousands upon thousands of adoptable babies in the world, just waiting to be saved from poverty and abandonment. In fact, international adoption operates very much on the gray market, with babies being procured like products through coercion, bribery and sometimes out-right stealing. As certain countries are positioned as adoption “hot-spots” — trendy or easy places from which to adopt a child — and unethical practices flourish, the reaction from the U.S. government is often too little too late.
According to these internal documents, the State Department was confident it had discovered systemic nationwide corruption in Vietnam — a network of adoption agency representatives, village officials, orphanage directors, nurses, hospital administrators, police officers, and government officials who were profiting by paying for, defrauding, coercing, or even simply stealing Vietnamese children from their families to sell them to unsuspecting Americans. And yet, as these documents reveal, U.S. officials in Hanoi did not have the right tools to shut down the infant peddlers while allowing the truly needed adoptions to continue. Understanding how little the State Department and USCIS could do, despite how hard they tried, helps reveal what these U.S. government agencies need to respond more effectively in the current adoption hot spots, Nepal and Ethiopia — and in whatever country might be struck by adoption profiteering next.
This summary of 10 adoption cases in Vietnam illustrates the situation — and it’s disturbing. Adoption can be a great thing, and there are certainly many children in need. But when there’s a demand by wealthier nations for children from poorer ones, the poorer ones are under a lot of pressure to meet that supply. The practice of simply cutting off adoptions doesn’t get the root of the problem.
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