Where Do Babies Come From, and Where Do They Go?
April 19, 2011 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Interactive map of international adoptions, from the superlative Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. The site contains an amazing amount of information about corruption in international adoption in countries like Nepal and Vietnam.
posted by the young rope-rider (18 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
From a linked article “The Lie We Love" (pdf):

UNICEF itself is partly responsible for this erroneous assumption [that there are tons of orphaned babies waiting for international adoptive parents to save them]. The organization’s statistics on orphans and institutionalized children are widely quoted to justify the need for international adoption. In 2006, unicef reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But the organization’s definition of “orphan” includes children who have lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Just 10 percent of the total—13 million children—have lost both parents, and most of these live with extended family.

Really heart breaking, thank you for the informative post.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:06 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The west will pay almost anything for an almost-white baby...
posted by gjc at 6:36 PM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine, who is never going to be able to have kids because of a medical issue she has, told me that if she was going to adopt she would adopt internationally because then there would be no interference from living family members. I felt incredibly queasy at the thought. As someone who doesn't want babies herself, I can appreciate that other people do, but I have to say that I am not sure how noble adoption is, especially international adoption.

And this map is part of the reason why. Clearly we can see mostly rich, mostly white countries going into poor countries for children. And why would we want to have help improve the lives of the people in those countries? If their GDP was higher the supply of babies would dry up. After all, how many upper class people are putting their babies up for adoption? Probably very few.

I don't want to come down on adoption entirely. There are cases of people with options who make a rational, thought-out decision, genuine orphans with no living relatives, and children whose parents lose custody fairly. And I get that someone who loves kids in generally going to want to bring one home, not to love the kids by enabling them to stay on the other side of the world with relatives. That's pretty natural, and its not as though I am completely selfless in life. Still, I think we need to discuss this in the broad cultural narrative, because there is entirely too much dark blue on that map.
posted by jenlovesponies at 7:36 PM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's an interesting topic, but there's nothing useful about that map. The "adopting" countries are what you'd expect, and breaking down the "adoptee" countries by "some reports of irregularities" and "many reports of irregularities" is meaningless. "Some" and "Many" are useless categories to start, but given that any meaningful analysis would have to be based upon percentages and not absolute numbers, I don't really understand what the idea was behind the project.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:12 PM on April 19, 2011

The west will pay almost anything for an almost-white baby...

Are you talking about this post or something else? Because I see shades of blue everywhere, including all over Africa and Southeast Asia. Given that, where do the not-almost-white babies come from?
posted by moxiedoll at 8:15 PM on April 19, 2011

In my wife's village in Northern Vietnam it's not unheard-of for families to sell one or more children to make ends meet. Most often they are sold to other local families who can't have children of their own, but I think I recall hearing of sales over the border to China, too.

What's so terrible about compensating birth parents for an adopted child?

It sounds like what happened in the orphanages was something more sinister, though, involving coercion by the authorities.

The bit about scores of orphaned girls turning up at a Hanoi adoption center is totally unsurprising. Boys outnumber girls 120 - 100 at birth in Hanoi; girl children are somtimes unwanted, but it makes sense if parents thought there was a way to secure for their unwanted daughter a better life overseas they would go for it.
posted by grubby at 9:06 PM on April 19, 2011

"What's so terrible about compensating birth parents for an adopted child?"

It creates a market. Typically we don't want people procreating in order to sell the product.

It's sort-of like the well-meaning charitable organizations buying people out of slavery in the Sudan: They've mostly succeeded in driving up the prices and increasing the violence and kidnapping, since the slave traders know wealthy westerners will pay for slaves.

Any time you introduce money to transactions involving people or bodies or body parts, you introduce the possibility of trafficking and human rights abuses. Not that the correct answer is to stand by and do nothing, or that a market is necessarily the wrong answer, but you really have to think through the implications very carefully, and your calculations have to include, "So what if the worst person in the world wanted to make money off this? And then had 100 copycats for whatever scheme he thought up?" Because that's almost certain to happen.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:57 PM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I notice that most of the light blue countries are smaller, more isolated, or have only recently started being involved in international adoption. That makes me suspect that "low numbers of reports of irregularities" actually means "little information available" and "no one has investigated these adoption agencies yet".
posted by lollusc at 1:01 AM on April 20, 2011

"Typically we don't want people procreating in order to sell the product"

I don't think anyone is claiming this is what happened here. And it doesn't appear to be the case in my wife's village, although it is depressingly common here for parents to sell their older children (girls, for the most part) into servitude or worse.

Note also that surrogacy for money is allowed to exist and hasn't led to baby farms.
posted by grubby at 1:06 AM on April 20, 2011

"I don't think anyone is claiming this is what happened here."

No. I'm just responding to what's typically wrong with compensating birth parents for adoptions.

"Note also that surrogacy for money is allowed to exist and hasn't led to baby farms."

While most surrogacy contracts work out perfectly fine, surrogacy for money in the United States is absolutely rife with ethical abuses, and is largely contracts between wealthy white parents and impoverished surrogates, many from minority groups. It's not uncommon (though in some states, theoretically illegal) for the surrogates to have no attorney when they sign the surrogacy contract or (perhaps worse) for the surrogate's attorney to be paid for by the parents and beholden to them. Surrogates may have a limited grasp of English when signing the contract (with no attorney) and not understand what they're signing. Any lawyer with even a tangential knowledge of how surrogacy is actually carried out in the U.S. has horror stories of the parents backing out on the slimmest of technicalities (leaving the impoverished surrogate with a baby and no payment), subjecting surrogates to unconscionably restrictive contracts, refusing to pay the promised amount, demands for selective reductions or complete abortions in contravention of the contract, refusing to "accept delivery" of a disabled child or make payment in that case, etc. Psychological examination of either the surrogate or the contracting parents is typically not required, and not everyone who wants to enter this type of contract is really mentally ready to do so, and in the worst case scenario that rebounds on the child. State laws are a patchwork of attempts to deal with (or ignore) these problems in a variety of ways, but there are problems in every state. Also, as states tighten up their rules to be fairer to surrogates and address these types of problems, agencies of varying degrees of shadiness are opening that move surrogacy overseas where it's cheaper and less-regulated, and a variety of new and different abuses in that system are already coming to light. Surrogacy is kind-of a terrible example because of the absolutely rampant exploitation of the poor by the rich. We need a much broader societal discussion of what fair surrogacy would look like, and then we need to actually enforce those standards and punish those who abuse them. Here's a recent short article.

(Side note, another semi-common source of surrogates in the U.S. is actually military wives, who are typically NOT exploited, but whose medical care during surrogacy is paid for by the U.S. government, which is not, technically, allowed, and has led to a couple of edge cases where it appears that the money paid is clearly to purchase the baby, not the service, since the service is being (illegally) covered by tax dollars. Eventually some creative prosecutor running for higher office will decide to prosecute this and boy will that be a circus.)

Plus the weirdness and cognitive dissonance where (in most of the U.S.) you can rent women's reproductive systems for the un-fun of pregnancy (surrogacy) but not the fun of sex (prostitution). That's a little weird.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:20 AM on April 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

Are you talking about this post or something else? Because I see shades of blue everywhere, including all over Africa and Southeast Asia. Given that, where do the not-almost-white babies come from?

There must be *some* reason why people are going overseas with sacks of cash (*) to adopt children when there are tons of kids right here in the US of A who need good parents.

Maybe its not always race, but it is something besides just wanting to help children.

(*) Not being hyperbolic. I've seen it happen. I'm not judging (too much) the people who do it, but that it happens really makes me feel yucky. Eyebrows McGee is dead on about creating a market.
posted by gjc at 5:14 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know about Vietnam, but women in Guatemala were having children specifically for international adoption, according to the module linked from this map.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:13 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are not tons of babies in the US. At least, not healthy--or, not drug-exposed--babies.

I know a number of families who've adopted internationally, including two familes that, between them, adopted four daughters from Cambodia right during the years that were cited in one of these articles as the worst for abuses. If I were them, I'd have my hands over my ears going "la la la la la" because the idea that you might have inadvertently taken a child from a family who wanted to raise her is pretty scary.

I have a daughter who was adopted domestically, and we had a custody dispute with her birthfathr. More than one of these families said, "See, this is exactly why we went overseas."

These were good, thorough, thoughtful articles. I wasn't able to see the map because I'm reading on my iPad. But I appreciate the links, thanks young rope-rider.
posted by not that girl at 7:05 AM on April 20, 2011

"What's so terrible about compensating birth parents for an adopted child?"

The people making the most money are the people stealing the children, by defrauding the birth parents or by kidnapping. Birth parents don't seem to benefit nearly as much as corrupt agencies, orphanages, and "facilitators". The biggest profit goes to the traffickers and those who assist them.

It is wrong to exploit vulnerable people and sell children.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:12 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Major grar here, just to give you a warning.

(Rant on)

In the last couple of years, the US has made extensive reforms to its procedures for international adoptions. Today, if you're going to be adopting from overseas to the US, there needs to be a DNA test (to ensure that the child up for adoption really is the child of the woman in question), two interviews with a social worker and/or embassy official (to ensure that the woman giving up the child is doing so of her own free will), medical tests, and so on. Then, the foreign government gets involved as well, ensuring that there are no family members in-country who can take the child (along with other checks that might be required). These are responses to abuses in the past, but I really do believe that things are improving now. The US is also now a signatory to the Hague Convention on International Adoption, which regulates and standardizes many of the requirements.

I do not deny that there have been, and may still be, corruption in adoption. There's corruption just about everywhere (and in every context) that you have a meeting of money and poverty. But to suggest that rich white Westerners are simply buying third-world children through an inherently corrupt system is, in my opinion, simply wrong (and dangerous). International adoption is the most regulated, most intrusive, most exhausting, and most difficult thing that the average private Western citizen will ever do in their lifetime.

And I truly believe that international adoption (when done right) serves the greater good. In Guatemala, women and girls face murder and rape in alarming proportions. In Brazil, families live on trash dumps. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe a million homeless and abandoned children in Haiti. I could go on, but you can Google as well as I can. My point is that if I can save one orphan child, just one, from a life of wretched poverty, horrific crime, and an early death, how is that a bad thing?
posted by math at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2011

The Haiti earthquake happened during a talk radio program on my local NPR affiliate. The very first call was a woman, clearly quite distraught, asking if it would become easier to adopt a baby from Haiti.
posted by miyabo at 7:31 AM on April 21, 2011

math, I think you'd enjoy the more comprehensive articles on the site about the Hague convention and the ways that international adoption can improve. Its focus is on corruption in adoption, so it necessarily talks about the negative stories.

The Hague convention is only in effect in countries that have signed it, the US doesn't bar adoptions from non-Hague countries.

US-based agencies vary wildly in how thorough they are in evaluating adoptive parents. There are problems there. The biggest problems, and what this journalism focuses on, are in the countries of origin. Whether or not your homestudy was thorough has nothing to do with the consent (or lack thereof) of parents to having their children adopted.

Women in Guatemala, for a while, could add "having a loved and wanted child stolen" to murder and rape as everyday dangers. International adoption made their lives significantly worse, not better.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:58 AM on April 21, 2011

I am an adult adoptee from a closed domestic adoption in the US. This means that I can never know information about myself that is not only of emotional importance (i.e., my name, my race, any history of my family, even my true birthdate) but, as I get older, has become life-threatening in that I can not know any family medical history. I have developed several genetic illnesses and issues that could have been controlled much earlier and much easier if I had ever had any knowledge whatsoever of where and who I came from. Foreign adoptions face these same problems, as often there is no way to find any information about the children's lives before they were given up to the adoption agency. People who are not adoptees don't think about these things. It will become a bigger social issue as all the foreign-born adoptees grow up and begin to age and become ill, particularly as they are often adopted into families who are fairly wealthy and have access to medical care.
posted by TrixieBiltmore at 8:03 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

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