Adoption being compared to Abduction

I sent the Edmonton Journal the letter, posted below, in response to their editorial cartoon in today’s paper:


Dear Edmonton Journal:

I have always considered myself to have a decent sense of humour.  Additionally, I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the nature and importance of editorial cartoons as satirical fair comment for a wide range of social issues.  As a result, I think it is important to maintain a certain latitude with respect to this kind of commentary.

Having said all of that, cartoonists and their managing editors have the same responsibility to reflect accurate facts and circumstances when employing the cartoon medium as they do when penning a story or column.

Your editorial cartoon of Wednesday February 3, 2010 depicts a western-style business storefront with a sign indicating “Abduction Agency”.  A cartoon callout then comments “We’re like an Adoption Agency-But with less paperwork”.  Is this supposed to represent fair comment on the story concerning a Christian Church Group allegedly attempting to abduct 33 children by driving them across Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic?

You can play any kind of legal/semantic game that you like, but the impression is still clearly that of linking adoption with abduction.  Nothing in your cartoon distinguishes what may be happening in Haiti, or other international jurisdictions, with domestic adoption.  In fact, conspicuously featuring a contemporary storefront in the cartoon only serves to strengthen this inappropriate association.  Additionally, in failing to draw any distinction between the international and domestic processes, you effectively smear both with a brush that may well be proven not to apply to what is actually occurring.

Given the very important work that not-for-profit adoption agencies provide, I would certainly hope that your stories and political comment would demonstrate far more balance in the future.

Edie Pendleton
Small Miracles Adoption

Understanding What’s Happening in Haiti – The Hague Convention

Much has been written recently about international adoptions, most specifically about Haiti, Ethiopia and China. The vast majority of the news has been controversial to say the least. Kathy Williams of Christian Adoption Services recently commented to the CBC that “…now is not the time to start trying to adopt a child from earthquake-ravaged Haiti”. While this is especially true given that Haiti has recently placed a moratorium on all international adoption from their country, it must be understood that international adoption is a minefield at the best of times.

Prior to the more negative news, international adoption received a big “shot in the arm” with the much publicized activities of several high-profile celebrities. The truth is that there are often compelling social, as well as psychological, reasons for not removing children from their families, cultures and nations of birth.

These principles are well-established in the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption which came into force May of 1995 and of which Canada is a signatory. The principles underlying the Hague Convention attempt to ensure that intercountry adoptions only occur when such adoptions are in the best interests of the children. The Hague convention also acknowledges and addresses the prevalence of the abduction, sale, and trafficking of children internationally.

Given the provisions of the Hague Convention, it is clear that children only become legitimately available for International Adoption under the most extreme circumstances.

The Convention dictates that before an adoption can proceed, the originating jurisdiction must:

  • Determine if the child is “adoptable”
  • Ensure that all of the possibilities for placing the child within the State of origin have been given due consideration
  • Conclude that an intercountry adoption is in the child’s best interest
  • Ensure that persons legally required to consent to the adoption have been counselled and informed of the effects of their consent, in particular whether or not an adoption will result in the termination of the legal relationship between the child and his or her birth family
  • Ensure that all the necessary consents are obtained in writing and are witnessed
  • Ensure that the consent of a birthmother is not obtained prior to the birth of the child
  • Ensure that the birthmother has received appropriate counselling
  • Consider the wishes and opinions of the child
  • Ensure that consent has not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind

The convention states that the receiving jurisdiction will:

  • Ensure that prospective adoptive parents are eligible and suited to adopt
  • Ensure that the prospective adoptive parents have been counselled
  • Determine that the child is or will be authorized to enter and reside permanently in that jurisdiction

In truth, not all countries are signatories to the Hague Convention. One of the reasons that poorer countries may not be in a position to sign on to the Convention is the requirement that a central authority be established. Meeting this requirement may prove difficult in countries where there is a lack of means or political sophistication to establish such an authority or to otherwise assume the responsibilities dictated by the Convention. Regardless, most signatory countries have pledged to maintain the standards of the Convention even when dealing with jurisdictions who may not have signed on.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, a child in a poor country can quickly become a valuable commodity in circumstances where prospective parents in a wealthy country are anxious to adopt. It is easy to imagine how, in these circumstances, the “best interests of the child” can be eclipsed by profit motive on one side and the personal agenda of adopters on the other.

Problems specific to countries who traditionally originate adoptions include social, cultural and religious barriers that may argue against emigrating their children. Additionally, laws in many countries may be constantly shifting or be otherwise vulnerable due to lack of political stability in those jurisdictions.

Add to all of that the normal difficulties associated to international transactions involving distance, language and time zones and it is easy to see how the cost and complexity of international adoption quickly becomes a significant issue and should not be considered lightly.

The bottom line is that people who really want to contribute to the immediate and long term success of Haiti’s children should probably consider contributing to a charity that has a long term vision for Haiti’s future.

Allegations of Child-Trafficking In Haiti

One of this morning’s most significant stories involves word coming out of Haiti that 10 members of a Christian church from Idaho have been arrested and charged with child-trafficking after attempting to transport 33 Haitian children across that country’s border with the Dominican Republic. In the preceding few days, Haiti had already announced that it was temporarily suspending all adoptions originating from their country.

The allegations against the Christian church have not been proven and, doubtless, there is more to this particular story that has yet to be revealed, but nobody can argue that the adoption issue has been both an interesting and disturbing side-note to the story of Haiti’s devastating earthquake where some estimates predict that more than 200,000 people may have perished. For me, there are a number of underlying truths that drive to the heart of our human experience, particularly as it reflects on the issues of children, family and adoption.

There can be no doubt that human beings love children and that we tend to love them in an almost limitless and unconditional way. I suspect that these tendencies are locked deep within our primal natures but, regardless, they are nothing less than a powerful and positive expression of our character as a species.

Unfortunately, there is no Human Bill of Rights guaranteeing the right to procreate. In almost all cases, one way or another, nature decides that for us. The innate need, however, to nurture and mentor a child and the importance of children in the creation of families can be an almost overwhelming force for many. This is somewhat amazing when you consider that these needs are sufficiently powerful that people totally commit themselves to protecting and nurturing a child in which they have no direct genetic investment.

Prior to the introduction of new contraceptive technologies and the liberalization of abortion, I suspect that, in the past, there was no actual shortage of babies available for adoption. The new reality is that with sharply lower birth rates and higher infertility rates due, at least in part, to an aging population, that there is now a very distinct and marked scarcity of babies in need of families. At least in Western countries, there is now a distinct excess in the number of individuals wanting to be parents. The list of prospective parents has likewise grown and is no longer restricted to infertile heterosexual couples. Single people as well as gay and lesbian couples are also now competing for available infants.

Unfortunately, this is the backdrop that suddenly appears to transform a disaster of astronomical proportion in Haiti into a cynical opportunity for some. Care must be taken to ensure that any opportunity that presents itself is one that is about the long-term best interests of the children as opposed to an occasion for desperate adults to fulfill their primal needs and desires to be parents.

Nothing in my comments is intended to suggest that adoptions originating from Haiti, or anywhere else for that matter, are in any way improper. As a professional and an advocate for adoption, I was very pleased when several countries including Canada fast-tracked the immigration processing for adoptions from Haiti that were in the final stages of completion. Principally, my comments are meant to stress the importance of a rigorous, diligent and objective adoption process that will ensure the best interests of everybody involved.