Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Experts Respond to "The Baby Business"

The Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism asked "adoption professionals" to respond to the publication of E.J. Graff's "The Baby Business", published in the Summer 2010 journal "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas".

While many of the responses are predictable (JCICS, the mouthpiece of the adoption agencies, downplays adoption corruption with this rationalization: "Unfortunately, in virtually every human endeavor, isolated individuals use human suffering for their own advancement. This can be seen in banking, commerce, and human services."), some, such as PEAR's, offer a broader recognition of the problems of corruption.

Any discussion of corruption in international adoption must, of necessity, address the problems one sees in China, an area that E.J. Graff practically ignores in her studies. Of the respondents, only PEAR references stories of corruption in China's program. Given that China is the single largest source of children in international adoption (accounting for 3,000 of the 12,700 international adoptions into the U.S. in 2009), a refusal to address allegations of widespread corruption in that country leaves a gaping hole in Graff's study, as well as the responses.

It is now clear to all but the most ardent defenders of China's adoption program that corruption episodes such as those seen in Hunan, Guizhou, Jiangxi and other Provinces are not "isolated events", but systemic issues. Orphanage adoption records for the six Hunan scandal orphanages, for example, prove that almost EVERY child adopted from those orphanages between 2000 and 2005 were obtained through trafficking. Testimony of participants in that story, as well as those involved in such programs today, show that these programs started in many areas as early as 1995, when less than 3,000 children were being adopted from China world-wide. As demand for Chinese infants increased to over 6,000 in 2000, many orphanages instituted all-out baby-buying programs. In Jiangxi Province, China's largest adopting Province, over 80% of all adoptions originate in orphanages displaying evidence of baby-buying and Family Planning confiscations.

E.J. Graff, as well as most of the respondents, focus on the domestic side of the problem -- agency directors and employees, in-country-liaisons, etc. The presumption is that while the countries themselves seek to operate ethically, isolated players within the system might participate in unethical behavior. The Hague Agreement is touted as the safety mechanism for abuse, and a push is made to get all adoptions to comply with Hague guarantees.

Unfortunately, the Hague Agreement is only effective if the ratifying countries take it seriously. Considerable evidence suggests that many don't. For all its professions of ‘subsidiarity’, transparency and verifiability, the Hague Agreement is powerless to do anything to enforce these principles. As the Dutch Parliament hearings showed, it is all built on a foundation of trust. If a sending country like China is untrustworthy, there is little receiving countries can do except terminate adoption agreements, something that receiving countries are reticent to do.

And why are they reticent? Because at the end of the day adoption is, as Graff aptly names her study, about "the baby business." The voices for the status quo are loud and numerous; the voices for ethics and reform few and easily drowned out. The political constituency for continuing a corrupt program often includes waiting families, adoption professionals, and religious activists who see adoption, even if conducted under clouds of corruption and abuse, as ultimately better for the child. The political realities include trade agreements, economic benefits, and political goodwill. With such powerful forces on the side of perpetuating a "working" program, voices of alarm and experience are quickly drowned out and labeled as outsiders to be ignored.

As I wrote in the midst of China's Hunan scandal,
“Maybe I expect a perfect system, one in which no one’s rights are infringed upon, and where the children are always prioritized. A system where the governments, agencies and adoptive families think first what is best for the child, and second what is best for them. A system where an orphanage director would never willingly encourage or force a birth family to relinquish their child, and adoptive families would never participate if they suspected such things were happening.” In the five years since that day I realize that such a expectation is in all likelihood unreasonable.

Monday, June 07, 2010

A Look At the Provinces II: Jiangxi

Over on our subscription blog, we have completed our analysis of China's largest adopting Province -- Jiangxi Province in central China (a previous analysis focused on Chongqing Municipality). This largely rural Province has supplied more than 17,000 children for international adoption since 2003. Where were these kids found? How old were they? How many boys have been found? An analysis of this and other data allows us to make assessments into how reliable the information provided by the orphanages is, and come to some solid conclusions as to which orphanages have incentive programs in place.

Our subscription blog can be accessed for $20 per year. This nominal amount is assessed in order to control who is able to read the material. The information on the subscription blog is very specific, with interviews, photos, and video obtained from trusted sources in China. The subscription blog is our best attempt at making the information available to adoptive families, while still maintaining security of our sources. We have no doubt adoptive families will find the information on the subscription blog highly interesting, and extremely important to their child's pre-adoption history.

You can access the private blog here.