(Disclaimer: No specific business or agency is being referred to, even indirectly, in this post.)
I live and work in an area of the United States many people call the “Bible belt.” Some has labeled the city where I live “Jerusalem on the Brazos” because of all the churches. There is about one Baptist church per thousand people (in a metro area of about 150,000). It’s common to see huge billboards that contain only the 10 Commandments–no advertising–and bumper stickers with religious messages. Total strangers invite you to their church as soon as they discern you’re new to the area. Some news anchors sign off Saturday night with “Don’t forget to go to church in the morning!” We moved here from a part of the country where all those things are much less common and where religion is much more privatized. So it was strange for us at first, but now we’re getting used to it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I suspect that too much “public display of religion” can be trivializing to religion.
Many businesses here and around the U.S. (I don’t know how common it is in other countries but I haven’t seen it as much when traveling outside the U.S.) include some subtle or not so subtle message about being Christian to attract business. Often a telephone book yellow pages ad will include a Christian symbol–most often a fish symbol or a cross. (Where I live many are more blatant than that and openly say they are Christian businesses.)
Many years ago I edited a Christian scholarly journal dedicated to “faith-learning integration.” It was (and still is) supported by about fifty Christian liberal arts colleges and universities. During my tenure as editor two business professors at a leading Christian college submitted a lengthy article supporting their claim that businesses that advertise as “Christian” (by whatever means) are less likely to be honest than ones that do not. That was a shocker! Their claim was supported by much empirical research; they are both trained in research of that kind. The evidence was convincing.
Ever since then I have looked askance at advertising that contains a fish symbol or cross or any other attempt to attract business using religion. I don’t always avoid them, but I’m wary of them. I am just as suspicious of their practices (read the fine print carefully and ask a lot of questions!) as of those that don’t use religious symbols (if not more so).
Recently I have become aware of the “business” of international adoption. Let me say first that many adoption agencies that specialize in international adoptions are completely honest and trustworthy. However, I have become aware that the field of international adoption has become riddled with dishonesty and abuse. Much of it is legal dishonesty and abuse; laws have not caught up with the problem yet.
Here we have a business (usually at least supposedly non-profit) field that thrives on people’s emotions. Many couples who cannot have children of their own wish strongly to adopt and sometimes from outside the U.S. (for whatever reasons).
Whenever there’s a crying need such as this some unscrupulous entrepreneurs will rush in to meet the need for their own gain. And many of them will claim to be “Christian” adoption organizations or agencies.
What is the most common form of dishonesty and abuse? It is getting anxious would-be parents to sign lengthy contracts that say nothing about a time line, committing the adoption agency and its related orphanages to nothing in terms of meeting certain deadlines, then dragging out the adoption process for many months and often into years.
So what, you ask? Well, in most cases the parents-to-be are paying a rather handsome sum monthly to the adoption agency and/or its related orphanage where awaits their promised child. In many cases (again, I don’t say all) the agency and orphanage refuse to allow the parents-to-be to visit their child and “neglect” to answer their pleas for news of their child and the process. Eventually, many give up and withdraw from the process for lack of funds or out of utter frustration.
Of course, there are even worse abuses and at least rumor has it that they are also rampant in the field of international adoptions: orphanages buying children from desperate mothers, promising families the child they are giving away will get a good education and return to them later, etc., etc. The international adoption oversight community is trying to crack down on this. The Hague Convention rules attempt to prevent such abuses. American embassies increasingly insist on interviewing mothers who are giving their children up for adoption before approving exit visas to the U.S. (for the child or children). So, the most common form of abuse remaining is completely legal and almost impossible to eradicate. That is–holding the child in the orphanage for many months even into years when that is totally unnecessary.
Many abusive international adoption agencies tout themselves as Christian to attract would be adoptive parents. They have an orphanage or orphanages in certain countries–often ones with numerous orphans waiting to be adopted by people inside the country or (more often) in the U.S. An international adoption can easily cost $30,000–depending of course on how long and complicated the adoption process becomes. And in many cases the would-be parents shell out the money and never see their child (after perhaps an initial visit). When some adoption agencies are asked about the money their answers are vague, hinting that they have to pay bribes to move the process along. But, of course, there’s no record of that. Many months ago a young U.S. couple paid $2,700 to their “Christian” adoption agency to “facilitate” a U.S. passport for their adopted child (still in her country of birth) and are now being told by the U.S. embassy that no passport was every applied for.
So, you wonder, why don’t victims sue and/or go public with their stories? Many such contracts include a “gag” clause. Unsuspecting and desperate would-be parents sign them without reading all the fine print or considering what that means. If the contract itself doesn’t include such language, it is added as a condition of a settlement during mediation. Parents desperate to bring their child home will often agree to anything and such a gag order is often what they must agree to if they hope to see their child again. And, of course, most couples cannot afford to sue.
In and through all of this the children are the worstl victims. They languish in orphanages that are often little more than holding places where the children fail to develop normally because they do not have real nurturing from l0ving families. Some (again I do not say all) adoption agencies care more about the money and their reputations than about coming to terms with angry, frustrated and hurt adoptive parents so the child/children can be with them. They drag out the mediation process with legal maneuvers and, in many cases, the adoption is never completed and the parents withdraw (for lack of funds to pay lawyers). In that case the child is promised to another family who begins paying a monthly subvention for his or her upkeep in the orphanage.
This may not be the norm in international adoptions, but it is all too common. Presumably some unscrupulous adoption facilitators, many of them advertising themselves as “Christian,” are lining their pockets handsomely this way.
Two things are needed. First, the U.S. needs to pass strict laws governing international adoption processes so that adoptive parents must be kept informed and strict accounting given them of the money they are spending. The laws should put limits on how long adoption agencies can drag out the process without refunding money. Of course, there needs to be government oversight so that international adoption agencies are accountable to government agencies for everything that they do. Just as it is illegal in the U.S. to travel abroad for certain nefarious purposes, even if the evil activity is taking place totally outside the borders of the U.S., so international adoption agencies based in the U.S. should be held accountable for what goes on in their associated orphanages in other countries. For example, there should be a law that an international adoption agency cannot legally keep adoptive parents from visiting their child or children and from knowing his or her health status and the status of the adoption process “in country.”
Apparently this is a field riddled with a kind of “Wild West” lawlessness. The laws have not caught up with the abuses. International law is cracking down on the worst abuses which are fading away as more and more countries sign the Hague agreements governing international adoptions. But dishonest, unscrupulous adoption agencies are finding ways to take advantage of desperate parents seeking children to adopt.
Second, couples seeking to adopt must NOT be lulled into trust by adoption agencies–by any means. They must read contracts carefully before signing them and ask every conceivable question and close any and all loopholes that might allow the agencies to take advantage of them. They must insist that they be allowed to visit their matched child as frequently as they wish (at their own cost, of course) and be given complete information about the process and reasons for costs at every twist and turn (at least monthly). Finally, the parents ought to insist that their money be refunded if the process breaks down due to ineptitude or neglect on the part of the agency or orphanage.
Ideally, I believe, adoptive parents should have an advocate “in country” to watch over the adoption process there and make sure the agency and orphanage are moving it forward expeditiously while taking good care of the child/children.
Many of you are probably not aware of how serious and wide spread this problem is. It is a horrible situation and very common. Abusive agencies need to be exposed publicly, but, of course, many of them have lawyers and threaten to sue anyone who dares to tell their stories of being mistreated by them. And most adoptive parents are afraid to speak out lest they never see their child/children and, after the adoption (if it ever happens), lest they be sued. Even if their case is solid against the agency, they can’t afford to hire lawyers.
I am calling on Christian media to expose these practices–especially by allegedly “Christian” international adoption agencies and orphanages they own or govern. Here is a case for investigative reporting if ever there was one. And I am calling on Christian churches and other organizations to become involved in holding “Christian” adoption agencies accountable to the highest moral and ethical standards which means putting the well being of the children first, the adoptive parents second, and the agency third. An agency that cannot put the children’s welfare and the satisfaction of the parents with whom they contract first and second, above their own comfort, reputation, and even finances ought to cease to exist.