From the Library: The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce

From the Library: The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, by Kathryn Joyce October 27, 2013

So I’m going to summarize this book by memory rather than paging through it for details. Here goes:

When we think of adoption, we think of infertile couples, waiting to welcome a newborn home from a years-long waiting list for American children, or going abroad to a dingy, desparate orphanage. But there’s a new kind of adopting family: evangelical Christians, for whom adopting as many Third-World (generally African) children as possible has become a sort of Biblical mandate. The great demand, and the vast profits to be made from the adoption fees, have corrupted the process, with parents being deceived into believing that their children are being temporarily taken to America to be educated, rather than permanently being lost to them, and other children being taken without the knowledge of parents who have brought them to an orphange only temporarily during a time of financial hardships, or in any case, without efforts to find extended family. Often, the adoption agencies are more than willing to bribe officials to get the children out of the country and to their intended adoptive parents.

And when those children arrive in the United States, they mourn the loss of their African families, and struggle to adapt even when the adoptive family is well-intentioned. Even worse, the adoptive families are far from appropriate parents, either in over their heads or just bad people, using the children as unpaid labor, “homeschooling” them without ever providing a proper education, and sometimes being just plain abusive. And they’re adopting far more children than they could ever reasonably parent. One outcome of this is the practice of “re-homing” in which the adoptive parent hands a child over to another party, as a new, unofficial adoptive parent, often repeatedly. In extreme cases, children have been returned to their home countries and dumped — and the adoptive parents have often not even taken the steps of getting the children American citizenship, so they truly have no recourse.

There are churches which have been aggressively promoting adoption. Church members fundraise among themselves to be able to afford the adoption fees. Recently, however, some churches have begun to recognize that they can more effectively help “orphans” in their own countries, essentially providing aid for dozens in-country for the cost of a single adoption. And various countries are clamping down on foreign adoptions — but this produces a cycle, as one country shuts down its foreign adoptions, another experiences a war or natural disaster and becomes the next destination for foreign adoptions.

South Korea is an except to the above — they’ve been a substantial sending country for international adoptions ever since the Korean War, because the country is so hostile to single mothers (but not premarital sex) and there is little practice of adoption in the country. What’s more, single women are heavily pressured to give the child up for adoption, and international adoption is seen as preferable because there is the potential for continued contact with the adoptive family, where, for domestic adoptions, everything is very secretive, with the adoptive family doing everything they can (even moving to another city) to hide the fact that their new child is adopted.

She discusses the situation among American women, too: about 1% of white single mothers surrender their children for adoption, and the percentage of black women is, basically, zero. But for those women who do head down that path, either because they’ve been receiving help from a Crisis Pregnancy Center or for another reason, the adoption agency deploys fraud and deception to pressure the woman to make her decision, and lead her to believe that an initial decision is irrevokable. Fathers, too, are deceived, and, here, the state of Utah is the worst, with a father’s right to claim his child blocked in multiple ways. And despite the growth of “open adoption” in most cases, the adoptive parents are under no legal requirement to maintain contact, and this is generally not disclosed to the birth mothers.

So that’s what she says. What do I think of it?

Of course, she’s highlighted many abuses. Bringing over large numbers of African children, with a goal of converting them to (born-again) Christianity, taking them away from their own families, and placing them into inappropriate family situations, is clearly wrong. No one should take on a child who’s experienced the trauma of war without having the ability to help that child. But it seems improbable that a fringe group of extremist evangelicals are actually more than a minority of adoptive parents. Does the infertile couple longing for a child really not exist?

And it seems like at some point we go too far in how high we elevate the mother-child bond, and the goal of keeping children with genetic relations. Where in the past, having a child while unmarried was shameful, now American women perceive surrending a child for adoption as shameful, with abortion being somehow more moral than adoption.

And at the same time, there’s another form of “child trafficking” that’s been growing due to our American belief in the primacy of genetic relationships and, let’s face it, the low supply of adoptable children: surrogacy. It’s not legal to buy a child, but in most states it’s A-OK to buy a vial of sperm, buy some eggs, and buy the services of a gestational surrogate. And if the $100,000 cost in the U.S. is too much, an Indian surrogacy clinic will be happy to provide services at a much lower cost. And if the kid turns out to have a genetic defect, the contract gives the purchasing parents the right to demand an abortion.

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