22 oct. 2008

Celebs Buying Babies Abroad - Not The Best Way Forward

Si les gens riches de l'Ouest souhaitent s'attaquer à la pauvreté des enfants, la solution est de parrainer un village et non pas adopter juste un enfant: la charité.

Par Trudy Simpson sur Voice Online, le 25 octobre 2006,

If people of the affluent West wish to tackle child poverty, the solution is to sponsor a village and not just adopt a child: charity

A charity last week criticised the growing trend towards transnational adoptions by celebrities, warning that it takes more than single adoption of children from developing countries to end childpoverty.

“We recognise that international adoptions help but they should only be a last resort. We think it would be great if celebrities used their power to campaign,” said Jane Moyo of Action AID, a charity which works in developing countries, including Malawi.

She told The Voice that celebrity influence would be better spent putting pressure on governments to do more to improve lives in these countries and in taking steps to keep parents alive and healthy. She said celebrities and other Britons should focus more on sponsoring children and villages so that they can get better medical care and social and developmental structures.

“Child sponsorship helps not only the child, but the community they live in. Children grow up in their own culture, and if orphaned, with any remaining family they have left,” she said.

She was responding to questions in the wake of the controversy surrounding pop superstar, Madonna’s transnational and transracial interim adoption of a 13-month-old Malawian boy, David Banda.

Madonna last week defended her decision to adopt the boy, whose father is alive, and insisted that she followed the law but her high-profile case opened a debate about international and transracial adoptions.

“There are nearly one million ‘baby David’s’ in Malawi. The reality is that inter-country adoption cannot solve the problem of child poverty: that requires systematic and long-term effort at a community and international level,” Moyo said. “By the end of today, 16,000 children will have died because they did not have enough food to eat. That is a terrible indictment on the world we live in. To make a real difference, we have to fight the root causes of poverty,” Moyo said.

Moyo urged more celebrities to follow the example of US talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who has donated millions of dollars to fight poverty, boost education and raise awareness of the impact of HIV/Aids on African countries without adopting a child.

National statistics show that 350 children are adopted from abroad each year. Statistics from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) show that adoption applications were submitted for 19 infants from few countries within Africa between 1995 and 2005. Majority of applications, more than 1400, were made for children from China.


However, as little David arrived in the UK last week, there were questions in the press over the motives and rule-bending which allowed a rich, white celebrity to head to Africa and to ‘speedily’ adopt a black child. There was also talk about the need to think about international adoption and whether it was in the best interest of some children.

“What we should be asking ourselves is if trans-national adoption is really a solution for poor children in families in poor countries - for them to be adopted by rich Western families,” said Dr Perlita Harris, a lecturer in social work at Bristol University’s School for Policy Studies.

“Should we not be looking at putting more time and resources into these countries so children can stay with their birth families or if not, in their countries of birth?” she asked.

Dr Harris, a trans-racial adoptee who is also a member of the Transnational and Transracial Adoptees support group (TTAG), said many adoptees feel alienated, struggle with identity and belonging and have a keen sense of loss regarding relatives they may have left in their birth countries, shared culture, language and family history when raised away from their culture, often within white families.

“Many have grown up feeling isolated… they face a lot of racism in their childhood that they have had to struggle with alone,” said Dr Harris, who also recently edited a book comprising the experiences of 57 transracial and transnational adoptees, entitled In search of belonging: reflections from transracially adopted people.

Dr Harris said themes of “loss, pain, grief and alienation” resonated in the book and that while many people often focus on how economically better the life of the adopted child will be, “there is a tendency to overlook the losses”.

Kym, who is of Afro-Caribbean heritage and who was raised by a white family, talks about her pain in an excerpt from the book, published on the BAAF website.

“For as long as I can remember, I have always felt different to the other members of my family - both in my physical and spiritual being.

My parents were always honest about my adoption and, from an early age, I asked questions about why I was a different colour to them.

At home, as an infant, I distinctly remember being in a warm and loving environment yet, when I entered the outside world I received cold and hostile responses from the community around me,” she related.

“It did not take long for the children to start saying what they saw and calling me ‘Blackie’. The boys in the school were particularly cruel and would constantly taunt me about my appearance. Over time, this affected my self-esteem and I became withdrawn and isolated. I did not want to play with the other children and I sank into a deep depression… My parents tried their best, but they had difficulties relating to just how painful these comments were and how traumatic school was. To me it was living hell.

They told me to ignore it [but] I absorbed Western beauty ideals, which are geared towards long blonde hair and blue eyes… I would pray to God every night that I could be white and fit in with my family. I quite literally used to avoid looking in the mirror because I could not stand what I saw staring back at me.

I cannot put into words the type of crippling emotional pain that I felt in my childhood. That led me to several suicide attempts,” Kym added.

However, organisations which support parents who adopt children from abroad last week defended the practise, saying it helps children to find loving homes and adults to fulfil their need to become parents.


Maxine Caswell of Overseas Adoption Support and Information Service (OASIS), which supports more than 1,000 prospective and actual adopters, and Jill Haworth, from the Intercountry Adoption Centre, said international adopters go through serious thought and rigorous preparation before deciding to adopt. “They also undergo further legal and assessment processes, which often take up to two or more years and cost over £5,000 to adopt children”, added Caswell, a white Englishwoman who adopted two children from Vietnam in 1998 and 2000.

She said adoptive parents also take steps to ensure that children from different ethnic backgrounds get the chance to meet others from their culture and take part in cultural celebrations.

But TTAG founding member and social worker, Chris Atkins, who was born in Hong Kong, but was adopted as a baby by a white couple, said the disconnection remains.

Growing up, she thought something was wrong with her, which she based on comments made by the large white community in which she lived.

“I got called ‘Chink’, ‘Hong Kong Fuey’…I grew up thinking it was me who needed to change. I desperately wanted to be white,” she said. She added: “I no longer want to be white (but) my experience challenged my sense of identity…I am very aware of the potential for rejection. Rejection is something many adoptees live with. I clearly look Chinese but I don’t relate to the history. I don’t relate culturally. Inside, I don’t feel Chinese and in that way, it is a challenge.”

Madonna’s case also prompted questions about why children were being adopted from abroad when up to 4,000 children in the UK need permanent homes. A 2004 study from the NCH charity showed that minority ethnic children comprise 18 per cent of all the children looked after in the UK and 22 per cent of children on the national adoption register, but only 13 per cent of those adopted.

Caswell and Jonathan Pearce, from Adoption UK, said people tend to go overseas because they have connections with particular countries and they have access to greater numbers of babies and so are less likely to deal with traumatised children.

Some also adopt overseas because some UK children’s services require them to adopt particular children such as siblings, those with special needs and older or school aged children and because many local children have relatives with whom adopters may not necessarily want contact.

“They also want a fairly straightforward adoption process,” said Caswell. Haworth said many people opted to go to China because it is signatory to the Hague Convention and has transparent adoption processes. Some officials also dismiss perceptions that the process is easy and that it is not necessary.

“In a perfect world, we believe inter-country adoption wouldn’t be necessary. We would like to see all countries in a position to bring up their own children by building up the widest possible range of services for children separated from their birth families.

“But this isn’t a perfect world and children grow up fast – they can’t afford to wait. And we mustn’t be dogmatic. For some, overseas adoption may be the best chance they have of a happy and stable childhood.

“All decisions about adoption must be made on a case-by-case basis and must reflect the best interests of each and every child,” said David Holmes, head of BAAF.

“People may also think it is common, but it is rare. Thousands of children across the UK are adopted from our care system every year. In contrast, there are only several hundred children adopted from other countries, usually as babies. This demonstrates how developed our domestic adoption system is,” he said.

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