rethink this: the debate surrounding speeding up the adoption process in Haiti

People gather in the street after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (photo and caption courtesy of the AP by way of

I was prompted to write this post after reading the NYT’s Room for Debate regarding Haiti’s Children and the Adoption Question. Questions have been circulating as to how to proceed with stalled adoptions (those adoptions that were currently under review before the earthquake) and future adoptions. Haitian officials and youth advocates are considering whether to expedite the adoption process as a way to relieve the growing number of children overcrowding orphanages and shelters throughout the country.

While many want to alleviate the suffering of Haiti’s children as quickly as possible, advocates are noting that with the country in crisis mode, Haitian children could easily fall prey to traffickers. Haitian officials are particularly on alert after 10 Americans attempted to kidnap 33 Haitian children and were detained at the Dominican border. The Americans stated that they felt religiously compelled to “rescue” (a tricky word) Haitian orphans and care for them in an orphanage they are setting up in the Dominican Republic. The Americans had not filled out the proper paperwork to adopt a single child out of the 33. Moreover, many suspected that some of the children were not even orphans, but rather taken from their families.

It is sad to think that some might take advantage of the situation in Haiti to enslave and profit off of children. I’m not saying that’s what the 10 Americans were planning on doing – but even those with the best intentions should still go through proper channels for adoption. This darker aspect of the question of adoptions in Haiti reminds me of a special I saw on CBS in September. As part of a “48 Hours” special, the episode “The Lost Children” was the culmination of a two-year investigation on the Utah-based adoption agency, Focus on Children, which had a big hand in adopting out children from Samoa to families in the US. See a preview of the show below: (*note: I couldn’t find the entire episode, apparently CBS doesn’t offer it. You can read more about the special on CBS’ website*)

CBS discovered a dark secret with Focus on Children and how they arranged the adoption of Samoan children in that the children they adopted out weren’t orphans. In fact most of the children had families, families who signed paperwork for the adoptions under the false pretense that they were actually singing their children up for a form of international foster care. Essentially the parents thought their children would be heading to the United States for a limited time, almost like a foreign exchange student program, only to find out that they actually signed away their rights as parents. The special highlighted 3 families who adopted Samoan children through this agency and the decisions they made once they found out the shady circumstances behind the adoptions. I recall that at least one family decides to take their daughter back to Samoa and reunite her with her family, while another family refuses this option and insists that the Samoan child is permanently apart of their family, even after learning her biological parents never really gave her up.

These types of issues are brought up in the Room for Debate in which 7 experts and advocates weigh in on the issues. I especially appreciate the responses from Cynthia R. Mabry, Jane Aronson, and Darron Smith. All three point out that with all the chaos in Haiti right now – determining whether or not a child is an orphan can be tricky. A child could have been separated from their parents or siblings during the earthquake and have yet to find one another. Furthermore, there could be family members in the area who survived the earthquake and would be more than willing to care for the child. However, with families torn apart and systems of communication down it is extremely difficult to locate a child’s family members or even find out if any of their family members survived. Cynthia Mabry notes that what Haiti needs is assistance setting up a “databank where all children are registered and make an effort to match them with relatives or others on the island of Haiti who are willing and able to care for them.” This is what Mabry and others did in New Orleans after Katrina.

Going beyond the fear of child traffkicking and the separation of families, Mabry and Smith – the only respondents of color for this Room for Debate – also bring up the issue of separating Haitian children from their culture and their language and expecting them to assimilate into (predominately) white families and a society where white privilege is the norm. Smith notes that according to his research on interracial adoptions, “black and biracial children often struggle with their cultural identity growing up in a white-dominated context. But in most cases, children of color are not taught how to deal with issues of race and conflict that they are may encounter when raised in white communities.” He ends his response by saying “Love is not always enough.”

Angelina Jolie and her adopted daughter Zahara (image courtesy of

To give an example of just one of the ways in which white parents may not understand the cultural needs of their adopted children, one could turn to Angelina Jolie’s adoption of Zahara Marley from Ethiopia. While some have praised Jolie’s efforts to raise awareness for children in need in Ethiopia and her plans to build a medical center there as well, Jolie has come under fire for not taking care of Zahara’s hair (*thank you to KW at Dear Black Woman, for posting this article facebook a while back*). While Zahara’s hair might seem trivial in comparison to potentially everything else Jolie can offer her it is also a political issue, and one tied to a long history of racial politics in the US. As Allison Samuels at The Human Condition, notes “it’s clear Angelina Jolie hasn’t taken the time to learn or understand the long and painful history of African-American women and hair.” These types of cultural (in)sensitivities are important and should be part of the discussion regarding Haitian children and the question of adoption.

I’ll end this post by reiterating what Jane Aronson advises in her response: that we should help Haiti rebuild schools and communities to ensure a better life for all Haitian children, orphans and non-orphans alike. If you’re interested in donating funds to Haiti here are links for the Red Cross and UNICEF.

~ by actyourage09 on February 3, 2010.

2 Responses to “rethink this: the debate surrounding speeding up the adoption process in Haiti”


  2. “First, they drove up demand for adopting orphans, especially exotic-looking ones that project a ‘differentness’ everywhere they are taken,” said Colbert. “Madonna and Jolie really deserve credit for elevating the foreign orphan from merely a proselytizing outlet to a fashion accessory.”

    Wow! thank you for sharing this satirical piece!

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