Adoption From Abroad: Child Abuse and Extortion of Money From Families

August 11, 2015

Those of you who have read my blog posts in the past might know about the little girl adopted from abroad who has been waiting for 29 months to come home to the US. She arrived on August 11. Her family went to fetch her and though I have gone abroad to adopt two sweet boys, I will never know the excruciating pain that her family has felt all this time waiting for the adoption to be completed. Even in the last few weeks, there was drama that was hard to fathom. We have international law to thank for all of this. It claims to prevent trafficking, and maybe it does, but it also traps children and families and aids and abets extortion of large sums of money, all the time keeping children prisoners in atrocious settings.

As an adoption medicine specialist for decades, I was consulted by the family when she was a very young infant with a history of abandonment in a public hospital; she was placed in a local orphanage run by a citizen of that country and, though the orphanage was quite pretty in its mountainous setting, it still rivaled any abusive institution with the usual harsh and inhumane treatment i.e. forced speed feeding, bottle propping, no play, no education, no holding, no singing and talking, and no attachment to a permanent loving adult.

The standard of care at this institution was diapers changed and babies wrapped up in layers of clothes covered with urine and feces, lying in cribs untouched and unloved. Toddlers and pre-school aged children were in the back rooms with nothing to do. I visited this orphanage on many occasions, and the children could be described as "Stepford-like." Money was flowing from potential adoptive parents, and I actually met some of these families in another city coincidentally on a trip for an event for my foundation.

I came to this orphanage to visit the baby because just down the mountain was a toy library and other enriching programs for children and adult caretakers run by Worldwide Orphans, the not-for-profit I founded almost 18 years ago. I connived to bring my volunteer staff to the orphanage and fought fiercely to install our services in this orphanage so that the children could be stimulated and loved, at least during the hours we programmed. We fought for over a year to get the orphanage director to agree to our official role and the family who was adopting the baby funded our work there. We were never welcome.

That said, in the final weeks and months of this baby's residence in this despicable place, the orphanage director plotted to delay the processing of this child's adoption. All her papers were kept from moving forward by a number of players. The orphanage administrator and the local government conspired to prevent her from being taken to the U.S. Embassy visa appointment. The orphanage director threatened to extort the parents for more money by demanding that they stay at the orphanage for a fee of $200 a night. The family had already stayed at this orphanage for each visit. It was clear to all involved that the orphanage director wanted control and more money from the parents. They likely understood that this family had the financial means to pay them. The behavior of the parents under these circumstances was beyond admirable. I wanted the family to just arrive and kidnap their own child, but the on the ground collusion and threats put fear in their hearts. Can you imagine such extortion and abuse?

The parents rarely were able to get clear answers as to why the process was stalled; it was confusing, but it was clear that the delays were premeditated. The parents worked with their agency, and they also had some connections with elected officials in their local city. I reached out to the U.S. State Department, and to a senator from the state where the family lived. Papers were filed to expedite the adoption based on her medical needs which were prematurity, possible retinopathy (scarring of the retina), and strabismus (lazy eye), which had worsened over the two years that she had resided in the orphanage. She was at risk for blindness. I wrote a letter to the senator, which was forwarded to the U.S. Embassy and the in-country ambassador was aware of the child's plight. The senator actually met with the ambassador. No one involved in adoption in this country didn't know about this unjust situation. And yet, we were powerless. How is it possible that the threats of an orphanage director could render the U.S. Embassy and the officials of the country itself so powerless? At some point, everyone believed that because the director of the social welfare system of this country was on vacation for the entire month of August, no adoptions could be processed. This was not true.

The parents visited the child many times, and my staff were busy working with all the kids at the orphanage, all the time feeling very unwelcome and afraid. I saw her each time that I was in the country, working as the CEO of WWO. At one point, I became very concerned about her developmental delays and her attachment issues. She seemed very disconnected, distant, and deeply depressed. Most of the kids in this place were depressed. I met with the parents in person to discuss what her long term issues might be potentially. The parents remained intensely committed and, though they were anxious about her emotional condition on arrival in the US, they were unwavering in their desire to parent her and help her be as happy as their three year old birth son. Below is what the mom said to me when we discussed how she felt that the child was so very delayed and depressed.

"I think now, looking on it, I had to see her and hold her myself...Not in order to decide if we wanted her, but in order to know if I was capable of giving her all that she deserved."

On my most recent visit in June, I met with the orphanage social worker who threatened me in his native language. I understand his language, and there was no escaping what he told me. He told me not to take any photos of her and he told me that she was not getting out of there so quickly without the permission of the orphanage director. He was corrupt and mean-spirited, and peppered his threats to me with a request to see our confidential notes from the WWO team visits. The level of paranoia at this orphanage was off the charts. They wanted their money and we were potentially preventing them from their game.

All of you reading this essay are hopefully mystified, frustrated and angry about the facts; this child was detained in her country for 29 months while her parents waited and spent a lot of money. This adoption cost $40,000. Where did that money go? It went into the greedy hands of adults, and not for any benefit for the child hostages in that orphanage or any orphanage.

There are hundreds of millions of poor children all over the world who potentially could be adopted in their own country or internationally. That this process could be about extortion of money from loving family members should make you out of your mind by now. What we could do with all that money....educate the mother if we knew her so that she could keep her baby, feed thousands of children for years, buy medicine for sick babies living with HIV, provide psycho-social support for families and orphans, support therapy for developmental delays, create a toy libraries so that institutionalized children could play, and provide education for hundreds of children.

The child is home and happy. I have received photos of her dancing in a red dress with sneakers on her feet, and another photo of her playing with her older brother. I cried with joy. The family has resources to help her transition to a good life. She is learning how to feed herself and sleep quietly in a real bed with a clean diaper, and she is being hugged and kissed all day. She is seeing a medical specialist to help her with her vision, and she will be getting developmental services to help her to catch up...she has no expressive language at almost three years of age.

How do we live with ourselves when we know this is just the tip of the iceberg for adoption around the world? What happened to justice for helpless children and eager loving families who would help them be happy and safe in a moment? What excuses are there to allow such barbaric behavior? We allow orphanage administrators and social welfare departments to extort money from families. And we imprison infants and children in dark, gloomy, cruel institutions. This is a blatant violation of human rights, and there is no other conclusion for anyone with a rational mind.

Dr. Jane Aronson, CEO, Worldwide Orphans