Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Why I Oppose Romanian Intercountry Adoptions (For The Time Being)

Last year, Claudia Muir at Halfway Down the Danube blogged (1, 2) about the European Union's ban on intercountry adoptions in Romania, imposed on Romania as a precondition for membership. At the time, reading her posts, I agreed that the ban was wrong-headed, though well-intentioned. This has since changed.

Although other countries--South Korea, Russia, China--have since become more important sources of children for adoptive parents in the developed world, Romania took on an almost iconic role as a source of children needing parents in the early 1990s. This, as with many other Romanian failings, can be blamed on Ceaucescu, who wanted to increase Romania's population to 30 million, to this end banning all birth control and criminalizing abortion. This pro-natalist policy was unpopular, not only because Romania's deteriorating living standards made it impossible for many parents to provide for their children. Many of these children were put into state-run orphanages, where Ceaucescu hoped to transform these ersatz orphans into "adults who had no loyalties to family or religion, who would therefore owe allegience only to the state." Conditions in these orphanages were horrible, as could be expected, with only the bare minimum of care administered by indifferent functionaries, and a wide variety of medical complaints--from developmental delays to HIV/AIDS--were rife. Following the 1989 revolution, Western media exploring what had been the most closed society in non-Soviet Europe found these orphanages, and publicized the plight of their residents. Many Western parents responded by offering themselves as candidate parents for the youngest and most vulnerable victims of Ceaucescu's regime.

Thursday morning, on CBC Radio's program The Current, the host interviewed Mary Anne Elton, producer of the documentary Return to Sender, scheduled for broadcast on CBC TV's English-language network yesterday. Return to Sender centers on the story of Alexandra, who, in 1992 at the age of 9, was sent from Romania with her two-year-old brother to by adopted by separate pairs of Canadian parents. One of eight children, she and her brother were put up for adoption by their mother because there simply were not sufficient resources to sustain all of the children. And indeed, her brother did go on to thrive in one happy Montreal household.

Alexandra was adopted by another Ontarian household. Five months later, Alexandra was sent back to Romania. The interview was unclear about why she was sent back; but then, given that Alexandra herself was unsure as to what happened, a clear answer isn't likely to appear. Alexandra's former adoptive father (ambushed at his doorstep in the United States by his former daughter and Alton) did say that Alexandra complained so much about being homesick; but then, what sort of adoptive parents would give up so quickly on a child who was going through expected difficulties, and who remembered her five months in Canada happily? It's unlikely that Alexandra will ever know for sure, since, after giving her his cell phone number at the end of their encounter, the coward cancelled his account before she could talk to him the next day.

What Alton was able to confirm was that, upon her return to Romania, Alexandra was left stateless. Romanian state functionaries, eager to expedite her adoption, altered her Romanian passport and gave her a Canadian birth place; in Canada, Alexandra never apparently acquired Canadian citizenship. Worse, her biological mother had severed all legal links with her daughter by giving her up for adoption. Without citizenship or legal residency in either Canada or Romania, Alexandra was never able to acquire an education, and her right to live with her family residency with her mother was always in question.

As Peter Selman noted in his 2001 paper "Intercountry Adoption in the new Millenium; the 'quiet migration' revisited" (PDF format), Romania has been a major source of intercountry adoptions, being the fourth-ranking supplier of children to American parents in 1996, for instance. However, even after attempts at regularizing this migration in the mid-1990s, there were serious structural problems, as this anonymous essay (PDF format) argues.

Following the fall of the Ceausescu government in 1989, the West learned for the first time of the huge numbers of children living in state institutions in deplorable conditions. There was massive publicity about the plight of the children and citizens from foreign countries began coming to Romania to adopt children. Initially, there was little legal infrastructure to deal with the demand. This lack of structure and oversight led to reports of widespread corruption in the process. In 1997, the Romanian government briefly suspended international adoptions while it created a new system. The new system had two functions: it provided matching of children for inter-country adoption and it created a source of needed funds for child welfare activities in Romania. The resulting "point" system relied heavily on authorised Romanian foundations to undertake matching available children with prospective adoptive parents. The number of children assigned to a particular foundation was based on the amount of points it was given for child welfare spending in Romania. Many foundations were receiving points solely for providing money and were not actively working for overall improvement in child welfare in Romania. This system became widely criticized as the costs of adopting children increased with little data about the welfare of the children and without strong accounting for the funds. A corollary to this is that unethical bodies and foundations did not encourage reintegration or national adoption, for which there were not large financial incentives, and rather encouraged availability of babies for inter-country adoption.

As Claudia points out in the comments to her posts, and as a simple Googling confirms, conditions in Romanian orphanages remain dire. It's a good thing for children needing parents to acquire parents. It doesn't matter significantly to me whether these parents are acquired inside or outside of the children's country of birth, so long as the parents are capable parents. jittenhouse is living proof of this.

Even so. In the specific case of Romania, despite the problems that the residents of the country's orphanages continue to suffer, despite the presence outside of Romania of would-be adoptive parents of undoubted competence, despite the fact that the outright prohibition of intercountry adoption will have only a relatively marginal effect on child trafficking, a ban on intercountry adoption would seem to be a good thing; or, at least, less bad than a system of intercountry adoption that, say, can leave an adopted child rejected by her adoptive parents and left stateless*. Until such time as Romania's capable of sustaining a system of intercountry adoption not capable of such crime--and of combatting child trafficking--the European Union is doing a good deed in requiring the ban. Or, at least, a less bad deed than turning a blind eye.

* (This criticism, incidentally, applies equally to Ontarian child-welfare organizations: How did they so completely lose track of Alexandra and fail to help her? Her brother's adoptive parents, it turned out, would have been happy to take her in.)
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