Part 2: Adoptions

Written by: Amanda McGinley and Nick Runyon Photos by: (left) We Are the Brauns (right 2) Whitney Runyon

Written by: Amanda McGinley and Nick Runyon
Photos by: (left) We Are the Brauns (right 2) Whitney Runyon

What is best for a child? If it’s your child, this is a question that you get to answer. You may have wildly different parenting techniques, values, or ideas than your friends or community, but you get to decide.  But who answers this question for the orphaned and vulnerable children of this world? What is best for them? Is it adoption? We believe we owe it to these children and their families to dig deep and find out.

Adoption can be found throughout history in various forms.  The Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest texts in the world, states as law the rights and responsibilities of adopters and adoptees.  Even in ancient Rome adoption was quite common. But although the history of adoption is full of interesting and unique idiosyncrasies, there is one important shift that happened in the 1800’s.

With the social welfare movements of the 1800’s came a major change in attitudes on adoption, and in 1851 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts made it law that adoption be in “the best interest of the child.” Generally speaking, up until that point almost all adoptions were motivated by something else. In some cultures, children were adopted as workers or servants. In others, it was used to pass on cultural or religious responsibilities. This is not to say that no adoptions were ever motivated by love or affection for the child, but it was not until 1851 that legally the focus shifted to the child’s needs.

This concept has largely influenced modern adoption in the U.S. and subsequently adoption around the world. For example, in 1917, Minnesota passed an adoption law, requiring all potential placements be investigated prior to adoption. In the mid 1900’s, women with premarital pregnancies were encouraged to place their children for adoption, as this was believed at the time to be in the best interest of the child. Thoughts and ideas around what is in a child’s best interest have varied. Regardless, this idea has become and continues to be the key factor in our modern definition of adoption: to legally take another’s child and permanently transfer all rights and responsibility to the adopter(s) in the interest of the child.

This definition has been assumed globally. Throughout the 1900’s, European nations enacted various adoption laws in accordance with this definition, advocating for the rights of the child.  Moreover, with colonialism, occupation, and globalization, this conception of adoption was transferred throughout the rest of the world, forming the basis for international adoption.

The first officially documented and U.S. government sanctioned international adoption was in 1955 by Harry and Bertha Holt.  The Holts saw a video about orphans living in orphanages in Korea and felt saddened by the children’s circumstances. Mr. Holt traveled to visit one of these orphanages and was devastated by their situation.  Upon arriving home, Harry suggested that he and his wife bring eight of the children into their home by adopting them. However, no legal process was set up for international adoption in the US at this time. This led Bertha to submit a bill to be passed that would allow the Holt family to bring the Korean children to America. Congress signed the bill, and in October 1955, the first officially documented international adoption was completed.  Within the first few years of the Holts working in Korea, over 500 Korean children were adopted by U.S. families and brought to America.

Over the next 30 years, international adoption from Korea and other Asian countries grew by the thousands. In the early 90’s Russia and China opened their orphanages to international adoption, as did many Sub-Saharan African countries, which lead to a “boom” in international adoption.

An increase in international adoption (starting in 1992 and ending around 2005), led to a rise in demand for children who were adoptable. The increased demand put significant pressure on orphanages and agencies to fill their homes with adoptable children.

“However well intended, this enthusiasm has exacerbated what has become a boom-and-bust market for children that leaps from country to country. In many cases, the influx of money has created incentives to establish or expand orphanages — and identify children to fill them.”

Some, not all, orphanages, agencies, for-profits and nonprofits have hired employees to be ‘children pickers.’ ‘Children pickers’ go into villages to find children that meet the traditional desires of Western families. Their biological family is paid money, or told that their children are going to the West to be educated, but will one day return and support them when they are older. These children then profit the organization; this is known as human trafficking.

Many people seeking to adopt internationally have not been informed on the business and schemes behind international adoption.  Too many well intentioned people seeking to help a vulnerable child have come to find out that the child they adopted was taken from their home, away from their mom and dad, for the profit of someone else.

“…we eventually uncovered that she had a very loving family from which she had been unlawfully taken, in order (we believe and are convinced) to provide an “orphan” to fulfill our application to adopt.”

The heart behind international adoption began from a good place, to give healthy and safe homes to children in need.  But wherever you find vulnerable people, you will find others waiting to take advantage of them. This has led to misinformation being circulated, funds being misused and children taken from healthy and loving families.

Despite these horrifying realities, modern adoptions throughout the world have undoubtedly saved the lives of millions of children who would have otherwise grown up in an unhealthy institution or possibly even died. One of the most healing and healthy environments for a child to be raised is in a loving and safe family, and adoption can provide that to so many children in need. But, as well-meaning as most adoptions are, they have caused unintentional ramifications. And this is especially true with international adoption.

All of this leads back to one key phrase, “the best interest of the child.” What is the best interest of the child? This question is highly debated. What one individual or organization thinks is a child’s best interest might be the complete opposite of another. This concept can hold different meaning based on beliefs, culture, education, experience, or even feelings. So what about international adoption? There is a strong belief, with growing research to back, that taking a child out of their country of origin can be damaging. However, international adoption is sometimes the only option.  We in the West have resources, opportunities, and loving families with big hearts to welcome children in need into our homes. These, on their own, are not reasons to seek out an international adoption, however, paired with research, third party investigations, and efforts made to resettle or adopt domestically, international adoption may be a child’s only or best option. Our hope is that our world would continue to become more educated and never stop pursuing children’s best interest. If this is our heart and our pursuit, it will undoubtedly lead to a world without orphans.