The New Frontier

This CNN article on adoption in Africa passed my radar today…and a couple of clicks later, I ended up here, at the site of a new documentary about adoption in Africa called An Uncertain Journey. As I write this, the African Child Policy Forum is hosting its 5th International Policy Conference in Addis Ababa, titled Intercountry Adoption: Alternatives and Controversies. The film is being shown today.

The CNN article points out the inherent flaws of intercountry adoption within a sketchy legal framework:

In the eight years from 2003 to 2010, more than half of the children adopted from Africa came from Ethiopia (22,282), followed by South Africa (1,871), Liberia (1,355) and Madagascar (1,331) and Nigeria (1,118), according to Selman.

Of those, only South Africa and Madagascar have ratified the 1993 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

Compliance with the Convention typically leads to a fall in adoption from those countries as they work to satisfy demands for greater transparency, the ACPF said.

However, sharp increases in adoption rates from non-Hague Convention countries exposed a “deeply troubling” trend of shifting demand, according to a second report released by the group Tuesday, “Intercountry Adoption: An African Perspective.”

“Demand transfers to other countries where Hague protections do not exist and where, all too often, the authorities are totally unprepared to cope with the sudden influx of applications and are unable to apply basic child protection safeguards,” the report said.

Among other safeguards, the Convention dictates that a Central Authority must ensure that adoption is in the best interests of the child. Only 13 — or less than one third of — African countries have signed the Convention, according to the ACPF.

Another section of the CNN article quotes the executive director of ACPF addressing his concerns about the rise of international adoption in Africa:

“It must at all costs be discouraged. It should be a last resort and an exception rather than the normal recourse to solving the situation of children in difficult circumstances, as it seems to have now become,” said David Mugawe, executive director of the ACPF in a press statement.

The group says that the lack of regulation combined with the promise of money from abroad had turned children into “commodities in the graying and increasingly amoral world of intercountry adoption.”

So here it is.

African children are being adopted, mostly by US and French families, often under untenable legal frameworks unable to guarantee the protection of the very children whose “best interests” they purport to be upholding. How can we say, that anything has changed in adoption over the last fifty years since Korean war orphans were brought to the US when children are still being abducted or sold into adoption, when no one is demanding that all countries that participate in adoption sign the Hague Convention?  As my friend Shelise says, “Nothing has changed until everything changes.”

The APCF is right to call Africa the “new frontier” in adoption today, and to be concerned with the rapidly rising adoption rates from the continent:

Africa has become the new frontier for intercountry adoption. Between 2003 and 2010, the number of children adopted from Africa increased three fold, yet Africa seems to be ill-equipped in law, policy and practice, to provide its children with enough safeguards when they are adopted internationally. The list of issues that seem to defy consensus in the context of intercountry adoption in Africa is long, including the cultural disconnect that children are subjected to in the adoption process raises significant concern; the definition of a family environment in terms of the African charter on the rights and Welfare of the child and the UN convention on the rights of the child for the purpose of adoption is contentious; the basic questions of adoptability and who can adopt are critical to the African context due to varying interpretations; the implications of considering intercountry adoption as a measure of last resort continue to pose difficult legal and ethical complexities for African countries. In practice, intercountry adoption suffers from poor regulation in many African countries and where regulation exists, implementation of the same is inadequate.

Korea’s old news, Guatemala’s been plundered, China’s lost its gloss now that we’re inundated with Graces and Lilys and Jades. Ethiopia was Angelina’s cause de celebre, and now there’s Uganda. What country’s next?

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