Adoptees of color speak out against international adoption of Haitian children

Following the earthquake in Haiti some people have been pushing for adoption of Haitian children by folks in the global north. This includes Penny Young Nance, CEO of the anti-choice, anti-feminist organization Concerned Women for America.
A group called the Adoptees of Color Roundtable has issued a Statement on Haiti written from the perspective of a group of adoptees of color who oppose international adoption of Haitian children. Here’s an excerpt:

For more than fifty years “orphaned children” have been shipped from areas of war, natural disasters, and poverty to supposedly better lives in Europe and North America. Our adoptions from Vietnam, South Korea, Guatemala and many other countries are no different from what is happening to the children of Haiti today. Like us, these “disaster orphans” will grow into adulthood and begin to grasp the magnitude of the abuse, fraud, negligence, suffering, and deprivation of human rights involved in their displacements.
We uphold that Haitian children have a right to a family and a history that is their own and that Haitians themselves have a right to determine what happens to their own children. We resist the racist, colonialist mentality that positions the Western nuclear family as superior to other conceptions of family, and we seek to challenge those who abuse the phrase “Every child deserves a family” to rethink how this phrase is used to justify the removal of children from Haiti for the fulfillment of their own needs and desires. Western and Northern desire for ownership of Haitian children directly contributes to the destruction of existing family and community structures in Haiti. This individualistic desire is supported by the historical and global anti-African sentiment which negates the validity of black mothers and fathers and condones the separation of black children from their families, cultures, and countries of origin.

The statement, which is quickly making its way around the internet, is a powerful counterpoint to rhetoric coming from organizations like CWA. It’s also a very clear overview of the issue – I know I learned a lot. I definitely recommend giving the whole statement a read.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

Read more about Jos

Join the Conversation

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    You are putting words in my mouth – I never called my aunt a pedophile.
    I did imply that her well meaning but poorly thought out attempt at limousine liberalism backfired horribly, and destroyed two lives (her adopted daughter and that woman’s child).
    That was the message that I was trying to get across.
    As for your own personal issues regarding your inability to bear a child and your desire to adopt, I didn’t say one thing, because I don’t know you and I’m not in a position to say anything about you.
    Please don’t take my opposition to the adoption of Black children by White parents personally, because I definitely didn’t mean it like that at all.
    My apologies for hurting your feelings – I definitely didn’t mean to insult you and I am sorry.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Why not help the Haitians to fix their country, instead of using their national tragedy as an opportunity to take their future – their children?
    I really do not understand the logic of that at all!

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Thank you! You’re making exactly the point I was trying to say!

  • foxtrotuniform

    I’m a little uncomfortable with the way children are being discussed in these comments. The idea that some considered them “owned” by their adoptive parents is almost offensive – no parents anywhere own their children, they at best own the bundle of parenting rights and duties with respect to those children. More insidious, though, is this idea that, for example, Haitian children are somehow owned by the Haitian country and culture and that their “proper” place is in Haiti being Haitian. It’s an awful idea – a child in any culture has the right to seek the best future for him/herself, even if that future is outside their “home” culture and if their departure weakens their home state. [Since everyone seems to agree that no child should be adopted internationally against their will, I'm only talking about very young orphans with no family that claims them.] This whole primordial idea that a baby born in Haiti is forever branded as a Haitian is silly – a young child has no concept of what culture it belongs to, since it’s by definition learned. The fact that your parents are of a different race (white people seem to be the problem here) probably won’t bother well-fed, safe, and educated children. People bothered by that simply reveal their own prejudices.

  • foxtrotuniform

    So you don’t mind a massive intervention into the self-government of a sovereign nation “for their own good” but you’re against placing unwanted orphaned children into safe and loving homes? Isn’t the former far more colonialist/imperialist in nature?

  • TD

    So what, just let the orphans be sold into slavery? Because its ‘their culture’? Tell me, which is better to grow up free in a land somewhat distant from your own, or to grow up as a slave until your fifteen, being routinely beaten and assaulted?
    Why should someone have their rights violated against their will merely because their culture dictates it. Rights are not dependent on a persons culture. A person has a right to be free of slavery, their culture doesn’t change that, the fact that their parents wanted money, doesn’t change that, and to leave all of the orphans in the country is to condemn them to slavery for no other reason than their culture.

  • Cola

    I don’t know. Normally I would agree, but not after reading A Crime So Monstrous. People in Haiti have no compunction about treating their non-biological children as slave labour.

  • Cola

    Please read A Crime So Monstrous. Please.

  • rebekah

    so you can’t be a fundie then if you aren’t white either? hm…. Guess that proves wrong the hundred protesters outside of the local planned parenthood clinic that I escorted at today. They were all hispanic from one of the local fundie churches. But I’m glad to know that they do not exist and I didn’t have to push through a bunch of them today dislocating my shoulder. It must just be a figment of my imagination

  • rebekah

    you said in an earlier comment that all the “random white foreigners” are only adopting these kids because they are pedophiles.

  • DalekSec

    Okay, that is absolutely legit: BUT that’s a long-term goal, and may take more than a generation to fully realize (irritating, but true).
    But in the meantime, a lot of individual children don’t deserve to languish in subpar circumstances until the situation they’re in is put to rights.
    As far as Haiti goes, this is a crisis and some of these kids will, as noted above, be seriously injured, traumatized and in imminent danger of exploitation, disease or deprivation, problems which may not be fixable on the ground in the post-quake disarray. The long term objectives of improved development are not cancelled out by the needs of the moment, nor vice-versa.

  • ms.tiff

    i think that saying things like, “And, based on that experience, is why I am totally opposed to White folks adopting Black children, under any circumstances.” is racist. why when you have people willing to be parents, would you wish a child live in poverty? that doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • Phenicks

    And just so that we’re clear on the situation in Haiti PRE devastating earthquake, here is an article written exactly 1 year and 1 day ago about how 80% of Haitians are living on $2.oo/per day and man of them are eating mud cookies- which is dirt, vegetable oil/shortening and water. Its extremely unhealthy and leads to malnurishment.
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/topstories/2008-01-29-1916948453_x.htm

  • Rosie

    But what is wrong with the fact that snap judgments will be made about her based on her appearance? In and of itself this is not a negative thing; it’s when people allow their initial judgment to colour subsequent conception of that person that this creates a problem. But I don’t see what is so terrible about a situation in which an adopted foreign-born person is asked a question based on their ethnic appearance, and they reply “actually, I was adopted. I don’t speak Arabic/my family isn’t Hindu/I don’t know much about Indonesian food.” Their is nothing inherently prejudiced about the person asking the question.

  • Rosie

    Thank you, thank you, this is exactly what I’ve been thinking throughout this comments thread. If gender identities are as mutable, and as culturally constructed, as most on Feministing believe (myself included), then why can’t ‘ethnic’ identity be treated in the same way? This doesn’t in any way diminish the value of cultural and ethnic identities, it just means we can acknowledge that the connection between external appearance and internal identity/experience is not always black-and-white. And isn’t this precisely what Feministing, and feminists, strive to make people understand?

  • Rosie

    Gregory,
    Did these children ask to be born into a society in which selling one’s child into slavery is accepted as common amongst its lower classes?
    Is any duly constituted Court of Law in the Republic of Haiti equipped right now to set up the proper frameworks to give presumed-orphaned children immediate prospects of basic health, nutrition, education and family structure?
    Although I know the answer to my questions, I don’t think that you know the answer to yours. Because in the first instance, you have no way of knowing whether or not individual children are in fact asking to go to America (or whatever other developed nation the potential adoptive parents live in), and in the second, you wouldn’t even consider asking that if you properly understood the state of Haiti’s bureaucracy right now. Yet… several commenters who do understand the situation far better than you or I have explained that, as well as how the actual process of international adoption works. And instead of taking on board this new information (you know, learning) you have just blankly ignored it in favour of pounding your fists and bellowing, and trying to apply your abstract, prejudiced ideas about how White people think and how non-American people might feel about the West to a situation which (1) you clearly have very little understanding about, and (2) is a human rights & welfare emergency – i.e. something needs to be done NOW.

  • Brittany

    Who ASKS to be adopted? Of course most children want to be with their original parents, but can’t for any number of reasons.
    So is all adoption kidnapping if the child doesn’t ask for it?

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    I called it kidnapping – and apparently, the Haitian National Police agree with me, because they just arrested 10 Americans for trying to traffic 33 Haitian children out of the country:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60T23I20100130

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Foxtrotuniform,
    You are presenting the idea that, somehow, these kids are being asked to be taken to America by White people.
    That is not what is happening at all and your claims are flat out untrue.
    In reality, what is going on is that there are White American fundamentalist Christian political extremists who are kidnapping Haitian children, against their will, and transporting them to an alien country.
    That’s not just my view it’s also the official position of the Republic of Haiti, the Haitian National Police and the Haitian Judicial Police
    Now, I know Haiti is a country run by Black people, so you probably think it’s OK to defy their national sovereignty, but the fact is, the Republic of Haiti is an independent country, with laws, police and courts, and it is their decision to make not yours.
    As far as the Haitian government is concerned, this is illegal, and they’ve begun arresting random White foreigners who’ve tried to kidnap their children:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60T23I20100130
    If you REALLY want to help Haiti in it’s time of national tragedy, why not give money to charities trying to help Haiti, instead of trying to steal their babies and force them to adopt an alien language and culture?
    Here’s some groups that are trying to help Haiti – please open your checkbook and give them some money:
    The American Red Cross
    http://arc3.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_src=RSG000000000&s_subsrc=RCO_BigRedButton
    Doctors Without Borders
    http://doctorswithoutborders.org/
    Habitat for Humanity
    https://www.habitat.org/cd/giving/donate.aspx?link=227&media=Google&source_code=DHQMW0000W1129&keyword=disaster%20relief&utm_source=google-pd&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=disaster%20relief&utm_campaign=haiti
    a list of Christian charities that are helping Haiti
    http://christianity.about.com/od/practicaltools/tp/disasterrelief.htm
    a list of charities helping Haiti, from Google
    http://www.google.com/relief/haitiearthquake/
    Again, Haiti needs your help and your generous contributions but they do not want and do not need you to steal their babies!!!!!!!
    What part of that don’t you understand?
    Not everybody wants to be a White American, and it’s the height of cultural insensitivity to try and cram your culture down the throats of other people’s children!!!!!

  • Vail

    With our daughter I feel like we have a tie with her birth country. We send them updates, pictures and share with them what she’s doing. I know the officials read them because they visit the children here in the USA when they can (and the agencies try to get them here when ever they change personnel). It’s strange, people (like my mom) think that it’s unfair that we have to send them reports but for me it’s like they are now a part of our family and we have nice chats about our daughter (I know, I’m weird). I’m happy to do it, and I’m glad her birth country cares enough to want to follow her progress till she’s 16 (we adopted from Mongolia btw).

  • Lily A

    How about this possible compromise?
    There should be an international “emergency foster care” system to deal like emergencies like the current situation in Haiti, where the country in question is unable to provide a safe environment for displaced children, with adequate shelter, food, medicine, and adult attention.
    Children who have not been “claimed” or found by a relative in the few days following a disaster can be sent to a family who can give them a safe, healthy place to live, removing the child from a traumatic and unsafe environment. Ideally these families would be, in order of priority: (a) someone in a stable situation in the child’s own country of origin, (b) someone of the same or similar cultural background living in another country, (c) someone of a different culture in a different country.
    While the foster family cares for the child, officials in the child’s own country, international aid groups, etc continue to search for the child’s family. If a family member or close friend is found who is able and willing to care for the child, then s/he goes back to his/her family. If after a certain period of time (two months? a year?), no family has been found for the child, s/he has the option to remain with his/her foster family, OR be put up for regular adoption in his/her country of origin. If neither of these situation works out, the child can then be considered for international adoption.
    Ideally this system would have lots of checks to prevent child trafficking, although I’m not very knowledgeable in that field so I’m not sure how that would work in this situation.
    This system would prioritize (a) making sure ALL children have food, shelter, medical attention, and psychological/social support in a time of disaster and trauma, (b) trying to make sure that each child is eventually returned to his/her family, and (c) ensuring that, if a child is not able to reunite with his/her family, that s/he finds a safe and loving family, preferably within his/her own culture.
    What do folks think?

  • Suzann

    Assuming ‘Susie’ to be asian connected is just proof of public stupidity.
    One friend of mine ( ‘asian’ by your standards) is also decended from a Revolutionary War vet. Yep, the family has been American since the moment there was a USA.
    But maybe you think they should have ‘stayed with their kind’ 200+ years ago.

  • bradley

    Yes. There’s something wrong with the idea that children are “owned” by their culture, race, language, etc. Anytime people are made into slaves of abstract concepts, watch out.

  • uberhausfrau

    agreed. i was wondering if this would be mentioned. it appears there was a backlog because of the amount of comments in this post. i was about to post a similar article.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100201/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/cb_haiti_americans_detained;_ylt=AmsvaT_j4HtUhM4imXtUeINvaA8F;_ylu=X3oDMTJzdXJxcDZ2BGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwMjAxL2NiX2hhaXRpX2FtZXJpY2Fuc19kZXRhaW5lZARjcG9zAzEEcG9zAzIEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yeQRzbGsDdHJhZmZpY2tpbmdw
    there is something sketchy, to say the least, that a group that has eyes on the island as a whole to make a orphanage/adoption resort, comes down, “scoops” up children without checking their familial status, without any legal documentation of their own and tries to shuttle them across the country’s boundaries.
    trafficking isnt just about sex or slavery. the moving and buying of people for any purpose is trafficking. “do the right thing,” my foot.

  • Hershele Ostropoler

    See, this is exactly what I meant. You almost certainly don’t mean to be paternalistic, I wouldn’t call what I can infer of your attitude hostilely racist, but at the same time I can certainly see how someone might read your comment as “thank heaven nice rich white people are taking those kids away from Those People.” Even though (I assume) that’s not what you thought you meant.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    Here’s a better idea.
    Let Haitian families come to America, to work and make money, so they can send money home to help rebuild their country.
    Note I said Haitian families – that is, Haitian adults and their children.
    As for unaccompanied minors?
    They should stay in Haiti – Period.

  • GREGORYABUTLER10031

    “greater good”?
    The “greater good” would be to help Haitians rebuild their country, by sending them money, skilled disaster relief professionals, food, water, medical supplies and heavy equipment.
    You know – the stuff that Haitians have actually been asking for?
    It also might help to grant extra visas to Haitian adults so they can come to America, work, make money and send it home to assist their families.
    But taking Haitian children and giving them to random foreigners is as far from the “greater good” as the sun is from Neptune – it’s actually the “greater evil”
    As it happens, the Haitian government agrees with me on this.
    Since it’s their country, and not yours or mine, I would think it would be wise for both you and I to defer to their wisdom on this
    Bottom line, Haiti wants to keep it’s babies!!!
    They do NOT want their children “rescued” by rich Americans!
    Why won’t you listen to what Haitians have to say about their country and their children???
    Forget about me and my story for a minute – just listen to the Haitians, and let them keep their babies in Haiti!

  • bint alshamsa

    Plenty of us who are the descendants of Native Americans actually DO wish that the people who came and killed off our people and stole, I mean “adopted”, their children truly do wish that these colonizing “well-intentioned” imperialists would have stayed with their own kind. History has shown us what happens when Europeans and European-Americans swoop in and take children who are people of color away from their culture. They benefit at the expense of POC.

  • doptAuthor

    BRAVO, Adoptees of Color Roundtable. Excellent statement!
    I have not read all the comments but words like “rescue” jumped out at me. Adoption means to “take as your own.” There is nothing altruistic in “taking” or in owning. Altruistic RESCUE work is caring for people in need where they are. Supporting groups such as SOS Children’s Village or Ave the Children who know that taking children one at a time – while it makes the taker feel good – does nothing to ameliorate the poverty of the family, the village or nation from which the child was plucked.
    Nearly 90% of children in orphanages worldwide are not orphans but have family who visit. Such was the case with both children adopted by Madonna. The Haitian government has declared a moratorium on adoptions from their nation,post the earthquake because of fears of child trafficking, which many NGOs expressed concern about all along.
    Adoptees of Color Roundtable are far from the first to speak out against what some (such as the National Assoc. of Black Social Workers) have called “cultural genocide” and others have simply called exploitation and ethnocentricity. Some have compared adoption to slavery because it separates families permanently, and changes people’s names.
    http://familypreservation.blogspot.com/2009/11/hubinette-and-trenka-on-transnational.html
    International and interracial adoption should be a last resort only after extended family fort, and then a home within their own ethnicity and culture are sought and impossible to find. Event hen, it is questionable whether or not children are better off raised where they are made to feel like square block in a round hole. Those who adopt interracially need to do with intention. They need to be willing to live in an interracial city, town and neighborhood and have their children attend interracial schools.
    I refer all to: On Being Swedish and Not Being White: Conversations with Adoptees and Adoptive Parents on Everyday Racism in Sweden by Tobias Hübinette s well as The Language of Blood by Jane Jeoing Trenka.
    Trrenka, like many transnational and transracial adoptees found herself in small town USA with no one else who looked like her. Not a fun childhood – though definitely one with more “things” and “advantages” than her sibs left behind.
    Trenka and Hubinette are part of a growing movement of adult adoptees who have returned to their homelands and are denouncing the relocation and redistribution of children via adoption – especially when being adopted into the U.S. permanently severs one’s heritage by issuing adoptee falsified birth certificates stating they were born to their adoptive parents. One such organization is TRACK, Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea.
    Another very poignant and honest singular description of growing up as square peg in a round hole is this article by Deborah Jiang Stein:
    http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=1985
    Mirah Riben, author, “The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry”

  • akibare

    No, I don’t think that. But just scan any number of other threads, you’ll see this issue of “people assume I have connections I don’t have and so I have identity issues” even with fairly low-generation-number people who aren’t adopted.
    I don’t make the world, I’m just commenting on it. Presumably the adoptive parents will recognize the issue is going to come up.

  • akibare

    I was wondering if anyone would comment on that, actually – the Japanese news this morning reported that some of the children had told NGO workers (who took them away from the Baptist group) that in fact their parents weren’t dead.
    Heck, I’m willing to believe people meant well, but that’s just… not okay.

  • foxtrotuniform

    I don’t know where you get the idea that I am in favor of kidnapping kids. [Nice job calling me a racist, too. Can Godwin's Law be far behind?] I said I’m assuming that we’re talking about children whom nobody else wants. They should have the same amount of “choice” that unwanted orphans in the US do, which usually varies by age (babies have no choice – how could they). The opinion and desires of the Haitian government don’t concern me at all. These children don’t belong to Haiti. Everything should be done to make them individually better off, and for 99% of orphaned children in Haiti, that means getting them out of Haiti.

  • foxtrotuniform

    Seriously? “Listen, kid, stay in a corrupt and poverty-stricken country, eating mud cakes. You’re better off there. Don’t come to a place where you are safe and nourished, because there’s white people here who’ll make you play soccer and listen to Maroon 5.” That’s your attitude? Usually people don’t signal quite so clearly that they don’t care about others.

  • Lily A

    Ok… I’m all for giving more visas for individuals and families.
    But did you even read my post?
    No matter how many visas we give to families, there are still going to be kids with no families, no food, no shelter, no medicine, and no social support network.
    What do we do with these kids? I just proposed a solution that prioritizes keeping them in their country, then keeping them with people of similar cultural backgrounds, THEN sending them to foreigners only if there was no other place for them to go. I understand what you’ve said a number of times on this thread about why it’s problematic to send kids to foreigners… but at the end of the day, what happens if there are kids who can’t find homes in their own country, and can’t even find an institution which will give them adequate nutrition?
    A number of people have asked you this question, and I would genuinely like to see an answer. I sympathize a lot with where you’re coming from, but I just don’t understand the attitude that international adoption is never acceptable, even to literally safe a child’s life.

  • gadgetgal

    Really like your comment and the links you provided – I think the word “adoption” in the title of the article has confused people, when the word should really be “abduct”. It always bothered me that Madonna (one of the richest people in the world) adopted from Malawi when she could have invested money to reunite most of the kids at the orphanage with their real parents or other family members – instead she decided her needs and wants were greater than those of the children there. Doesn’t sound particularly caring or philanthropic to me.
    Also, everyone please read the updates on the arrest of the kidnappers:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8491996.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8491981.stm
    This is a case of attempted abduction, not adoption. It’s Zoe’s Ark all over again:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2768229.ece
    Many of those children were taken from their parents and not all could be returned because they were too young to even know their own names – I couldn’t imagine being in that situation, either as the child or the parent.
    They know many of the Haitian children have living parents – would you be a party to destroying their lives even more than they already have been? Because your right to adopt whomever you want supersedes the rights of them to be with their families or friends? Or supersedes the rights of a parent to keep their child? Like other commenters above have said, why not invest money into the areas instead so the baby trade doesn’t have to happen in the first place? Because it seems to me if you’re selfish enough to believe (or pretend to believe) that what you’re doing has no terrible consequences, either for the child, the family of the child, or the country the child came from then you should automatically be considered unfit to adopt, on the grounds of either selfishness or just sheer stupidity.