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In our opinion: Well-meaning adoptions can overlook serious problems

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

The tremendous amount of good accomplished by finding homes for orphans should not provide an excuse to ignore disturbing trends in overseas adoption practices.

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Last weekend marked the fifth annual Orphan Sunday, designated as such by hundreds of evangelical churches across the country. Christians took the occasion to pray for children all over the world in the hopes that they would find good homes with loving parents.

Many view adoption efforts as a moral imperative, which is why the evangelical movement has done noble work in expanding adoption opportunities across the globe. However, the tremendous amount of good accomplished by finding homes for orphans should not provide an excuse to ignore disturbing trends in overseas adoption practices.

Professor David Smolin, director of the Center for Biotechnology, Law and Ethics at the law school of Baptist-affiliated Samford University in Alabama, wrote in a law journal article that the evangelical movement "uncritically participates in adoption systems riddled with child laundering, where children are illicitly obtained through fraud, kidnapping or purchase… The result is often tragically misdirected and cruel, as the movement participates in the needless separation of children from their families.”

This is a problem without a single cause and a legion of contributing factors. Some agencies have been lax in screening for trafficking schemes. In addition, the eagerness of prospective parents to adopt can occasionally create an incentive to avoid looking closely at the process in which they’re engaged. The international nature of these adoptions makes them difficult to regulate with any consistency, which means that prospective parents have to be vigilant in ensuring they’re doing business with ethical parties. All of this allows shady and despicable practices to continue without appropriate oversight.

Put simply, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Journalist Kathryn Joyce wrote a book called “The Child Catchers” that alleges overseas adoptions are "too often marked by ambiguous goals and dirty money, turning poor countries' children into objects of salvation, then into objects of trade." This provoked a response from Jedd Medefind, the leader of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, who, while encouraging his allies to carefully consider Joyce’s criticisms, also insisted the problem is overblown. “Errors and pitfalls will always come with any effort to address deep human need,” Medefind wrote.

Certainly that’s true, but it’s not at all acceptable. It would be hard to overstate the enormity of the evil of such practices. There is no reasonable tolerance threshold for kidnapping or human trafficking. Even one child stolen from his or her home is far too many.

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