The fifth annual "Orphan Sunday" on Nov. 3 celebrates an evangelical Christian movement pushing the concept of finding adoptive homes for foreign orphans. It also conveys a reminder that it must be done right, with respect paid to the laws of the countries from which orphans come, and the rights of the birth parents and children. The commemoration comes at a time when fewer foreign adoptions are being allowed.
The movement itself has been criticized and praised, according to a detailed look at the movement in an Associated Press article by David Crary, who wrote: "Some evangelicals are so enamored of international adoption as a mission of spiritual salvation — for the child and the adoptive parents — that they have closed their eyes to adoption-related fraud and trafficking and have not fully embraced alternatives that would help orphans find loving families in their home countries."
The Christian Alliance for Orphans has organized the Sunday observance, and in a lengthy blog post on its site, the group's founder, Jedd Medefind, rebuts some of the criticism but acknowledges that there are problems that should be taken to heart. He cautioned those interested in international adoption against viewing themselves as "rescuers," adding that "what often follows is the pride, self-focus and I-know-better outlook that has been at the root of countless misguided efforts to help others."
Headline-grabbing mistakes have shown some of the dangers associated with a too-zealous approach to foreign adoption, critics say. One of the most written about occurred in the days immediately following the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
A recap at the time by MinistryToday reported that volunteers from several churches were arrested for attempting to take Haitian children into the Dominican Republic without proper paperwork. New Life Children's Refuge founder Laura Silsby, one of the 10, acknowledged they didn't have papers to prove that the children had been given up by their parents or that they had permission to remove the children from Haiti. They were planning to take them to a safe orphanage they created, she said, not offer them for adoption. But it was one of the stories that points out the risk that doing good could become or be viewed as human trafficking.
"A team of 10 Baptist volunteers representing churches in Idaho, Texas and Kansas remains imprisoned in Port-au-Prince, arrested by authorities for attempting to move 33 children into the Dominican Republic without proper documentation. Though the group maintains they are innocent, Haitian government officials have used the situation to stress the need for clamping down on child trafficking, particularly following the devastating earthquake. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive even angrily denounced the group as 'kidnappers' who 'knew what they were doing was wrong.’ ” The Americans were later released, but the debate has continued.
In the meantime, many countries, including Russia, have clamped down on the ability of people from outside to adopt children from the country.
"Concern about the potential for corruption in international adoptions led to the Hague Convention on Adoption, which called for global standards for international adoptions. Individual countries could establish rules that were strict or minimal, as long as they complied with it," Susan Cox, vice president of policy and external affairs for Holt International Children's Services, which helps Americans adopt from 12 countries, told the Deseret News recently. The Hague Convention's targets were international adoptions that are "unethical, improper or illegal, wherever they occurred," she said.
A book by journalist Kathryn Jones, "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption," centers on the evangelical adoption movement and points primarily to problems. Crary said, "It details cases where foreign children adopted by evangelicals were mistreated and looks at problematic Christian-led adoption initiatives in such countries as Ethiopia, Liberia and Haiti."
"The new book 'The Child Catchers' delivers aggressive criticism of the growing Christian orphan care movement," wrote Medefind. "Author Kathryn Joyce provides important warning regarding potential hazards, excesses and blind spots within the movement. At the same time, the book’s overarching narrative and many of its claims often distort more than they reveal."
He continued, "Thoughtful orphan advocates would do well to 1) Listen carefully to the book’s criticism; 2) Affirm its condemnations of misguided compassion; and 3) Confront the book’s many caricatures, half-truths and misrepresentations directly and graciously.
"Rather, it reminds us that we must do two seemingly opposite things at once: relentlessly pursue the highest ideals while also knowing that the situations we enter and the results we achieve will often be far less than ideal," Medefind wrote.
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