Adoption and Poverty

I feel compelled to add this postscript to the discussion of the last few days because I fear there's an impression out there that adoptive parents with voices like mine don't care about the plight of women and children in poverty. Much of what I say here has been written in a comment on another blog, but I think it's worth putting into a post, too.

Lest there be any doubt: I recognize, as I hope anyone reading this does, that there is immense suffering in the world - war, poverty, disease, famine, child trafficking, enslavement, and more. Scan the globe, and the sites of tragedy jump out at you. Darfur. Ethiopia. Guatamala. North Korea. China. And more. The needs in these and other countries are acute and immediate, and institutional solutions planned for the future offer no hope for the people living the horror right now. In the absence of realistic social programs that would allow foreign capital to actually reach women and children in need (as it often didn't in North Korea, and I'm sure doesn't in other countries either), adoption can mean the difference between life and death, future and no future, for a child.

It's the cycle that follows the acute stages of poverty that is my focus, however. And I look to what happened in Korea, my sphere of reference, for example. During and after the Korean war, Korean children suffered the same horrors that befall children in poor countries today. They were orphaned, abandoned, starved, diseased, rejected by Korean society for being bi-racial, separated from families on either side of the 38th parallel, left in the streets, and more. The adoption of Korean children that started with the Holts literally saved thousands in those early days. It was a lifeline.

But now, over 50 years after the fighting, adoption in Korea has become something else - the intersection of the world's demand for adoptable infants and the lack of societal support for unmarried Korean mothers. In these intervening years, adoption has evolved from an act of charity by adoptive parents, to an act of despair by single mothers and families who have found little support from the 12th largest economy in the world (according to World Bank 2005 statistics, which report South's Korea's GDP at $787,624,000,000), and ultimately to simple supply and demand.

It has taken the recent generation of Korean adoptees' return to Korea to gain the attention of the Korean government and to remind them of their responsibility to make it possible for Korean children to stay with their mothers. The Korean government's positive stance on adoption is changing, and along with it, requisite laws, social welfare programs, and even societal opinion. Korea is acknowledging, at last, that as a world economy, it must care for its own, and that sending its children abroad isn't the way to do that.

The need of women and children in poverty in the world today is no different from the need of Korean women and children after the Korean war. But today we can look back at the evolution of Korean adoption to remind ourselves how easy it is for adoption's initial purpose to be lost as countries climb out of poverty. And I believe that our voices have the power to influence the outcome.


abebech said…
I wrote a post in response to a comment on one of your earlier posts yesterday, but I took it down because it seemed too hostile.
Still, the gist of it is that there are places and cases of extreme poverty, no village to raise that child, no safety net. So to read that local adoption or fostering are options I'd support if I really cared enrages me. How to find foster/adoptive families in a nation with "Child headed households"? Someday there might not be a need for adoption from Ethiopia. When that someday comes, there shouldn't be adoption from Ethiopia. Until then, those kinds of statements only divide, and make me want to withdraw from all of this.
abebech said…
Margie, I just wanted to clarify. You're great: I was responding to a commenter, and I appreciate very much that you consider that there are times and places when adoption is beneficial and perhaps even necessary, but that hopefully that need will change and we'll be mindful of it. Reread my comment and realized someone reading quickly could think I'd been hostile to you.
Margie said…
Abebech, it didn't sound hostile at all, I understood you were responding to a commenter.

I'm struggling with it all right now, too, but I think the discussion I'm seeing is getting down to brass tacks. And the issue will turn on the health and safety of the child.

The question that's turning in my head right now is if an orphanage is better than a family, since it preserves culture. Not being an adoptee, I can't answer that. But I would like to talk about it.
sherri said…
I really appreciate this post. It is intelligently written and simply has loads of common sense. I am fairly new to the "adoption blogsphere" and find myself a bit confused by what seems to be a storm brewing between adoptive parents and adult adoptees. I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts on the conflict.


oh, BTW...I'm going to add you to my blogroll.
Margie said…
Sherri, thanks, and I've got you linked, too.
abebech said…
Margie, I'm really struggling with this. I'm going to respond on my blog if you don't mind, as I don't want to stiffle conversation here.
I have an inner struggle with this one. I am only going to answer this as a mother now. The answer as a "activist-humanitarian" could be an entirely different answer. I have not sat down yet to really think this one out with that "hat" on.
What I saw at my daughters 1st orphanage was horrible. An armed guard holding a rifle greeted us at the metal gated door. We walked down a long open air corridor hemmed by barbed wire. I realized there was no place for the children to see sunlight. During awake hours, they were all placed in a single large room that was divided by baby gates for each age group. There was a long row of high chairs so they could feed an assembly line. A large bowl was brought out with one spoon. The caretaker would then go down the row and spoon feed one child, take a step to the left, and with the same spoon feed the next child. When the food ran out, lunch was over. I blame this type of "feeding practice" on my daughters beginning "eating disorder." I have never seen a child shovel food into their mouth because she was afraid that the food was going to run out. We have gotten over that hump, but it took months. The second orphanage that she was moved too was "nice." They did have their own medical facility, and a very small concrete patch outside for the children. What made me so terribly sad was that I found her "baby gated" behind a 20 x 20 foot area. That is where she stayed from 6am to 7pm. When we brought her home, she never left the living room. She would stay in the room I placed her in. She didn't understand that she could move around, that she had that freedom. It was huge when she actually walked into the kitchen.
So having this experience, I would have to say that orphanage life would not have been better.
So two questions...

1. Do we need to work on bettering orphanages and turn them into "children's homes" to keep them in country? (okay, that is me wearing the other hat, I can't help it)

and please don't take this the wrong way...

2. Would it be better or more acceptable "culturally" if I was of Guatemalan heritage?
Michelle said…
I think orphanages such as the ones in Guatemala are indeed not a good environment for children to live in.

Taking a child out of country isn't always the best solution, either. But, with the situation at hand, and not many options to work with, the best you can do for the children you adopted is to try and keep them connected to their mothers/families and culture.

Certainly, in countries like the US and Canada, a child is presented with more opportunities, but this, along with good caregivers, does not dismiss the child's need to know their family and culture. it does not mean that when these children grow up they will take advantage of these opportunities.

If war were to break out in my country, and I was somehow left homeless and disconnected from my family and friends, I would appreciate, and even(gulp!) be grateful to someone who rescued me. But, I am an adult, and I know who I am (sort of, cuz I'm adopted) and I would understand what happened. I would have the resources to search for my people -I would be able to comprehend why I was separated from my people and culture.

Children can not comprehend this. They are too young, obviously, to process why they are not with their families and living in their homelend. The longer they are disconnected, the more confusing it becomes. They need to know their families to be able to hear and process the truth and to build their identity and develop a concept of self, based on their culture, parents and the the generations of parents before them.
Erin said…
It seems that Korea is making changes to keep children with their families and in country, but those changes aren't fully implemented yet. It will take a generation of children growing up to accept single mothers before so many women stop relinquishing. Currently there are still many women who relinquish just because they are single in Korea. So while it is amazing that the country is changing, is it a bad thing to adopt from there now? Beyond that if we DO adopt from there are we just feeding the system and allowing the demand to grow?

Popular Posts