Many adopted children, Joyce reports, have one living parent, or other family who want to care for them; other birth families may have put them in orphanages not because they are orphans but because their families couldn’t afford to keep them at home.
When my husband and I began the process of adopting our first son in 2001, we did so idealistically, naïvely. Although we were almost certainly capable of conceiving children, we decided adoption might be a better option: my husband already had two older biological children; I had no great urge to birth my offspring; adopting would, if not alleviate, at least not exacerbate the world’s overpopulation problem by providing a home for already-born kids without a family.
Only when our adoption was nearly complete—when we were standing in the US State Department Offices in Vietnam, processing immigration papers for our son—did I start to recognize the potential for corruption in the adoption industry. As I listened to a state department official grill another adoptive couple about the child in their laps, I began to understand some of the problems plaguing adoptions from Vietnam: unscrupulous facilitators skirting the law; infants being adopted at too young an age, given Vietnam’s adoption policies at the time; agencies changing children’s identities to make them adoptable. Such problems, as detailed by E.J. Graff in Foreign Policy, would shut down the country to adoptions from the United States.
While it seems like our own adoption had the documentation proving our son was an orphan needing a family, we will never be 100 percent certain, given what was happening in Vietnam at the time.
We switched countries for our next adoption, certain the corruption in Vietnam was region-specific. Nearly two years into the process to adopt a 3-year-old boy with special needs, I had come to believe India’s adoption industry was not any more transparent, especially after our agency and the care center where my son lived were less than forthcoming about their own in-country licensure. And again, although we have ample evidence our second son was adopted ethically and has no living birthparents, we will never know for sure. He will never know for sure.
Because of my family’s history, I found journalist Kathryn Joyce’s new book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, an important read for me as a Christian and an adoptive parent. Many secular adoption agencies have been implicated in corruption in the last decade and more. Joyce focuses on those evangelical adoption ministries that have used coercion, aggressive marketing, outright lies and other forms of malfeasance to promote what they believe to be a biblical agenda of caring for widows and orphans. Many adopted children, Joyce reports, have one living parent, or other family who want to care for them; other birth families may have put them in orphanages not because they are orphans but because their families couldn’t afford to keep them at home. Her book’s essential argument is troubling, as well it should be: because the evangelical mythology of adoption posits that the happiest possible outcome for parentless children, both physically and metaphysically, is placing them in loving Christian homes, the seedier sides of adoption remain neatly hidden. In other words, because the motives for adoption are apparently good, some evangelicals demand that we overlook the ways marginalized women in developing countries are deprived of their children, for Christ’s sake.