I know I'm opening up myself for some dissent here, as any mention of halting or slowing down adoptions from any country immediately brings defensive rejoinders, but I feel this is an important issue. I believe that the loss of the information and history of our famiiles of origin is a fundamental right that was taken away from adopted individuals (though I know many other adoptees share this position I recognize not every adoptee does).
In discussions about adoption, many people often make statements about “the rights of children to have a permanent, loving home.” Yet, rarely do I hear about another right that I believe all human beings – including children – are entitled to: that of knowing who they are and where they came from.
I have been attempting to find out information about my Korean parents for the past 9 years now, to no success. Often, people will tell me that my Korean mother may not want to be found and that I should respect that. But why are her rights privileged over mine?
When I was in the hospital recently and going through a series of tests, I had to go through interview after interview answering “I’m adopted” in response to my medical history. Although I understand that my Korean mother may have felt she had no choice – or perhaps someone else made that “choice” for her – not having any idea on my family history is not acceptable.
That is why I am alarmed to find out that in Vietnam, there has been a growing trend in children being “abandoned” when previously they were “relinquished.”
This is no minor distinction. The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam is estimating that 85% of the children being placed for adoption are classified as “abandoned” compared to 38-39% around 2000-2002. The vast majority of children adopted from Vietnam in the earlier time frames who were relinquished had at least one – and many had both – biological parents information on record.
So why the sudden growth of “abandoned” children in Vietnam? According to Ethica,
There is simply no societal reason in Vietnam for the practices to have so abruptly changed from pre-closure to post-closure. There are, of course, a few possibilities about why it is happening now. It could be happening at the direction of orphanages, at the provincial level (one agency reported that some provinces are making rules that only abandoned children can be placed), or in some cases, at the direction of agencies or overseas facilitators. It could be happening to make processing easier, or to avoid investigations. It could be happening because people haven’t thought about the long-term ramifications. There likely will be a mix of opinions about why this phenomenon is occurring. Equally likely is that there probably are several different reasons. But one thing is certain—regardless of the reasons, there are two end results. First, children are losing their identities, an unacceptable ramification of this practice. And secondly, there is a very real risk that this behavior will affect the future of adoptions from Vietnam.
Ethica, along with the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam, has called for greater investigation into the background of these children classified as “abandoned” and of course, that is leading to delays in the adoption process. Adoptive parents are outraged. The U.S. government and Vietnam are attempting to re-negotiate an agreement and many adoptive parents are advocating that Ethica stop its investigations because of the chance it will hurt the negotiation.
I don't understand why any adoptive parent wouldn’t want to know for certain that their child was legitimately and legally abandoned or relinquished before they went ahead with the adoption. Cambodia’s adoption program essentially ended for this reason; there was too much evidence that “abandoned” children were actually unethically or illegally placed for adoption.
It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the long wait time for international adoptions. I understand that the process to adopt is agonizingly slow. Two years is a long time to wait for an adoption. But this is not about the adoptive parents. This is not just about Vietnam. This is about what's ethically just for the children involved.
This is also not about pushing people into opposite camps. It's not shut down a country's adoption program vs. adoptee's rights to information. It doesn't have to be either/or.
The desire for a faster adoption should not be the reason that eyes are closed. If even one child is found to be illegally adopted, that is enough reason that adoptive parents, agencies and Vietnam should slow down and do what’s right.
People want to say that it’s in the best interest of the child to be adopted and that causing a child to have to live in the orphanage longer than necessary is damaging. But what is damaging to me – a child who lived in two orphanages – is losing everything that tied me to my family in Korea. This isn’t in negation of or in place of my adoptive family. This is in addition to. This is about my right to know where I came from and my history and the fact that everyone else’s needs were too selfish to consider my future needs as an adult without a family history.
Averting one’s eyes is more dangerous to the future of adoption – not just in Vietnam but in every country. It’s not about being pro- or anti-adoption this is about being ethical. Agencies and orphanages in Vietnam are lying to the U.S. Government about its practices. They are also undermining investigations by the U.S. Embassy into illegal and/or unethical adoptions.
I feel the same way about these developments in Vietnam as I do about Guatemala.
Why would anyone want to push forward with their adoption if there is a chance it is illegal or unethical?
Isn't doing the moral thing more important than speed? Isn't the protection of children's rights the most important issue here?
I spent over two years living in an orphanage. If I were to find out today that I was delayed for 6-12 months because the orphanage and agency in Korea was double and triple-checking that I wasn’t kidnapped, trafficked or otherwise illegally procured for adoption, it would have been worth it.
For more about the controversy in Vietnam, check out Ethica’s positions:
U.S. State Department:
Borrowed Notes - Operation Identity
Land of the Not So Calm - Operation Identity and Vietnam Adoptions
Ethnically Incorrect Daughter - Operation Identity