It is amazing the amount of print space, air time and political clout given to those who choose adoption (particularly of the intercountry variety) to ‘create a family,’ yet so little given to the adult voices of those who have actually lived and can speak to the long-term effects of the intercountry adoption experience. Over the last four months, Irish airwaves and numerous publications have extensively covered the impact of the recent Oscar-nominated film ‘Philomena’ and Ireland’s history of trafficking more than 2,000 of its own children abroad. Yet the Irish Times has remained curiously silent on the topic. Until this past weekend, when we were treated to Rosita Boland’s cringe-worthy lament on the ‘Kafkaesque process’ that she claims intercountry adoption to be in Ireland today.
Rosita, it’s not about you. Lost in this whinge-fest is the truth that adoption is supposed to be about finding homes for children who desperately need them, not about finding children for people like Rosita Boland who desperately want them. What Ms. Boland doesn’t seem to understand is that adoption, and more importantly, the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (to which Ireland is a signatory and ratified), is about the best interests of children – not the adults wishing to adopt them. Creating a family through alternative means when one finds oneself biologically incapable of doing so is not a Constitutional right. It is a privilege. And trying to create one by any means necessary, including by flaunting the basic human rights of natural parents and their children, makes for a playing field and supply/demand scenario ripe for fraud. If adopters like Ms. Boland truly want to make a difference in a child’s life, why not sponsor a child and his family? Or adopt one of the thousands of children in care (and, sadly, among whom are the cast-aside teens of prior Russian, Romanian and other intercountry adoption arrangements), of which according to recent HSE statistics, more than 300 are currently statused as tracked for adoption?
We’ve all seen the numerous recent imbroglios in which Ireland has become involved concerning intercountry adoption: Vietnam, Mexico, Tristan Dowse and other cases all stand as stark reminders to how corrupt this practice has become. The moribund, quasi-governmental body known as the Adoption Authority of Ireland has managed to step into one nasty quagmire after another in its quest to create bilateral agreements and satisfy the insatiable demands of prospective adopters. That it finally tried putting the brakes on some of these relationships is a small victory for best-practice adoption, although clearly it put a major damper on Ms. Boland’s hopes.
The underrepresentation of adult intercountry-adopted voices when it comes to intercountry adoption policy – be it on the board of the Adoption Authority, in the media, or at conferences concerning the topic – is staggering and concerning. In the US, a Bill known as the Children and Families First (CHIFF) Act, designed to ‘fast-track’ intercountry adoptions, is struggling to gain support. It is sponsored by senior Senator from Louisiana Mary Landrieu, whose own husband was trafficked from Ireland in 1949 – before a legal Adoption Act was even on the books. But that doesn’t seem to bother Ms. Landrieu one whit, as she herself played ‘white saviour’ and collected two children internationally, and touts her husband’s ‘adoption’ as something out of a “storybook.” His export from Ireland and adoption was and is illegal. She and the CHIFF committee make the odious argument that there are ‘more than enough [children] to go around,’ as if children were somehow party favours. Even more egregious, supporters of this Bill recently hosted a conference to which not ONE intercountry adopted adult was invited. When questioned about the lack of representation of those with lived experience on the topic by groups of Korean, Irish, German, Vietnamese and other internationally-adopted adults, CHIFF committee members told us the conference was geared toward the ‘legal aspects of the Bill.’ So there are no intercountry-adopted lawyers out there? Ms. Landrieu’s own husband is a well-known Louisiana attorney. But perhaps he remains ignorant of his own trafficked status, unaware that perhaps somewhere in Ireland there was or is a mother who lives devastated and grieved that her child was taken from her simply because of the social mores of the day.
Which brings us back full-circle to the truth of Ireland’s own involvement in child trafficking from the 1940’s-1970’s. The last piece of dirty carpet remaining from Ireland’s history and culture of containment. Those of us whose identities, heritage and culture were stripped in that trafficking are now middle-aged adults: we vote, pay taxes, have children and grandchildren, have served in the US military, and yes, some of us are even attorneys. We have a voice and a story to tell. It is no mystery why the Irish State and former religious-run agencies would prefer this piece of carpet not be torn up. It will expose a half-century of fraud, corruption, illegalities and human rights violations that may well make the industrial school abuses and Magdalene Laundries pale in comparison. What is a mystery is why individuals like Ms. Boland whinge about the small number of children available to be adopted from abroad. We should be applauding those numbers and recognising that the best outcome for most children is to be raised within their natural families, within their own country and culture. Money and power should never be used as tools to subjugate women in other countries and strip them of their children. Implying that privileged white adopters can better raise a child is the worst sort of racism and classism, and does not represent choice or empowerment for women in underdeveloped nations or without resources to parent. And making it easier for that power imbalance to continue to exist is certainly not the answer.