Category Archives: adoption

Adoption – Your “own” children?

I have had a relatively long familiarity with adoption; my youngest sister was adopted as a baby when I was a teenager. For years before that, my mother was a foster parent for children who were on their way to adoptive families. And as an adult, I have volunteered extensively for foster, adoptive and children’s advocacy organizations. So, basically it has always been something that is sort of “no big deal” to me – some children are born biologically to the parents, some children are adopted. Whichever they are, it really doesn’t matter, it’s just the way they arrived. Like being born C-section or regular birth, with blue eyes or brown eyes. No big deal.

However, I sometimes realize that this familiarity and acceptance of the various ways that families become families is somewhat unusual – in other words, a lot of people actually still seem to feel that an adoptive family isn’t perhaps a “real” family. That adopted kids aren’t really “your” kids. Although most of the people who feel this way, I believe, are just clueless and maybe think that because they have no real experience of it, at the same time it’s a troubling train of thought.

This is on my mind after being brought home to me again, by a woman who has adopted two children from India. She wrote to me after reading my book, to tell me how the book resonated with her and to tell me the story of her family. I wrote about it on this Weight of Silence blog; you can read her story here.

One day she posted about a disturbing encounter she had:

Talking to a very nice lady who was oohing and aahing over our littlest two and how they are so amazing and asking all sorts of questions about their adoption. I asked her if she was thinking of adopting and she exclaimed (in front of Bubbly and Sara), ‘Oh no! I want to have my OWN children.’”

I realize that the woman in question meant no harm, but was rather ignorant and extremely insensitive. However, this type of belief and attitude is very disturbing. Especially when there are “real” parents all over the world, by the millions, who aren’t any kind of parents at all. Who abuse their kids, neglect them, abandon them…and then there are the parents and children who were meant to be families from the start, and who find each other because they are parents and children of the heart, which is just as strong as blood.

It is one of the strongest, most important lessons I have learned all through my life: Genetics have NOTHING to do with what makes a family. Family is all about love.

Pass it on.

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Butterfly Moments

Butterfly, a website portal for working mothers, features a different “celebrity mother” each month. For April, I am delighted to report that yours truly is featured on the site. Butterfly features both a printed interview with me, as well as a series of short video interviews. The interviews discuss my work in India and research/writing about issues affecting children there, as well as my own journey as both a parent and author.

Click here to read the written interview.

For the video interviews, they are available in order below:

Interview Part 1 - Shelley Reports on the Deplorable side of India

Part 2 - How a Boy's Life was Changed

Part 3 - India's Impact on an American Teenager

Part 4 - Orphaned by Malaria, AIDS and Poverty

Part 5 - Shelley's Journey in India

Part 6 - Advice for Aspiring Writers

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Lost and Found: Adoption in India

One of questions I am most often asked about the topic of the “invisible children” of India – the orphaned, the abandoned, the runaways and throwaways – is something along the lines of, “Why aren’t more children adopted?” or “Are any of these kids ever adopted?

In India (as in many other places), the issue of adoption is a complex one. Corruption, particularly in international adoptions, is rampant – and not just within India, but outside its borders in foreign “adoption agencies” as well. Government regulations and oversight, issues about parental relinquishment and what children are really available for adoption, and the legal process are all involved and complicated. There are far fewer domestic adoptions within the country than one would think – fewer than five thousand a year – while millions of children languish in orphanages and more than four thousand potential adoptive parents wait on lists in both Delhi and Calcutta alone.

I recently published an article on Blog Critics, about the myriad issues surrounding adoption in India. If you are interested in this subject and some of the background issues surrounding it, you might like to take a look. An excerpt is below:

In March 2007 I was in Northeastern India, on my third trip to the country and in the midst of writing my book, The Weight of Silence: Invisible Children of India. I had first come to India two years prior to volunteer in an orphanage; the beautiful, parentless children had touched my life so profoundly that I had been inspired to write a book about their lives. Some of them had been orphaned by death, but far more had been orphaned simply by poverty: their parents were too poor to feed them. In a way this seemed a greater tragedy, and I set about trying to discover why more of these children weren’t adopted.

It turned out to be an extremely complicated subject in India. Many of the children are never eligible for adoption, because they have not been truly orphaned or the requisite relinquishment forms have not been signed. Although there is a four-year waiting list for domestic adoption in both Delhi and Calcutta, the laws and regulations are exceedingly burdensome and not easily navigable, even for government and social workers. And the biggest hurdle of all seems to be corruption; it is rampant in this country, particularly when it comes to international adoption. In my research and interviewing process for the book, I heard story after story about children who weren’t really available for adoption, being taken from their parents and sold to wealthy, unsuspecting foreigners; children whose adoption papers were forged; orphanages where the children available for adoption were fed and healthy, while those unavailable were malnourished and abused.”

Continue reading the article here.

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Disastrous Adoptions

Mario Tama/Getty Images, courtesy NY Times

In recent days there has been a lot of controversy and concern over children in Haiti, in the aftermath of the country’s devastating earthquake. Questions about orphans, what children are really orphans, parents relinquishing their children, international volunteer or aid groups and child trafficking abound.

This recalls very similar, and similarly disturbing, activities and concerns after the horrific tsunami struck in the Indian Ocean in 2004. In India, many children were lost from remaining parents or other family members, and subsequently ripped from the villages and homes they had known all their lives by “well-meaning” aid groups who rushed too quickly to place them into orphanages or foster/adoptive care. Far worse were the groups who knowingly took children, capitalizing on both the disaster as well as the poverty and illiteracy of many parents in places struck the hardest. In subsequent months, many reports of child trafficking and children being “sold” into illegal adoptions with false paperwork abounded.

Detained Americans/Photo AP

Today with Haiti, this begs the question of people can learn from mistakes of the past. Can we use the lessons of the 2004 tsunami to protect Haiti’s children better? The Baptist missionaries charged with trying to take 33 children out of the country without permission or proper paperwork were not only acting illegally, but clearly rushing into trying to “save” these children without any real thought, investigation or planning as to what the familial status of the children really was, and how ripping them from their home would traumatize them. Some are calling the church group traffickers, others believe they acted with good intentions but improperly.

“We are watching this with a great deal of discomfort,” said Christopher de Bono of UNICEF. “There are at least tens of thousands, potentially hundreds of thousands, of children in Port-au-Prince, in Haiti, who currently need urgent help. And they need that help in Haiti. They don’t need to be plucked out of the country and taken away,” he said.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0102/LeMoyne

A spokesman for Save the Children agrees. “The possibility of a child being mistakenly labelled as an orphan during this time is incredibly high,” he warned. “Only once the family tracing effort has been exhausted and it is determined that children cannot be reunited, and after proper screening, should international adoption be considered.”

It’s clear from the lessons of India that removing children, particularly with plans to adopt them internationally, should be the last recourse and done only after extensive due diligence. In the confusion of such a disaster, especially, conditions are ripe for child trafficking and corruption. Even without a disaster in place, reports worldwide exist about children being kidnapped, stolen, lured, parents being tricked into relinquishing, illegal adoption schemes…far, far too many such reports.

While researching and writing this book, I came across story after story of illegal adoptions; children who were never relinquished or placed for adoption by their poor parents, who were instead taken advantage of by people who forged papers and sold them to adoptive parents, who were mostly blissfully ignorant of what was happening.

The Smolin Family

Stories like that of David and Desiree Smolin. In 1998, the Smolins were ecstatic to be adopting two sisters from India. But the couple was struck immediately by how traumatized and upset the girls were when they arrived at their new home in Atlanta. “We expected that there would be some shyness at the beginning, but we expected that they would be happy to see us at least after they got over the initial shock of being here,” Desiree Smolin says.

The adoption agency described Manjula and Bhagya as sisters who had been waiting a long time for a home. But the girls insisted they had been stolen — kidnapped from their mother. The Indian mother was poor. She placed the children temporarily in an orphanage, and the orphanage essentially sold them. You can read more about their story as it was featured on NPR.

Manjula Smolin with her birth mother, December 2005 in Andhra Pradesh, India.

This set off a journey that continued for years, where the Smolins attempted to find the girls’ mother – as well as learn what had gone wrong and how such a thing could happen. In 2005, David Smolin returned to India with Manjula and Bhagya, where they were reunited with their birth mother. The couple also became somewhat of experts on international adoption, speaking freely and trying to advocate for safer international adoption practices. David is a professor at Cumberland Law School and has written extensively about adoption law. Desiree started a blog called Fleas Biting, to tell their story and try to prevent such traumas from happening to other children. The couple also started a website for ethical adoption.

David also weighs in on the debate over Haiti’s children. The New York Times put the issue front and center in its February 1 “Room for Debate.” In the debate, David says:

Views of intercountry adoption vacillate between the positive, in which it is portrayed as a humanitarian act of goodwill benefiting both child and adoptive family, and the negative, in which it is portrayed either as child trafficking or as a neo-colonialist child grab.

The American mind has been shaped by the positive vision of families saving bereft orphans from a grim life in a Dickens-esque institution or from death on the streets. Increasingly, however, adoption trafficking reports from Cambodia, China, Vietnam, India, Guatemala, Nepal and Samoa are substantiating the negative view.

Adoption trafficking has continued because the adoption community has chosen to minimize the problems, rather than fix the system. Since you can’t fix what you will not admit is broken, there is a perverse tendency to repeat, over and over again, the same mistakes in intercountry adoption.

Trying to move children quickly out of a country in the aftermath of a disaster, particularly for adoption, is one of the old mistakes. International organizations have warned against it in past disasters such as the Indonesian Tsunami of 2004, just as they are doing so currently for Haiti.”

Read the entire debate here, where others weigh in on both sides of the issue.

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