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.
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.”
Earlier this month I wrote a post about the church missionaries in Haiti who had been detained on trafficking charges for attempting to take children out of the country illegally.
In India, recently such actions have come under more intense scrutiny, with a rising number of child traffickers disguising themselves as missionaries in order to gain trust. Northern India is a region of the country with a large Christian population, and traffickers are exploiting this in order to present themselves as evangelists or missionaries who promise a better future for children.
It is believed that the children, aged from around six to 15, are being taken to unregistered children’s homes where they are kept in poor conditions and made to do menial work like cooking and laundry. There have been reports of children dying in suspicious circumstances and of others being molested and abused.
“These institutions exploit religion to make money. With many of them not registered with the government, the homes escape scrutiny,” Vidya Reddy of Tulir of the Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse was quoted as saying by Times of India. You can read the full story here.
In other, more uplifting news, some children in India have taken it upon themselves to conduct studies and report to the UN on the status of child rights in the country. Since 1992, the Indian government is required to submit a report on child rights to the U.N. After waiting more than a year to be heard and accounted in this report, at least 27 children from the state of Gujurat took matters into their own hands, surveying more than 700 children and writing their own report.
This alternative report focused on four predominant children’s rights: right to survival; right to develop; right to protection against exploitation and right to participation. Children across state complained that doctors were missing from the government clinics in their community; shared their frustration against caste discrimination in schools. They were also agitated due to inefficiency in distribution of school meals and sanitation on school campuses.
Surely this strong action to ensure that their voices are heard is a step in the right direction, for demanding the rights to which they are entitled.
Today I am unveiling a new feature – Good News Wednesday!
Every Wednesday I will share an inspiring story affecting these children. We all can use some good news, and there are so many wonderful people doing amazing work. I think they should be recognized, and children who have a second chance at a future acknowledged.
Today I would like to share the story of Pamela and Babli. Pamela found my book through an online adoption group, and contacted me after she had read it. This is what she wrote to me:
“Just finished reading your book and it was wonderful. We adopted Babli last October from a Mumbai orphanage. She had been found badly injured by the body of her mother at a Bombay train station when she was about 3 years old. Your stories are her story. Her resilience is that of the children you describe. She is now about 7or 8 and happy and smart and amazing.“
Pamela ended by thanking me for writing the book, as she continued to try to figure out a way to be more involved and help more children like Babli. “I’ll be watching for more of your writings and looking to you for further inspiration,” she said. “You have written a very important book.”
Thank YOU, Pamela, for sharing the incredible story of your amazing Babli with me. Here is some more information about this little girl who has been given a second chance at life:
Nothing was known about Babli’s life before the age of about 3. She was found beside the body of her dead mother at Borivali train station. Her mother had sustained open femur fractures of both of her legs and a head injury. Pamela hoped to find out more about what happened to Babli’s mother, but was given conflicting stories…that she and her mother fell from the train, they were pushed from the train, her mother walked with her in front of the train as a suicide attempt due to poverty. “We may never know,” says Pamela. “She is our most precious child. That we do know.”
Babli was hospitalized for several months and endured 3 years of surgeries in India in an attempt to save her right leg. However, the leg required amputation in the U.S. after Pamela and her husband brought her home last October. Before that, Babli lived for 3 years at St. Catherine’s Home in Mumbai. She was cared for very well there, and for this Pamela is most grateful. Prior to the adoption, Pamela was told that testing revealed Babli to be mentally retarded.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Pamela insists. “She is smart and kind and loving. Nothing can stop this kid and she brings joy to us every day.”
What an amazing story – it is knowing that these miracles exist, that makes it possible for me to continue this work without a heavy heart. Thank you, Pamela, for sharing Babli’s incredible story with us – and congratulations on your beautiful daughter.
Don’t forget to join me for 10 minutes at Authors Read, on September 19 when I will be reading from The Weight of Silence.
And check out the Travel’n On radio show on September 29, when I am the guest. The Travel’n On Radio Show empowers travelers to have fun while leaving positive footprints by fostering global citizenship and creating cross-cultural understanding. Click here to listen to the broadcast online, 9/29 at 3 pm CST.