PEAR has received a number of reports from adopting families and NGOs on the ground in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) regarding unethical conduct by adoption agencies, adopting families, local facilitators/attorneys, orphanage personnel, and officials in the DRC. These reports have come to us over the past year via informal notifications (individual emails, adoption chats, facebook postings), agency website information, blogs, media, NGO reports, US Department of State and Embassy communications, and direct communications with adopting parents and NGOs working with families and children on the ground in the DRC.
Due to the seriousness of these reports, the rapidly increasing interest in adoption from this country, and the continuing abuses of the process in the DRC, it is PEAR’s recommendation that families do not initiate new adoption applications at this time. We also recommend that those families currently in process either switch to another program, consider sponsoring a child, or, at a minimum, exercise extreme caution in pursuing adoption from DRC. We encourage families who have recently completed or are currently in process to:
- keep themselves aware of ethical issues and red flags for abnormal process;
- honestly evaluate paperwork;
- question information they receive from orphanages and agencies;
- question fees, especially fees above the average for an agency-assisted adoption and any “mandatory donations” made without a written receipt from the donee;
- request itemized receipts for payments, including donations, in the US and abroad;
- be aware that using a Hague Accredited agency does NOT guarantee an ethical and/or legal, adoption experience; and,
- report any misgivings or suspicions concerning illegal or unethical conduct to appropriate US and Congolese officials.
In addition, we urgently call on the governments of the DRC and the United States to investigate allegations of corruption thoroughly and take any and all measures necessary to address these issues with honesty and transparency in order to protect Congolese children and families as well as US citizen prospective adoptive families. It is the duty of the US Embassies abroad to protect US citizens. Withholding critical information concerning adoption agencies, facilitators, and case trends from US adopting families is placing them at risk of involvement in illegal and/or unethical adoptions.
Ethical concerns include:
- Lack of proper infrastructure to support ethical adoption practices and thwart unethical, illegal processes. The DRC was recently named a “failed state” by Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace http://www.foreignpolicy.com/failed_states_index_2012_interactive. The lack of a proper infrastructure for child welfare, legal processes, and criminal prosecutions leaves an open invitation to the unethical conduct of adoption agencies known for unethical practices in other countries, agencies such as Celebrate Children International (an agency denied Hague accreditation despite numerous attempts, it was involved in the book about Guatemalan adoption corruption, Finding Fernanda). Although the DRC has a Child Protection Code in place, that code is rarely enforced, earning them a Tier 2 rating by the US DOS for the 5th consecutive year. United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Congo, Republic of the, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4fe30cd5c.html [accessed 16 September 2012]. Additionally, frequent reports of harassment, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions have increased for those who attempt to investigate and report human rights violations. 2011 Human Rights Report: Democratic Republic of the Congo Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2011/af/186183.htm
- Reports of extensive bribes paid to local officials by US adoption agencies and/or their local facilitators (in addition to the direct information we have received from concerned adoptive families and NGO’s, the bribery situation is openly discussed and has been for quite an extensive time, on adoption chats such as Babycenter and adoption blogs, see http://congoadoptions.blogspot.com/ for a blog roll). In fact, in their 2010 report on Human Rights on Congo, the US DOS stated: “The law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.” http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/af/154341.htm the 2011 Report contains similar concerns for all levels of government, including the judiciary and police. PEAR would like to remind US agencies and families who participate in this bribery of foreign officials are subject to criminal prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/
- Reports that orphanages are not using the money donated by agencies and adopting parents for the care of children. Donations run anywhere from $800-10,000 for "humanitarian aid" and "upkeep" of the child while in their care. These same orphanages are not accountable for their funds and repeated visits by adopting parents reveal the children in a continued neglected state and gift donations no where to be found. PEAR has received numerous notifications from both adoptive families and NGOs on the ground in DRC concerning this issue.
- Repeated reports from foreign NGOs and adopting families of child laundering, baby selling, kidnapping, and coercive relinquishment practices called “harvesting”. See both What Happened? Delighted In The Lord Blog, 9/27/2012, http://delightedinthelord.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/what-happened/) and Combatting Corruption in Congo, MLJ Adoption Blog, 6/20/2012, Sonja Brown, http://mljadoptions.com/Media.aspx?articleID=512 for referral to criminal conduct in adoption.
- Program growing too quickly without being tested for stability and capacity, creating huge potential for ethical/legal issues due to unrealistic expectations by PAPs and agencies and increasing pressure on local authorities to produce “adoptable” children. In 2008, there were 9 adoptions from DRC to the US. In 2011, that number increased to 133. We have received preliminary reports that numbers for 2012 are at least double. Historically speaking, when an increase of this magnitude happens, the ethics of the program decrease as participants engage in exploitative measures to increase profits. This recently happened in Guatemala, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. While there are many vulnerable children in need of care, the competition in intercountry adoption programs for young, healthy children with “documentation” invites the use of unethical and illegal practices both in finding children and filling orphanages that are merely holding places for children destined for intercountry adoption.
- Inconsistent and inexplicable fees. According to the US Embassy in Kinshana, the following fees are typical within DRC for the purposes of completing an adoption: Court fees for an adoption case average between $100 and $300. Lawyer fees can range from $1,000 to $2,500. http://kinshasa.usembassy.gov/adoption.html Currently, some US agencies are listing “Foreign Fees” that far exceed the costs enumerated above while others appear to reflect true costs. For example, Wasatch International’s foreign fee for DRC is $15,000, whereas Lifeline lists their foreign fee as a mere $1000. MLJ Adoptions does not breakdown an exact amount for the foreign fee, listing it instead as combined with in-country services for the child pending adoption, hotel costs for the family while incountry, and deposits on post placement visits ($500), the total of which is $24,000. The average annual income in DRC is $675 per year (compare to USA $45835.5 in 2008). Lawyers fees for adoption are $1,000 to $2,500, where is the remaining money going to?
We are dismayed to make this recommendation in light of the high numbers of children in need in DCR. However, we believe that the focus in DRC has shifted from finding solutions for children in need of families to finding children to fit the needs of an increasing number prospective adoptive parents. We suspect that some agencies are unrealistically recruiting families into DRC programs to fill the financial gap caused by recent closures and slow downs in previously high-volume countries.
We encourage those interested in DCR adoptions to read the articles cited above as well as reports contained here:
- Prevalence, Abuse & Exploitation of Street Children, 2010 http://gvnet.com/streetchildren/Congo.htm
- Adopting from Africa, Saving the Children? Think Africa Press 6 August 2012 by Elizabeth Willmott Harrop http://thinkafricapress.com/legal/adoption-trade-sets-shop-africa.
- ISS Report: Investigating the Grey Zones of Intercountry Adoption, http://iss-usa.org/pressdetails.asp?IdPress=59
If, after reading the above, you are determined to adopt from DRC, please do everything in your power to ensure that your child is a true orphan in need of intercountry adoption as the only viable option of alternative care. Follow the tips and suggestions for those adopting from Congo that are found here: http://kitumaini.blogspot.com.
PEAR continues to monitor adoption from DRC and will update our recommendations when believe adequate controls have been put into place to ensure ethical adoptions.
Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.