Friday, May 3, 2013

Statement on the Documentary "Stuck"

The Board of Directors of PEAR would like to express some thoughts on the recently released documentary, Stuck, which purports to be an accurate depiction of the current problems with the international adoption process. The documentary shows compelling footage of adorable children in shabby orphanages around the world, and follows the plights of three families with their international adoptions.

Stuck is part of a larger publicity strategy by the Both Ends Burning campaign spearheaded by Craig Juntenen, which includes a national tour, petition drive, and a march in Washington, D.C., all ostensibly designed to increase the number of international adoptions.  Juntenen's strategy proposes to accomplish this by petitioning the US government “to remove barriers to international adoption.”

While specific barriers are not mentioned, it is clear from the discussions in Stuck that the requirements set forth in The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption, specifically with regards to the Principle of Subsidiarity, are targeted.  The Principle of Subsidiarity states that it is in the best interest of children to be raised by family or kin. If immediate family/kin is unable, or unavailable, domestic placement with a foster or adoptive family in the child's own country and culture is the next best option. Finally, if neither of these alternatives is viable, then permanent placement with an appropriate family in another country through intercountry adoption is seen as an alternative.

PEAR’s members, comprised of all members of the adoption triad as well as those interested in adoption ethics, are of course deeply sympathetic to children in need. We believe that all children should grow up in loving families wherever possible.

However, PEAR strongly supports the safeguards provided by the Hague Convention rules and restrictions. We believe that Central Authority adherence to the Principle of Subsidiarity, for example, is in the best interest of children, birth families, and sending countries.  We are also very supportive of the Hague injunctions against infant trafficking, false promises, and other deceitful and coercive means used by many sending countries and their orphanages to unethically obtain children for the express purpose of international adoption.  Stuck turns the complex issue of international adoption into an extremely simplistic story that misleads and misinforms rather than offering meaningful solutions. 

For example, Stuck claims that shutting down adoptions is the same as telling children that their lives don’t matter.  Where adoption is the only choice for a child, it should be allowed and encouraged.  But Stuck completely ignores the fact that other choices may exist, such as placing a child with extended family, neighbors, or friends.  The Ethiopian birth mother profiled in the film said she relinquished her daughter because “I got nothing to feed her.”  Encouraging international adoption at the expense of family preservation efforts is the same as telling children and their biological families that their lives don’t matter.

Stuck also shows a researcher stating that if international adoptions decrease, the rates of institutionalization of children around the world could increase.  It is difficult to prove this assertion, and there is compelling evidence to show that the opposite is in fact true.  Experiences in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Guatemala have shown that the demand for adoptable children created by international adoption has actually caused more children to become separated from their families due to trafficking, false promises of educational opportunities, and outright confiscation, with many of those children ending up in orphanages. This anecdotal evidence is supported by studies showing that when international adoption closes in a country or region, the number of institutionalized children decreases, particularly in orphanages that had opened solely to provide children for these adoptions. Evidence for this was particularly strong in Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala, and China. In fact, in a video conference last November, Ambassador Susan Jacobs alluded to these studies. ( She said, “And we have to be very careful of that. And what we did find out is when we closed adoptions in a number of countries, the orphanages emptied out."

Stuck also claims that minor paperwork errors are a significant cause of international adoption delays.   An adoptive mother of a child from Vietnam profiled in the film describes a missing document that slowed down her child’s case.  But the movie avoids placing such issues into a larger context:  Adoptions from Vietnam were halted by the U.S. Department of State for multiple reasons. One was due to an overwhelming body of evidence showing that children were being trafficked; some were purchased from their birth mothers and re-sold to orphanages for lucrative adoptions.  Another was the use of corrupt facilitators, knowingly hired by U.S. agencies and sanctioned by Vietnamese officials, who oversaw the dispensation of licenses to these agencies.  Vietnam also failed to comply with their own laws and agreements to make the process more transparent and to explain where fees were going.

Similar findings about corrupt agencies, facilitators, lawyers, and government officials have been also found in Guatemala, Nepal, and Cambodia, which resulted in the closure of those programs.  Allegations and investigations about similar problems in other countries such as Ethiopia, China, and India have also occasioned extensive delays.

Paperwork necessities and delays, while annoying and often redundant, are not the real problem, as Stuck naively asserts. The real problem is lack of meaningful oversight of adoption programs around the world.  To sanction the removal of even the minimal safeguards that try to minimize or eradicate corruption in the costly international adoption process would likely cause more children to lose their original families, an increase in trafficking and other forms of corruption, and result in more children being “stuck” in government care when the programs inevitably collapse under fraud allegations and investigations.  

As a last point, Stuck also willfully neglects the voices of those with the most at stake: international adoptees themselves, especially those older than the children shown in the film. Its adoptive-parent-centric stance limits not only its scope, but its credibility about the repercussion of the process on powerless and vulnerable adoptees.

PEAR recommends the following thoughtful perspectives on Stuck:

Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.


T & T Livesay said...

Thanks for this review and the links.

Robin Nail said...

My husband and I are both professionals from the US. We have lived in Kenya for several years, and since my husband is medical we ended up with very sick and malnurished (weighing on 4 lbs at 15 months)twin girls in our home. their birth mom died, dad is unknown, elderly grandmother had no help or resources or desire to raise the girls. The officially signed off that they wanted us to adopt them. We processed an international adoption, but after two years and thousands of dollars--we have been denied due to "pre-selection" --a rule in the Hague Adoption Convention. Because they know us and are bonded to us they can never be our children legally and travel to the US.
There is good in the HAC Treaty but parts do not consider the children.
We were told to drop them off at an orphanage (with millions of other children in Kenya) if we loved them. They lost their mother, grandmother and now they could loose the only family they know.