NEW YORK, N.Y. — UNICEF has undergone worldwide scrutiny in regard to its position on inter-country adoption. And for good reason. Its position that a child’s birthplace and culture is superior to a stable home in any other place or culture has had dire consequences on some adoptees around the world.
In recent months there’s been some effort on the part of UNICEF to temper some earlier pronouncements, but the fact remains that the organization is fundamentally misguided when it comes to inter-country adoption.
UNICEF claims that international adoption robs children of their heritage and culture. The organization’s has staked out a firm position: children must be given to birth parents, regardless of the circumstance. In lieu of that, children should go to extended family. Next, to his or her “community.” Finally, domestic adoption should be explored. Inter-country adoption is “one of a range of options” according to UNICEF and should be turned to as a last resort. The organization goes so far as to claim that international adoption must be “subsidiary” to in-country adoption, at all costs.
UNICEF declares that inter-country adoption “is not as a good as being raised in their families of origin but better than staying in orphanages.” That would make sense if the world was a perfect place and this Polly Anna viewpoint had any basis in reality. But that’s not the world, nor is it the reality of millions of orphans around the world. Shared DNA does not make for the best families, contrary to UNICEF’s claims. Children wind up eligible for adoption for myriad reasons, ranging from poverty to abuse to neglect.
In some cases, UNICEF’s positions border on racist. In a position paper on inter-country adoption the organization states, that every effort should be made to keep a child “within his ethnic group.” Huh? Some vague notion about cultural ties should trump the basic human rights of children? For what end UNICEF does not say.
There’s a disconnect between UNICEF’s position and the welfare of children. Somewhere along the way the behemoth organization lost track of advocating for children and began abstracting the issue.
You can even hear it in the language used in the organization’s Innocenti Digest entitled “Impact of International Legal Standards and the Safeguards of The Best interest of the Child in Domestic and Intercountry Adoption,” where “different stakeholders” in intercountry adoption are mentioned. Stakeholders? What about the children?
To promote its agenda, UNICEF points out that abuses have taken place with inter-country adoptions. They are right. They have. Just as they have and do with domestic adoptions, which UNICEF advocates. The Hague Convention was developed to provide guidelines for inter-country adoption with the hope of reducing abuses of the system and reducing the risk for child trafficking and profiteering from orphans. This issue so often raised by UNICEF is a canard. C’mon. Who isn’t against corruption and abuse?
What’s so disappointing about UNICEF’s position is that for years the organization has been a leader in child welfare around the world. The work that they do to help feed and immunize children is unimpeachable. And perhaps this is the problem. The organization’s success in this area has jaundiced UNICEF’s view on adoption.
Arbitrary national borders on a map have become a greater priority to UNICEF than the complicated issues of placing children with safe, loving families wherever those families may be.
UNICEF has repeatedly stated that it prefers the expansion of social welfare programs for poor families within countries, so that children can stay in kinship groups. The practical outcome has been that unparented children are being denied the best homes so that UNICEF can score cheap points in the international arena about the insufficient aid poor countries receive. The pawns here are the children.
Harvard Law School’s Elizabeth Bartholet, an adoptive parent herself and a well-regarded child advocate, has publicly stated that “international adoption is under siege,” largely because of UNICEF’s unrelenting assault on inter-country adoption.
In Batholet’s paper International Adoption: The Human Rights Position she writes, “Preferences for what UNICEF calls permanent family or foster care [in country] are dangerous. UNICEF’s argument is that such care could preserve children’s birth and national heritage links. But foster care doesn’t exist as a meaningful option in most sending countries – unparented children are instead relegated to orphanages. UNICEF wants foster care expanded, but denying children adoptive homes now because in the future foster care might exist is unfair to existing children.”
The influence of UNICEF on the world community cannot be overstated. It has used its reputation as a leader in children welfare to lobby countries, including the United States, to reduce the number of inter-country adoptions. The results have had dire consequences for children around the world. International adoptions have plummeted and most countries are now closed to American parents.
The dark and highly influential shadow that UNICEF has cast on intercountry adoption has left millions of children around the world stranded, without homes and without hope.
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