When Everyone’s Worst Nightmare Happens

April 23, 2013

Adoption, Best Practices, Ethics, OVCs

(Thoughts from Freda Luzinda, director of Child Advocacy Africa)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by investigative journalists from NTV Uganda*. The purpose of their contact was to ask for the position of CAA regarding a disturbing situation they were documenting.

After learning more about this situation from the parties involved in Uganda, it became apparent that this case represents one of the worst things that could go wrong in an adoption.

The story apparently goes like this: An American family came to Uganda in 2009 to adopt a little boy. The family followed the usual procedures for a legal guardianship, including doing interviews and gathering documents. After the High Court of Uganda granted the family legal guardianship to pursue adoption in the USA, the family returned home with their new child.

Several months later in Uganda, the birth parents of the child realized that their child was not coming back to them. They frantically approached the High Court of Uganda, claiming they wanted their child back. Both the attorney who facilitated the adoption and the High Court informed this couple of the binding nature of the legal guardianship decree and told them this case was closed. The birth family did not stop with these answers and filed a “public interest” case with the UG law council.

The birth family’s story was picked up by a renowned Ugandan television station, NTV Uganda, and the five part story is airing this week on prime time Ugandan news.

Why is this story important? And why is the response to this story even more important?

Child Advocacy Africa and A Child’s Voice advocate against child laundering and promote solutions that keep families together. Since I was contacted by the press to give a position on this case, I want to ensure accuracy of what I shared with the investigative reporter and expand the position of CAA on this topic by posting here on our blog.

Since this case was brought forth by Ugandan birth parents to the Ugandan media and is in the process of being aired on a major news network, we anticipate strong reactions from those who are for and against intercountry adoption, as well as from Ugandan adoption stakeholders. While we do not know what impact this case will have, we appeal for level heads to prevail and for the best interest of children to be held in the highest regard at all times.

We at Child Advocacy Africa, and our partners A Child’s Voice, join together in affirming the following:

  1. We support reforming adoption: The institution of intercountry adoption must be reformed and safeguards be put in place to protect children, birth families and adoptive families.
  2. We are opposed to a permanent shutdown of adoption: It is not in the best interest of children for intercountry adoption to be eliminated through permanent shutdown.
  3. Unethical and illegal adoption practices are common: This story is a wakeup call and a sad reminder that unethical and illegal adoption practices, including coercing vulnerable families, paying bribes and falsifying documents, exist in too many cases in Uganda.
  4. There are few safeguards against child laundering: Uganda is a country where just about any document can be fabricated. There is no central registry or referral process for adoption. As a result, there are few safeguards against child laundering.

Many adoption facilitators are motivated by profit, not by what is best for children: Adoption facilitators, including adoption agencies, lawyers, orphanages and others involved in the process, profit from child laundering, often without the knowledge of birth or adoptive parents. These parties are often acting in their own selfish interest, not in the best interest of children or families. As a result, vulnerable families can be easily taken advantage of and children can be laundered into the hands of unsuspecting adoptive parents.

  1. Adoptive parents have a responsibility to be aware of these facts: We always advise families carry out extensive due diligence when adopting from an environment like Uganda. Adoptive families should not blindly and willingly trust the words of adoption agencies, attorneys, facilitators, orphanages or interpreters.

If you are considering adopting from Uganda, do so with your eyes wide open. Be critical, assertive and aware throughout the process. I do not want you to be afraid, but we must do the right thing for children and families. Adoptive parents MUST hold their agencies and lawyers accountable by seeking methods of vetting a case beyond what one is told by the very people who profit financially.

If there is nothing to hide, there should be no problems with asking questions and obtaining second or third opinions on a case.

Back to the Basics

Poverty is usually the driving force behind child laundering. Let’s strengthen vulnerable families so that fewer children are abandoned or in need of institutional care or adoption. In order to determine whether a family is genuinely consenting to adoption due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, there  must be a third party involved to obtain objective, accurate evidence.  It is essential for everyone involved in adoptions that current procedures are reformed. For instance, the birth family and child should have an attorney representing him/her in court, where applicable.

It is impossible to know whether or not this case will cause drastic changes – we must wait and see. I have been asked directly about whether I support Uganda closing its doors to adoption. It is not my position to speak for Uganda, but I personally disagree with ending intercountry adoption for two reasons. First, this would be treating the symptom not the disease. What is truly needed is for there to be better support for preserving vulnerable families and safeguards against unethical and illegal adoption. Second, closing adoption would harm truly orphaned and abandoned children for whom intercountry adoption represents the only chance to grow up with the love and security provided by a family.

Inappropriate adoptions happen because it is easy to navigate a weak child protection system for financial gain. If the children are not protected and they continue to fall through the cracks, we can’t place all blame on those that adopt them for genuine reasons. It is not right to place all blame on adoptive families, who genuinely want to offer proper love and care to children in need. We must also remember that  children who lose parental care may end up exploited and abused in Uganda through harmful orphanages, child labour, illegal sexual activity, human sacrifice, smuggling, etc.  All these scenarios are symptoms of the same disease, and I would urge Uganda to deal with them all collectively not just adoption alone by enacting a strong and workable child protection system that values the children most of all.

*Links to the NTV news series:
Taken and Never Returned – Part 1
Taken and Never Returned – Part 2
Taken and Never Returned – Part 3
Taken and Never Returned – Part 4 

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