Sunday, April 25, 2010

Musings on the dark underbelly of Global Adoptions

Adopting a destitute, needy child with the promise of providing a warm, caring home and future to him/her is among the noblest things one can do. Reading the recent articles on the Russian adoption saga brought back to mind the story of adoption by friends in Colorado Springs, CO where I lived years ago.

I had an opportunity to observe Kumars (pseudonym) go through the ordeal of adopting a child from India. Though I call it ordeal, the story had a happy ending since the Kumars ended up adopting not one but two children: a girl of 8 and a little boy of two, completing their American dream. Before they could adopt, however, they had to jump through several hoops. For one, the couple was of Indian origin with American permanent resident status. Intent on adopting a child from their native culture, they made several trips to India and spoke to experts and consultants in the US.

The couple discovered that one of them had to naturalize as American citizen before they could adopt and sponsor visa/green-card for a child from abroad. Spouses and minor children of Green card holders have an excruciating wait before they are eligible for a US visa. On the other side of the globe, they found that an American citizenship could be a liability when it comes to adopting Indian children. Just being a person of Indian origin is no substitute for Indian Citizenship when it comes to paperwork, especially since India still doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. The workaround, the Kumars found was that Mr. Kumar would naturalize as an Amercan Citizen while Mrs Kumar would continue to retain her Indian citizenship and Green Card. They had to become an Indian-American couple.

Though India has a lot of orphanages with destitute children, adoption agencies, at least the genuine ones go by the letter of the law. And the legal system in India can be painfully slow, especially if the parents happen to be Non Resident Indians (NRI), hold foreign passports and intend to take the child out of India. The excruciating wait can test the will of all but the most spirited prospective parents.

A few years after they began the ordeal of international adoption, the Indian American community had an opportunity to welcome the new members to Kumar’s family at a nice little reception. It was a wonderful experience to observe the Kumars experience the joy of fulfilling the dream: successfully adopting and having a child, in this case two children, in their home. It has been over 9 years since the Kumars adopted. I moved from Colorado but thanks to online social-networking, I kept in touch with the Kumars. The kids went to school and the elder ‘child,’ the girl is getting ready to go to college and live the American dream.

I guess not all Adoption stories have the same happy ending as that of the Kumars. Given the emotional roller-coaster one has to go through, prior to, during and after adoption, adopting a child from abroad can also be among the most excruciating decisions. One can imagine that adoption can also be hard for the child that comes from a different culture, probably from a broken family with few dreams of its own.

It is hard for one to speculate on the rationale behind going through the trouble of adopting a child from Russia, getting the necessary paperwork, visas, immigration etc bringing the child over . . . and then unceremoniously putting him on a one-way flight back ‘home.’ The saga has lot more questions than answers: If a toaster from Wal-Mart does not meet one’s needs, one can walk back and return it within 30-days, no questions asked. Is adopting a child like buying a toaster at Wal-Mart?
One wonders if ‘international adoptions’ should be banned; or more tightly regulated? Adopting children from across geographic boundaries brings its own challenges, especially of language, culture, law etc. At the very least, credentials and background of prospective parents should be scrutinized more than it currently is.

ps: A few additional links on the topic
* Freaknomics blog: Adoption Biases
* US and Russia Adoption Meeting
* Russian adoption gone wrong raises serious concerns
* Adoption from India: 'Second' mother now runs orphange there
* American White Women Adopting Dark, Foreign Children
* Global Adoption: A New Look