BEB’s Africa Testimony to Congress
On July 16, 2014, Both Ends Burning was invited to provide testimony to the Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Kelly Ensslin Dempsey, our General Counsel and Director of Outreach and Advocacy testified on our behalf. In her testimony, she asked the Committee to consider structural changes at the Department of State that would make every child’s right to a family a fundamental tenet of US foreign policy.
Both Ends Burning charged that the Department was often an impediment to international adoptions and that Members of Congress often have to intercede when the Department has failed to advocate for adoptive children and their families. She charged that the Department’s bias against adoption is damaging children and preventing them from finding permanent loving homes in the United States. Dempsey criticized the Department for viewing its primary role in adoptions as a gatekeeper and premising its actions on mistrust and suspicion. She stated that the Department had done little to build expertise in child welfare, engage foreign governments on the subject of permanency, and had a poor record of actually helping families who are trying to navigate the complexities of international adoption.
Dempsey also stated that she saw a a similar pattern developing in the Department of State’s conduct in Ethiopia and DRC to the actions she documented in our Paper Chains report on the Department’s actions in closing adoptions from Nepal.
Dempsey reported that the Department of State found several ways to slow down the adoption process to discourage US families seeking to adopt orphans from Ethiopia. In the most egregious example, U.S. Embassy staff inexplicably placed selected adoption cases in a drawer instead of approving or denying them, without informing anyone. Dempsey pointed out the complete lack of concern for the families and their children as they waited in limbo for months on end.
In DRC, Dempsey discussed the hurdles and delays the Department had placed in the way of adoptive children, similar to what the Department had done in Ethiopia, all with the goal of slowing or stopping adoptions. She stated that the Department failed to get actively involved in advocating for children who had been legally adopted by American families when DRC’s government announced a suspension of exit permits for these children. It was as a result of this inaction that Both Ends Burning undertook an advocacy campaign to bring this issue to the attention of Congress. Dempsey stated that nearly 800 children are impacted by the suspension, and avoidable maladies such as dehydration, malnutrition and malaria have already claimed the lives of waiting children.
Dempsey made reference to the staggering need in Africa, as there are nearly 50 million orphans in Africa, including at least 12% of the children in Sub-Saharan Africa. She cited estimates of 5 million orphans in Ethiopia and another 4 million in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), two countries with which she has personal experience.
Despite increasing need in Africa and elsewhere, the number of children adopted internationally by American families has declined by 69% over the last nine years. Dempsey testified that this decline was due, in part, to the anti-adoption practices and policies of the Office of Children’s Issues within the Department of State.
Dempsey asked the Committee to demand the Department of State and USCIS allocate more resources to reduce delays that are harming children in DRC and Ethiopia and urged the Committee to consider legislation, including the Children In Families First Act, to provide a needed solution to the Department’s bias. To allow Subcommittee Members to further understand the depth of the Department of State’s failure to respond to this crisis, Both Ends Burning offered to share sworn statements we have collected from the families.