by Kelly Ensslin
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” – Ghandi
Last Friday, the Department of State released its long-awaited annual international adoption statistics. As we had predicted, for the ninth straight year the number of children internationally adopted into permanent loving US families has fallen. In fiscal year 2013, only 7,094 children entered the United States on orphan visas. This number represents an 18% drop from the prior year and a 69% reduction since 2004, when international adoptions peaked at 22,884.
If only these numbers represented success in that fewer children were in need of international adoption. But tragically they do not. We know the number of double orphans (children who have lost both parents) has steadily increased, to 18 million according to UNICEF. We know millions of children remain in orphanages. We also know many families would love to adopt these children, far more than even the 22,884 US families who were able to adopt in 2004, but they are effectively blocked from doing so by failed government “policy”.
If we use these numbers to measure the performance of the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, they reveal a startling failure of epidemic proportions. This failure represents a very real human rights crisis, and continues to worsen around the world. In fact, had international adoptions remained at the 2004 level, without any growth, over 75,000 children would have come into loving families here in the US. That’s over SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSAND CHILDREN in just nine years.
Lets think about these children for just a second. What has happened to them? Sadly, they are suffering the effects of abuse and neglect. Some are in orphanages, while others are already on the streets to which most will eventually be relegated; their prospects for long-term survival grim. These are not just statistics. Every one of the 75,000 is a real child, a child who could have realized his or her most basic desire, and human right, to belong to a permanent loving family.
So why are we reaching fewer of them? Does the Department of State lack the resources to promote the best interests of children? Or is it the inclination they lack? Are they so focused on the “policy objective” of insisting 3rd world countries join the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption that they’ve lost sight of the Convention’s purpose? Or do they just not give a damn about orphan children?
Now, we all know that some of the decline is due to situations where sending countries have made unilateral decisions to cease international adoptions. And some will insist that this can’t be laid at the feet of the Department of State. To those people, I say you are wrong. The Department of State should be using all of its diplomatic tools to seek and find solutions to these problems and to engage countries that do not allow orphaned children with no other hope to be adopted internationally. But they aren’t even trying.
For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Department of State can’t even tell us how many American families are caught in the closure. After 6 months, how can they honestly claim be trying to help these children when they aren’t pro-actively seeking to identify them, or the American families that have adopted them or promised to adopt them? Have they actively engaged the Congolese authorities to advocate for the children whose adoptions were complete and that they promised to let leave the country? Have they made it clear that the United States takes the best interests of these and other orphaned children seriously? The children who are “stuck” and their families sure haven’t seen any evidence of action.
There are also those who say that the system should not be measured by the number of children adopted, but instead by the integrity of the system. Indeed, I’ve heard Special Ambassador Susan Jacobs say many times when asked about the decline in adoptions, “There is no right number of adoptions.” But she is dead wrong. There is a right number, and it’s the number of orphaned children who need permanent loving homes. The flaws in the system can be fixed without a wholesale closure of adoptions.
We have also heard the State Department repeatedly state its policy of touting the Hague Convention as the cure to fix all that ails adoption. As for being the “solution”, last year adoptions from Hague countries dropped by 8%. And, as we recently wrote Secretary Kerry, there have been no adoptions from 13 countries that have joined the Hague since the US did so in 2008. The Hague doesn’t appear to fix anything at all for the children who wait and hope for a permanent family.
The system we have is broken and each year it is getting worse. It’s time for a change.
Fortunately, we have a solution on the horizon that could radically improve the process of international adoption, and more importantly, could offer a better life to the thousands of children we failed last year – it’s the pending legislation, Children In Families First (CHIFF). CHIFF will require the Department of State to become an advocate for orphaned children around the world and establish the United States as the world leader in seeking to find permanent homes for all children.
But CHIFF is in danger of being “stuck” without your support. Please join us at Both Ends Burning Campaign to learn more about CHIFF and how you can help. Please let your Senators and your Member of the House know how sickened you are by what has happened. Let them know you support CHIFF by clicking here to go the CHIFF website for instructions on how best to let them know of your outrage. Please let them know that 75,000 children should have never been sacrificed to “policy”.