Take a stroll through any well-heeled neighourhood of any city in North America.
If you look past the now expected sight of non-white domestics tending to white kids, chances are you’ll set eyes on the increasingly familiar sight of white folks pushing little Chinese children in strollers.
China is Canada and the U.S.’s favourite “sending” country when it comes to adopting kids.
The best-case scenario in international adoptions (or inter-country or transnational adoptions, as others prefer to call them) sees destitute children scooped up and emancipated from lives of sure misery or early death.
But there’s another side – big business, human trafficking and colonial arrogance gone mad in the spiriting of children from “barbarous” non-Western countries in return for the promise of a better life, always with the exchange of cold, hard cash somewhere down the line.
Ironically enough, there’s a set of black American twins (adopted by Africans, as it turns out) in my family. They’re an interesting case study in the effects of the transnational phenom.
While one struggles with the idea that he’s adopted, the other, when he was 17, showed up at a family gathering here proudly sporting a gothic “MOYO” tattoo on his massive bicep.
An adoption agency in the U.S. proclaims, “When you look into the eyes of a hungry African child, if you have any heart, you will not walk away and forget.”
But a group called Transracial Abductees – “Angry, pissed, ungrateful transracially abducted motherfuckers from hell” – posits that “many white parents use their abducted child to complete their collection of ethnic accessories.” Obviously, this a prickly issue.
VBSS.008mp, 2006, rumbek, sudan. Photo : Matthu Placek ©2006 Vanessa Beecroft
Images from Beecroft’s Darfur project use deep reds in resonating ways.
In response to concerns about privileged people raiding foreign orphanages, Canada signed onto the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation with Respect to Intercountry Adoption in 1993. The convention aims to protect the best interests of adopted children and prevent abuses such as child trafficking, among other things.
Many argue that it’s the privatization of the international adoption racket that’s led to today’s quagmire. But that’s not to say that the state-sanctioned variety is without its controversies.
In the African context, the French-run aid org Zoe’s Arc found itself in hot water in Chad‚ charged with “kidnapping and child trafficking” in the “rescue” of 103 children from Darfur in Sudan.
Six Zoe’s Arc workers were found guilty and sentenced to eight years hard labour, but were pardoned and released by Chad’s president in March.
There’s no telling what the nuts and bolts of that case were. We can only assume that social, political and econo-mic pressures all came to bear, as they often do in adoptions involving countries in poverty-stricken Africa.
In the matter of The Art Star And The Sudanese Twins, a flick in the Hot Docs festival, the “isms” of international adoption rear their ugly head again. Performance artist Vanessa Beecroft plops herself in Darfur to draw attention to the human carnage there and falls for Sudanese twins, or so the story goes.
As a transplanted African having been subjected to many an image (TV, movie and reality) of black mammies as wet-nurses to white kids, I have to confess to chuckling out loud when Beecroft suckles the infants in one bizarre scene. Nice gesture, I suppose.
What’s distressing about her attempt to adopt them is that the kids have kinfolk, including a father who, after the promise of food, education and a better life for them, gives his thumbprint consent to the adoption. (He’s illiterate, after all.)
And what’s bewildering to me are the mixed motives behind Beecroft’s actions: the goodwill of her would-be adoption versus the persuasion of local women to get naked for the transparent sake of her own art.
As I watch the screener copy of the flick with my mom, all she can do is shake her head.
Tobias Hübinette (Korean name Lee Sam-dol), a researcher at the Multicultural Centre in Botkyrka, Sweden, is himself an international adoptee who is vehemently opposed to the practice.
He says the big business of international adoption is fuelled by a time-warped, naive 70s-era vision of the global community. Whites up; black, brown and yellow down.
“Some people act like decolonization never happened,” he says. “The whole ideology of these rescue fantasies is very dangerous, this idea of ‘saving’ people’s souls.”
Michael Swigert at Washington, DC-based org Africa Action says of international adoption: “It’s become a pop culture [commonplace] to see celebrities adopting children from poor nations.
“International adoption is not a sustainable solution,” he says. “There are more productive ways to make a systemic difference.”
Sue Rooks from Save the Children Canada agrees but says, “We would prefer that children stay within their communities, within their own countries, through donations and advocacy. However, parents who want the best for their children are certainly tempted, if the opportunity comes, to provide them with a better chance at survival.”
A real mutha, this international adoption thing.
International adoption facts
Don’t just assume you can buy a baby from anywhere in the world. Here’s the lowdown on the international adoption situation.
• FORGET HOLLYWOOD STARS Despite all the media reports, the number of international adoptions is minuscule – only about 2,000 foreign children are adopted every year in Canada.
• CITIZENSHIP’S A MUST Only citizens and those with permanent residency status can adopt in Canada.
• GET READY TO JUMP THROUGH HOOPS A child adopted from a foreign country may not enter Canada until he or she is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.
• NO LICENCE, NO KID Ontario residents can only adopt through agencies licensed by the Ministry of Community and Social Services both here and abroad.
• PASS THE TEST Prospective parents must pass a home study evaluation conducted by a social worker. The final decision rests with the minister, but that’s no guarantee, since authorities abroad may consider other factors.
• PRIVACY IS NOT AN OPTION Canada does not allow privately arranged adoptions. Trying may get you two years behind bars and a $2,000 fine.
• MONEY IS NO OBJECT Under the Hague Convention on international adoptions, any form of financial inducement is illegal.
• THE WAITING GAME If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to wait about a year for the international adoption process to be completed, but most wait 18 months or more.
Compiled by ENZO DiMATTEO