A growing awareness of the perils of rescuing orphans

Written by on June 26, 2013 in The Blog with 1 Comment

This article in USA Today  says The Christian Orphan Care Movement is a coalition with a purpose of caring for 150 million orphans, but most of the children classified as “orphans” have at least one parent (not to mention grandparents, aunts, uncles). What a relief to see an article exploring beyond good intentions to the facts. Journalists are becoming increasingly upfront about the complexities of “rescuing orphans.”

David Smolin and his wife adopted two girls from India who, it turned out, had been stolen from their parents. Smolin is the director of the Center for Children, Law and Ethics at Samford University in Birmingham. He concluded that “too much money and not enough regulation in international adoption led to corruption.” His was not an isolated case. The current trend in international adoptions — fueled by compassion for orphans — has led to unintended consequences, such as trafficking in babies.

Earlier this month, at the annual gathering of The Christian Alliance for Orphans, a “new” topic began edging toward center-stage: How do we support vulnerable children without removing them from their own families and communities.  It’s not a new topic at all, but what a breakthrough for it to be raised among people who have resisted the message for decades!

Meanwhile, international adoption numbers seem to be dropping (23,000 in 2004 to 8,668 in 2008). The United States has banned international adoptions from Cambodia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Nepal and Ethiopia in order to prevent human trafficking . In Cambodia, where I live, “orphans babies” are big business (adoption is still allowed to Australia and other countries). Orphanages scramble for babies, and recruiters have been spotted at funerals confronting single-mothers and relatives offering to give their babies a better life.

Neither the smell of corruption nor the winds of change stopped U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu from making a tour of Vietnam and Cambodia early this year to advocate for the lifting adoption bans for those countries. She met a solid wall of resistance in Cambodia, with both government leaders and NGO representatives telling her that: a) lifting the adoption ban would lead directly to human trafficking in babies, and b) very few babies would qualify for international adoption anyway.  (People somehow expect thousands of Cambodian babies are waiting for adoption, but a better estimate once local options are exhausted would be in the dozens.) Senator Landrieu finally erupted in anger toward the messengers, argued with them, and said they weren’t telling her what she wanted to hear. It’s a pity she didn’t want to hear the truth. It’s hard to seek compassion and justice while holding onto agendas. After returning from her trip, she delivered a glowing report about prospects for resuming international adoptions from Vietnam, but she was silent about Cambodia. We can only hope the safeguards that she reports will be in place inVietnam are a higher priority than delivering Vietnamese babies to America.


Speakers at the Christian Alliance for Orphans summit (May 2-3,2013)

To their credit, advocates from Bethany Christian Services have been voicing truths that need to be heard, including debunking the “150 million orphans” myth and calling for more money and energy to support keeping families together rather than pulling them apart. Most children worldwide in orphanages, and much of the international adoption market, is a result of poverty. There are not millions waiting to be rescued, but there are millions who could use a little help to stay in their own families, rather than a helping hand into an institution. For a good example of thoughtfulness on this subject, see Johnny Carr’s book, Orphan Justice, featured under “books” in the “Learning Center” section of this website. Johnny Carr is the National Director for Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services.

Too many Christians and Christian organizations continue to invest heavily in orphanages and to fuel international adoptions heedless of warnings and advice, even to the point of disregarding government policies and laws (as we have seen in Cambodia).  Yet we also thankfully see Christians and Christian organizations leading in the movement toward family-based care.


Andy Gray

About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray hosts and writes for Uniting for Children. He lives in Cambodia with his family where he works with Alongsiders International. He wrote Home, a Cambodian story and created the video “Why Not a Family?.
  • Dear servants of God,
    Greetings in Jesus’s name
    Writing is pastor Isaac Momanyi. Thanks a lot for the good work that you do for the lord!
    I have personally gone to your site and really attracted to it.
    We are just a young church, which is tender spiritually and need to be nourished in spiritual matters.
    As pastor to this young church, i kindly ask that if God gives you favor, please support us with any of your literature materials relevant to young believers! Any bible Copies on top will be highly appreciated.
    In us there are also 15 destitute children, whom we do offer some care, though our efforts are still wanting. Kindly put them also in your prayers so as God to provide for them in due time.
    Be blessed, with hopes to read from you.
    Pastor Isaac.