Sunday, April 29, 2007

Kyrgyzstan:"Dead" Baby Allegedly Sold for Adoption Causes Investigation of Hospital Maternity Wards

A midwife and the department head of a hospital maternity ward were arrested after a police investigation found that they may have sold a baby for adoption after telling the newborn's mother that the child had died. The crime allegedly took place at National Hospital in Bishan, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, a country in Central Asia that was a part of the former Soviet Union.

Reports of the arrests set off a volley of phone calls from other mothers in the area who had recently given birth and had also been told that their babies had died. These mothers asked that the police also investigate their cases.

The health ministry of Kyrgyzstan responded by setting up a commission to investigate the records of the maternity and special care wards of hospitals in both the capital city of Bishan and in the neighboring region of Chu from the past three years.

Results of this investigation were presented at a press conference on March 28, 2007. According to newspaper sources summarizing the words of the deputy health minister, "there did not appear to be an organized racket selling babies, but irregularities had been uncovered in the paperwork for registering births and for the recording of transfers of babies to orphanages."

These irregularities included "birth certificates issues for stillborn babies," death certificates for newborn babies that did not include any cause of death, relatives and guardians being given newborn babies without presenting proof of their identities, and records of babies being sent to orphanages but no records of the same children ever having arrived at the orphanages to which they had supposedly been sent.

In other words, the investigations turned up sloppy paperwork that could very well have been hiding crimes involving newborn babies.

The heads of offending hospitals were issued reprimands and were instructed to take disciplinary action against the individual staff members who were involved in these irregularities.

As a precaution against further abuses, the health ministry said it intends to set up adoption units within the hospitals themselves.

(For my part, I'm not quite sure how this would help. Certainly, it would make it harder for babies to get "lost" between the hospital and the orphanage, but wouldn't it also make it easier for hospital staff to conduct their clandestine business dealings--with less chance for discovery--since the deal could be done quicker and closer to the source of the babies?)

The article in the Middle East times goes on to discuss the "ins and outs" of adoption in Kyrgyzstan. Of particular note are the following quotes:

Some hospital staff say the pitifully low wages paid in the public healthcare sector may tempt some to consider arranging an illegal "sale."

"The average monthly wage for a doctor is 1,200 soms [$35]. Of course, that is no excuse for committing a crime, but it is a factor tone needs to bear in mind," said Talant Marmytov, a surgeon at a Bishkek hospital."

The article reports that children who are legitimately available for domestic adoption in Kyrgyzstan are most often children born to women who abuse alcohol or drugs or children born to prostitutes. Many of these children, the article reports, have congenital health problems as a result of the poor lifestyle choices their mothers have made. Since most prospective adoptive parents want healthy children, reports the article, these orphans are, sadly, unlikely to ever find homes.

The shortage of healthy babies available for legal adoption could tempt prospective parents to consider trying to buy a baby. Even if they do find a child they want to adopt, going through the legal channels is a lengthy and complicated process.

So lengthy and involved is implied... that some, apparently, would like to avoid the official process altogether.

Illegal Baby Trade Suspected in Kyrgyz Hospitals, Middle East Times, 4/18/07


Saturday, April 07, 2007

El Salvador: Matching "Lost Children" with First Parents Through DNA

From a less popular blind man's perspective on the the adoption elephant, all adoption is predicated on a human tragedy of one sort or another.

And so it ought to be.

Adoption that is not predicated on human tragedy is itself the instigator of needless human tragedy.

So it is that the popular press totally "misses the boat" when it portrays adoption as a happy-happy, all teddy bears and light and adoption angels affair.

An elephant understood ONLY from the perspective of the blind man standing at the trunk is an "elephant" that exists no where in the real world.

But that is the subject of another blog entry for another day....

This blog entry is about children who came into the international adoption stream as the result of a particular kind of human tragedy. And that tragedy is war.

War tends to lead to the separation--intentional or accidental--of children from their parents. Parents may have intentionally sent their children away to a safer place in a desperate attempt to save their lives. Parents may have helplessly watched as their children were torn from their own arms and taken away by hostile forces. Or parents may simply have been accidentally separated from their children in the usual chaos and confusion of war.

At any rate, if we imagine ourselves in the place of these parents and we ascribe to them the same humanity that we afford ourselves, we can imagine the anguish that these parents would feel and their desire to find their children again--to know what became of them. Whether they are dead, or whether they are alive and well. And if they are alive and well, the desire to see them again.

Adoption, despite promoting the fiction that children have only one set of parents--the ones who have current legal custody of them--doesn't magically erase the desire of human first parents who have lost their children to wartime danger and chaos, to find and to reconnect with them in some way.

"We all have an intense need to know. And the strongest human force on Earth is a parent searching for their disappeared child."

Eric Stover, director, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, speaking on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, 02/15/07
There are several news stories that have appeared in the press in the last few months detailing the efforts to reunite adoptees from El Salvador with their original parents by DNA testing.

This effort is being used as a model as part of a broader project to build DNA sample bases to reunite families and their children from various recently war-torn countries including North and South Korea, Vietnam, Rwanda, Chile, and Argentina.

At least 8,000 people are still officially listed as missing more than a decade after the end of El Salvador's civil war (fought from 1980-1992). Many of these missing persons were children. Warring parties routinely kidnapped children--some were killed and some eventually found their way into the international adoption stream, to be adopted by Americans and Europeans.

"..hundreds of [Salvadoran children] were kidnapped by the Salvadoran army and given to orphanages for adoption. During the war, the military would often turn over abducted children to the Salvadoran Red Cross, which either placed them in orphanages or arranged for their adoption in El Salvador or internationally. Forced into hiding and exile during the war, hundreds of families had completely lost track of their biological children by the time Peace Accords were signed in 1992"

--quote from article written by Elizabeth Barnert, The San Francisco Chronicle,04/09/06
Conditions for children in war-torn in El Salvador were so dangerous that thousands more children were voluntarily relinquished for adoption by their parents. Authorities urged parents to send their children away overseas in order to protect them. Parents did so in the desperate hope that their children would have a better chance of survival far away from El Salvador.

The children, who disappeared from El Salvador during the war, have been called the "lost generation." There are literally thousands of children who were separated from their parents and went "missing" in one way or another.

Until now, there was no way for parents to know what had become of their children--whether their children were long dead, or had grown to adulthood safely, far away in the household of another family in another country.

Now, there are human rights activists who are trying to help El Salvadoran parents know what happened to their children, and conversely, help El Salvadoran adoptees locate their original parents.

An NGO (non-governmental organization)called Asociación Pro-Búsqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos (Search for the Missing Children), was established in El Salvador in 1994 with the express purpose of assisting families "in investigating the fate of their missing children."

More recently, the effort has gone more high tech. Berkeley's Human Rights Center director, Eric Stover is one of several people now collaborating to help reconnect adoptees in the US and elsewhere with their original parents through DNA testing and a computer database of DNA information.

"When I came up here to the village, we then went to the local radio station, and we made an announcement asking families to come forward who had disappeared children. And then the buses arrived, and people came off, and we went into the church, and we started taking blood samples"

Eric Stover, director Berkeley's Human Rights Center speaking on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer
The organization Pro-Busqueda has collected DNA samples from the families of hundreds of missing Salvadoran children. The DNA information is stored in a database that currently contains about 800 samples, but which organizers hope will eventually contain between 3,000 and 5,000 samples. Volunteers are even now in El Salvador tramping through remote areas trying to locate and take DNA samples from families who lost children.

Of the approximately 250 international adoptees from El Salvador that have experienced reunions with their original parents, nearly 70 have been made possible by the DNA matching project.

If you know any adoptees who might be from El Salvador or any of the
other countries featured, it would be good to notify them. This information just
might be the help they've been looking for to find their birthfamilies.


Searching for lost children
Hundreds are still missing in El Salvador, The San Francisco Chronicle,04/09/06

El Salvador's war children return to their roots, The London Independent, 7/17/06

The following link provides several options for viewing The News Hour with Jim Lehrer's story including a transcript, audio, and video formats:

DNA Testing Reunites Families Separated by War, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, 2/15/07

DNA database offers Salvadoran war orphans key to stolen past, Berkeley Human Rights Center Press Release of 6/12/06

Link to the Berkeley Human Rights Center:
Berkeley Human Rights Center website

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Guatemala: Baby Farming

Martha lives in Guatemala.

She is a 14 year old unwed mother who lives in a house for unwed mothers.

Sometime in the last year, Martha gave up her baby up for adoption.

If you adopted a young infant from Guatemala in the last year and were told that your child was given up for adoption by an unmarried teen, Martha or one of her unwed housemates could possibly be the birthmother of your son or daughter.

If you think that you understand something of Martha's story based on the above description...think again. It is NOT what you think.

Martha's story is the not the archetypal story of a teenager who became pregnant by accident.

In fact, Martha doesn't even have a boyfriend.

And no, her pregancy can't be blamed on a failed teen marriage.

Nor was Martha pregnant by a violent act--not by rape or even incest.

Martha was, in fact, even at age 13, pregnant by design. And before she ever became pregnant, she understood that she would not keep her baby. Her firstborn son or daughter, would have to be surrendered for adoption.

Martha knew that once she had given birth, she would likely never see her child again.

Two years ago when she was 12, Martha's father was approached by a man who came to their slum in a car.

For what it's worth, you should know that Martha's father is a man who works very hard--back-breakingly hard--and long hours on a nearby coffee plantation in order to try to support his family. Unfortunately, however, Martha's father's hard work falls woefully short of supporting his family. This is because he earns very low wages--wages so low that they have his family living in a cardboard box, wages so low that he has watched six of Martha's eleven siblings die from starvation and the related ravages of severe and grinding poverty. Martha's family's poverty dogs them like a lion guarding its prey. It is always there, watching them, lying in wait until the right moment--and then one by one, it leaps forward and devours them.

Anyway, this man in a car offered to take Martha away to live with him and his wife in their little house. It wouldn't be just the three of them, but Martha and the man and his wife would be living with several other young teen-aged girls. Martha would be looked after and be well fed. In terms of manual labor, Martha's work load would be light--she would be given household tasks like caring for the couple's garden and doing their and the other girls' laundry. However, the financially valuable work that Martha would be doing--the work for which this man in the car was willing to pay Martha's father-- would be unseen, showing only over the months as her belly grew to bulging proportions.

And if and when Martha succeeded in producing and successfully giving birth to a live, healthy baby, then the man in the car, would then pay Martha's father $300--the equivalent of a year's salary (at his coffee plantation wages). In fact, Martha could continue to live with this man for several years, producing babies, one after another. There would be money for Martha's father for every baby that Martha produced.

This kind of parental "choice"--the choice between helplessly watching all your children continue be in grave danger of dying or betraying one of them to possibly save the lives of the other(s)--is the kind of hellish choice that a movie called Sofie's Choice made famous.

Here it was in Martha's father's face.

What should he do? Should he prostitute out his 12 year old daughter to be a kind of brood mare for the adoption industry? Should be arrange to have his own grandchildren created and sold off like farm animals in an attempt to save his own remaining six children from dying from the ravages of poverty?

Or should he take the moral high ground and risk having his children--including Martha--die of starvation?

It was a Sophie's Choice, and in the end, like the tortured Sophie, he chose to gamble one child away to save the others.

What could he do but say yes?

And so, there it was. Martha's father said yes.

Martha was taken away at 12 years of age. A man whom she didn't know came shortly thereafter and impregnated her. Martha's valuable work happened over the months that followed as she lived in the little house with the man who had come in the car, the man's wife, and six other young teen girls. Those six other girls are also doing the same valuable work as Martha.

I guess it is what you call a home business. A clever way to keep a man and his wife and the families of the girls who do this valuable work for them, out of completely abject poverty.

A "cottage industry" for the new millenium.

A realistic business for the brave new world where the right to nurture a child from infancy through adulthood--the privilege of becoming a child's forever family--is worth thousands of dollars--a literal fortune by the time you take account of exchange rates in poor countries--on the world market.

A business for the global economy that finds and supplies whatever the global market demands without regard to local ecology, local suffering, or theoretical and unseen things like human rights and human decency.

In a world where adoption angels abound....the Martha's of the world simply do not exist. Period. End of story.

In regard to this particular example of the cottage industry, to save money and keep out of trouble (doctors can ask pesky questions sometimes), the girls are not provided with prenatal care. Neither are doctors or midwives provided when it comes time for the girls to give birth; in Martha's home, the man and his wife are the ones who assist with the girls' births.

Of course, there is a sometimes a high cost for do-it-yourself medical care. One of the girls recently died in childbirth.

I guess that death got Martha a little worried, because she secretly (against the rules) wandered into a nearby doctor's clinic, a humanitarian clinic operated by a US physician, to ask for some minimal prenatal care and some prenatal vitamins.

Which is how the outside world began to get the first real clue that she and this presumed cottage industry exist in Guatemala. How many Martha's and how many of these "cottage industries" churning out human children for adoption exist or don't exist is anyone's guess. The numbers may be large or small. Those who know about such things aren't talking about them.

The doctor that she approached became so disturbed at Martha's situation and her story that he decided to do something about it. He decided to start by telling someone local whom he trusted. He got nowhere with that. In fact, he was instead warned that he should drop it because frankly, no one cares and those who care, care because they are (literally) *invested* in seeing the practice continue. It might be dangerous to him to pursue justice.

The doctor was disturbed enough to be brave and take his knowledge to others--to human rights groups in both Guatemala and in the US. To his horror, no one seemed to care about the exploitation of Martha and her housemates. Well known human rights groups simply said the equivalent of SO WHAT??

The doctor wrote up an account of what he found and it was published on the last page of the newsletter for a non-profit group which works to better the lives of Guatemalan children through education.

The doctor's account is a plea for someone, somewhere to care about Martha and her friends and family and their situation.

It is a plea for the human community to care about Martha's exploitation as a human baby machine activated to keep her family from starving to death.

It is a plea for justice and human decency.

I write this account of his account because I think that is time for the world and the adoption community to be aware of the voiceless Martha's and Martha's fathers of the world.

As American adoption agencies scramble to assure prospective adoptive parents that Guatemala, a country that places more children per capita for international adoption than any other country in the world and thus has a $150,000,000 a year adoption industry to show for it--is not nearly as ethically risky a place from which to adopt as the US DOS states that it is (see my blog entry of March 15,2007 , "US DOS Issues Notice About Guatemalan Adoption"), the question it?

Is Guatemala simply a country, that, for whatever reason, is so chock full of healthy young orphans in need of homes so that it is, with the help of an agency and a Guatemalan attorney, a prospective adoptive parent's dream come true?

Or is it a place where prospective parents, with their expendable $$$, have come to expect to find healthy, young baby orphans, and so there are those in Guatemala who are consequently continuing "to find" healthy, young baby orphans?

NOTE: I do not mean to imply that Guatemala produces no legitimate orphans, I am merely questioning their continuing goodly supply of orphans. And asking the world and us adoptive parents to start demanded answers. Investigations. Whatever it takes to ensure that we aren't receiving our adoptable babies on the backs of the Martha's of the world.

When the adoption of a single Guatemalan child involves up to $30,000 (the equivalent of more than a lifetime of wages for those who are producing the children), and a country is filled with poor people eaking out a living on $300 a year, could there maybe be some real incentive for corruption in adoption. And where there is that kind of incentive for corruption, is it reasonable to believe that it doesn't exist and it isn't gobbling up girls like Martha?


GSSG News, Volume IV, Number 1, March 2006