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Democratic Republic Congo Adoption saves children from horrifying reality

Gwendolyn C. Morrison and Brent E. Smith 5:02 p.m. EDT May 23, 2014

Decades of violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have exacerbated poverty and vulnerability to disease, and culminated in so much human tragedy, that there are 4 million orphans in the nation today, according to UNICEF estimates.

Four million.

This number is shocking until you put it into context, and then realize it is actually horrifying. That means that more than one in 20 people living in the DRC is an orphaned child. In the DRC, no one needs to search very far to find a true orphan.

Every one of those 4 million children has endured the most devastating loss anyone can experience — the loss of their family. The greatest threat to a child is not having the protection of a family. The United Nations recognizes a child’s right to a family as a basic human right, and for the vast majority of these children, the only path to a family is through international adoption.

It is hard to imagine any walk of life, anywhere in the world, that is devoid of corruption. Government stability is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for ethical practices in any industry.

Portraying international adoptions as rife with corrupt agencies and hapless parents blindly handing over tens of thousands of dollars is both ignorant and condescending. Yes, corrupt individuals can be found in international adoption, just as they can be found in domestic adoption, the financial sector, health care and in virtually any industry whether it be public or private. But it is not common to hear people advocating against investing in your 401(k), or against going to the doctor. Why? Because that would cause more harm than good. Why then does finding corruption in even a tiny fraction of international adoptions lead so many to want to slam the door shut on adoption, thereby ending the only hope that millions of true orphans have of a family? Dissuading people from adopting causes more harm than good.

The U.S. Department of State’s website lists adoption agencies deemed to comply with ethical adoption standards (Hague accredited/approved). CBS’ “48 Hours” Jan. 18 broadcast of a story called “Perilous Journey” reported that an agency connected to corrupt adoption practices in the DRC (Celebrate Children International) had applied for and been refused Hague approval status.

Starting July 14, the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 will make it illegal to facilitate international adoptions without Hague accreditation/approval. Thus, regulations have been improved. A year ago, the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa started conducting independent investigations into every child’s background before issuing orphan visas. Thus, monitoring has increased. Both of these measures countering corruption are public information, yet The Indianapolis Star’s May 14 story on waiting DRC adoptive families was not balanced with this information, instead choosing to scare-monger by making sweeping allegations of agencies manufacturing orphans by tricking parents and falsifying documents, with no reference to even a single case — just unnamed agencies acting in unnamed countries.

Unfortunately, people considering adoption may be deterred by such stories for fear of falling victim to these unnamed corrupt agencies. Such slanted reporting potentially exacerbates the very sharp decline in international adoptions to which Star reporter Shari Rudavsky’s story refers — Americans adopted nearly 23,000 children from abroad in 2004, but fewer than 8,000 in 2013. Last year alone that would be about 15,000 fewer children getting a family. But that is just another horrifying statistic.

Morrison and Smith are residents of Zionsville.

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