This appeared in the Toronto Star, this morning, and it says it all better and more in depth than many similar articles have. I've been wondering how to address the issue of the adoption, by pop "star," Madonna, of an African child. The story been tugged and pulled to death, but this piece spells it out from a very astute viewpoint. The author's position with the African Medical & Research Foundation in Canada has obviously given her a good idea of what kind of damage is done with foreign adoption.
It has long been acknowledged that American adopters will go to foreign countries to adopt in order to avoid "messy" interactions with the parents of the children they covet. Here in the US, it is hard to avoid the mother of the adopted child due to open adoption, reunions and now, contested adoptions. It has also long been observed that there is an arrogance in the American adopter that assumes our material wealth and (sometimes questionable) national values make us a superior environment to their own country for any child, regardless of their families, cultures and beliefs. I have heard enough from a few adult Asian and other foreign adoptees to know that they are not the most "grateful" group on the planet. If anything, many of them feel robbed of both their original families AND their native cultures. This need to be seen as "saviors" by the American adopter is becoming downright pathological and, as I said before, extremely arrogant.
Here's the link and the article. Peruse at your leisure.
ADOPTION IS NOT THE ANSWER
The best thing for orphans is to help reunite them with family members, says Salima Pirani
Nov. 2, 2006. 01:00 AM
Last week I watched, along with millions of viewers of the Oprah Winfrey Show worldwide, as Madonna spoke out against the media for discouraging international adoption and called for African laws to enable more international adoption of African children. All of this following her own adoption of 13-month-old David Banda from an orphanage in Malawi.
Via satellite from her home in the U.K., Madonna called the lack of adoption laws in Malawi a "state of emergency," urging viewers to go to Africa to see what she had witnessed: "8-year-olds in charge of households ... mothers dying ... a state of emergency," she repeated. She added, "Adoption laws have to be changed to suit that state of emergency. I think if everybody went there, they'd want to bring one of those children home with them and give them a better life."
In another interview, she told the media that the adoption was not an easy one. Nor should it have been. Fourteen million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The majority of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa.
Madonna's story raises two common approaches to this problem: adoption and orphanages. But foreign adoption and orphanages will only create more problems down the road.
Displacing orphans hurts the child twice. Not only do these children lose their parents, but also their inheritance, their home and all their family ties. A child in an orphanage reaches 18 years of age and is asked to leave. They walk out of the door with nothing. No land, no home and no relationship with relatives or home community.
Madonna made a plea for adoption laws in Africa to change to make it easier for foreigners to adopt African children. If this takes place, the implications on Africa's children, its workforce and its future will be immense.
While African governments will struggle to set up adoption laws, facilities and processes for foreigners to claim these children, on the other hand the conditions that lead to poverty, disease and death will continue.
The result? Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children will be removed from Africa. There is no evidence, as Madonna suggests, that children adopted by foreigners will someday return to Africa to work as doctors, civil servants or other contributing members of society. On the contrary, the trend has always been for the African professional to leave the continent to work overseas because of the lack of infrastructure and economic opportunities at home.
If we look at the UNAIDS statistics for a country like Uganda, one out of every 30 people is a child under 15 who has lost one or both parents. Institutional care or foreign adoption for every 30th person is simply not an economic option.
As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." In Africa, orphans are traditionally cared for by the community. Guardians receive the rights to the land the parents leave behind while the children remain in their care. Work is being done to ensure these children ultimately inherit their parents' land when they come of age.
In the African model, the child grows up with an identity and possibly an inheritance, too.
I believe in the traditional system of supporting the guardians and communities to deal with this huge and increasing burden themselves. By supporting them with loans and by building their capacity to generate the extra income, caretakers of orphans are able to help pay for the extra food and schooling. This support costs only a fraction of the price of putting children into orphanages and is much better for the child.
People who really want to help alleviate the burden of poverty can assist in many ways, adoption not included. Educating the public about HIV/AIDS to reduce stigma, working with teachers and schools to accommodate the special needs of AIDS orphans, encouraging communities to be active participants in raising orphans in their community, working with elderly grandmothers and young heads of households to decrease the burdens they face, protecting and upholding child rights and working with African governments and ministries of health to bridge the gaps between communities with orphans and the health-care systems are all long-term and sustainable solutions to the ever-growing number of AIDS orphans.
It is estimated that by 2010, there will be 20 million children orphaned by AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
The best thing we can do for these children is educate them, reunite them with family members — however distant, as long as they are willing and able guardians — and support these guardians so that they are able to make a living to care for the children.
Salima Pirani is the communications manager of African Medical & Research Foundation (AMREF) Canada, an international African health development organization bridging the gap between communities and health-care systems.