And Central Asian children brought along to Russia

This is the other side of the coin from the story posted this morning about children left behind in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine while parents go off to work in other parts of Europe. In this story, the focus is on children brought along from Central Asia with families going to Russia to live and work.

It states:

     ” The post-Soviet period saw millions of people from Central Asia and the South Caucasus migrate to Russia     in search  of work. One consequence of the mass migration cycle of the past 20 years has been a rise in Kazakh, Uzbek, and other children living in Russian orphanages after being abandoned or taken away from neglectful parents.”

The story is filled with tantalizing statements that give rise to questions left unanswered. It also demonstrates the extreme difficulty of getting information on social orphans–information that is generally the product of a daily grind of research.


Eastern European “Parent Drain”

The figures cited in this article from a British-based Romanian outlet are astounding.  There has been recent attention  to the question of parents from Romania, Moldova and other countries leaving children behind and migrating into other parts of Europe to work…This article sees the problem as one extensive enough to bring about severe social consequences.

Among other striking facts presented, the Soros Foundation in Romania has identified at least 350,000 such cases in Romania alone. In Moldova, 10% of children have had both parents migrate to work in other parts of Europe. (Note that Romania has been an EU member state for the past several years. It has been reported that the Romanian government has finally introduced some penalties for this form of abandonment. Since this is such a perverse aspect of Romania’s EU membership, one wonders what official policies are being developed at EU level?)

This phenomenon comes in addition to the already huge problem of child abandonment and family breakdown with which we are so familiar in these countries.

More on Japan and its orphans

Why Japan? When we google “Japan and orphanages “, we tend to find only the fact that Michael Jackson visited a Japanese orphanage(!!) –apart from that, a media black out. And Japan is a country with astonishing media capability!

Why Japan? I love Japan; once spent much of my time there. There is so much that is wonderful. But what about their social orphans? It seems that even the first step–recruiting foster parents–is almost impossible. So powerful is the idea of blood ties that fostering children is left to the true heroes. See

I would love to see the Japanese government have to account for its institutionalized children–how many of them are there? Are they abandoned? Will they be reunited with birth families? If not, what will become of them? What are your statistics on outcomes?

Wouldn’t it be great if single Japanese women began to adopt those social orphans who are without meaningful family ties?

I know when one of the “drop off” points for abandoned children was established in 2007, a toddler was left there….Where is he now? How many children are there in similar situations? As Japan, a country many Americans think of only in economic terms, sees its rates of child abuse and neglect rise, what mechanisms are in place to cope with this? It isn’t all about blood ties!

The “O” Word

There is no need to put inverted commas around the word orphan, as if to remind us that most of those we think of as orphans really aren’t.  (It is just a bizarre coincidence that the movie of the same name is making the rounds.) There are certainly children who have only minimal family involvement, but for whom this involvement is psychologically sustaining if seen in its cultural and economic context. I am not dismissive of those relationships–the proposed “Families for Orphans” legislation does not seem to be, either. At least as I read it and understand it to date.

I can see that debate over the proposed Families for Orphans legislation is going to break along the ususal fault lines. I was concerned at the argument put forward by a writer on the Ethica website in the last day or so (see ) in which there is an allegation that the legislation would impose US child welfare policy on other countries. (This link has been a little troublesome–click on the error message and it should bring you to the relevant post. If not, try and then go to the featured post by Rachel.) But what I have argued hard for years is that issues related to children living without adequate care are human rights and children’s rights questions, albeit questions that must be understood with sufficient nuance and flexibility. What seems attractive about the potential of the legislation is that it could lead to far greater attention being devoted to facts and individually (and culturally) sensitive determinations.

I defy anyone to read the UNCRC and take from it a clear indication of the way forward on social orphans. The word orphan is indeed suggestive of a huge group of children–those who do not have loving parents or extended family. I am completely supportive of the argument that loving families with limited means and straightened circumstances should be supported and honored. I do not understand how (or why) we would extend that concept to children for whom that is simply not the case, whether in the US, Japan, China, India, Vietnam, or any other country we can think of.

There is a demonstrable psychological and physical toll that being an “orphan” takes. Each country should account to the best of its ability for actual outcomes of these children; Russia has done so to some extent and it is not a pretty picture. For those children who really have a committed “someone,” let’s add all the family assistance available. But where that is not the case, let’s not accept very imperfect substitutes for family. We all know that it is a very dangerous world for genuine social orphans, no matter what their cultural milieu.

“Families for Orphans Act”–All about adoption, or something more?

It is interesting to note the debate over a new legislative initiative designed to focus US foreign policy more squarely on the global social orphan problem–the Families for Orphans Act.  JCICS and other child welfare and adoption groups are spearheading an effort to have interested persons contact their congressional representatives to support passage. See the JCICS explaination, at

This has not surprisingly stirred a bit of controversy. The adoption reform group, Ethica, seems to see in this a back door way to promote international adoption over what it calls “local solutions”–by ignoring what it refers to as “cultural norms.”  Ethica recommends that the US get itself into the global mainstream of children’s rights by ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, for instance. See


The legislation raises many complex issues, but my own view of the initiative and the reactions is roughly as follows:

–It is important for the US to articulate a coherent, multifaceted policy that insists on permanency and makes clear that the US will support permanency–also that where adoption is available, foster care (apart from circumstances I have already described) is not an adequate alternative.  The spectacle of the US simply criticising countries for non-ethical adoption procedures (which is fine in itself) but then stopping there–not investigating, not helping to develop better policies, has been very troubling. (Has the US government been pro-active enough on orphan issues in Vietnam and Cambodia, for instance?)

–Secondly, the US, and adoption advocates in general, will not be successful without paying close attention to issues of poverty and dispossession. Original families and cultures matter, and really matter. But the point at which reunification efforts must end and rights to alternative arrangements for children begin will be a matter of effort, investment and individualised determination.

–Ratification of the UNCRC would be tremendously important, allowing the US to get a voice at the table on the Committee on the Rights of the Child and elsewhere. The UNCRC has been badly interpreted and applied in the orphan context–I have long said so. It is ambiguous and is often relied on in ways that do not in the end serve the interests of children.

Through the looking glass

It is simply amazing that, even in countries that ostensibly “have adoption programs”, we can, if persistent enough, find countless stories about children living in group homes, orphanages, and the new buzz word, boarding schools….For a sense of the bizarre ways in which descriptive language is being used, and policy developed, see this article on the situation in Ukraine!

One reason I am so impatient with the debate over keeping certain national programs open is that I know we must move away from the idea of national adoption programs, and towards the idea of an international cohort with common needs. In the age of international human rights, governments have supposedly become more accountable to the international community concerning the fates of their citizens. Although this should apply equally to children who urgently and early on need permanent families, national governments are not doing their job. And certainly the UN is not fulfilling its mission. As much as I have tried to pursue details as to UN activities around orphans and adoption, the truth of the matter (as opposed to the platitudes) is elusive.

The foster care/adoption dilemma

I am the parent of two internationally adopted children, and I continue to read a number of posts from various adoptive parent list serves. From what is being reported, albeit sporadically, it seems clear that the rise of foster care in countries like Russia is leading to a drastic slowing down of international–perhaps even domestic–adoption. It is tragic that this issue, which touches the human rights of children, is not being confronted and dealt with transparently. What are the motives of national governments in designing these programs? To place young children in foster care more or less indefinitely? If so, this is a grave error in judgment and a potentially serious infringement of children’s rights. If as a short term alternative to large orphanages, that might be seen as an improvement. Will we be told which is the case in any given country? I strongly doubt it.

Once again, the Bucharest Early Intervention Project is in the news–a truly wonderful and extremely important project that showed the adverse effects on child brain development of institutionalization. However, the journalistic presentation of these results has twisted the proper conclusion (namely, that highly trained and skilled foster care is preferable to orphanage life) and given the impression that foster care per se is beneficial to child development.

See the most recent set of finding described in

Would or could anyone argue that ordinary paid stranger foster care is preferable to adoption? Are many children about to disappear from view into foster care systems?