Romania’s trafficked children

What can one say?

Romanian children trafficked into Britain for purposes of benefit fraud….For several years, we have been hearing much about the “model” child welfare system created in Romania….Then came the stories of “parent drain”-and now this report, which may represent only a small fraction of affected children.

The EU is morally bound to carry out a clear eyed assessment of the fate of abandoned and exploited children in Romania, and Bulgaria for that matter, to set the record straight.


Consistently unknown–the case of China and social orphans

There was an interesting and telling story about the head of a large adoption agency in the Netherlands who has resigned because of alleged intimidation by the Dutch authorities, who opposed her wish to carry out an investigation into corrupt practices in Chinese adoption. The Dutch government’s rationale was that her proposed investigation would harm diplomatic relationships and that they had been assured by China that no children involved in baby buying scandals had been adopted into the Netherlands.

Well…..There is much to be said here, but I cannot help but note that the problem of access to the truth about China’s social orphans is of long standing. Many fewer children are said to be in the orphanages now–is this true? Can any objective outside group visit orphanages and assess the veracity of such statements? How pervasive is child trafficking of many different kinds?

I am not taking sides with respect to the politics of what has happened in the Netherlands. I don’t know the persons involved, and know nothing about the relationship between the Dutch government and the adoption agency in question. But I am left with two dominant impressions: the first is that without more transparency in a country like China–with its traditionally large population of abandoned children– it is very difficult to establish whether Chinese policies are serving the interests of these children. Secondly, in such a complex social and cultural environment, demonstrating corrupt practices, and possibly shutting down adoption programs, seems to me only a first step, and certainly not an end in itself. The point is to include those children who need the families (and we cannot know that without China opening the doors of its child welfare institutes) and exclude those children who are somehow brought into the system through corrupt or deceptive means, in order to ensure that this does not occur. It makes little sense to generalize about the needs of an entire cohort from anecdotes about abusive practices.

The lack of systemic, human-rights based inquiry in these matters is deeply frustrating….

My draft social orphan protocol

In one of my first posts, I mentioned an article I had written a couple of years ago, in which I argued for placing the human rights burden on national governments (with international support) to count, account for, assess and evaluate their own social orphan populations, with a view to finding these children real permanency–as opposed to simply going through the motions and invoking “best practices” that usually are not followed.  (For the article, see

Though a bit long, I reproduce below the social orphan protocol I drafted as a proposed (and much needed) addition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is an important set of human rights concepts–and would encourage governments to pursue the options most likely to lead to permanency for children.

Importantly, it informs states that it is not in the interests of children to place child welfare options such as foster care or group home care ahead of adoption.

Appendix: Draft Protocol to the UNCRC on Social Orphans



The States Parties to the present Protocol,


Considering that the international community has recognized that the best interests of the child, as stated in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, should guide decision making in the area of child welfare; and in light of Articles 19, 20, and 37 of that Convention, it would be appropriate to clarify the obligations of States Parties with respect to the highly vulnerable population of children living outside of family care within their territory;


Bearing in mind that many countries, both developed and developing, have large populations of children living outside of family care, also known as social orphans, and that these children are especially vulnerable to neglect and exploitation;


Disturbed that these children often fail to live up to their human potential and alarmed at the fact that these children frequently find themselves at the margins of society as young adults;


Concerned that social orphans are often hidden from view, and that States have not provided accurate and independently verifiable assessments of the numbers or living conditions of these children;


Concerned that the Articles 20 and 21 of the UNCRC are not sufficiently clear about the relationship between the developing child and the urgent and time-bound need for permanency in a family setting;


Gravely concerned that many States Parties to the UNCRC have large populations of social orphans, yet lack systems of domestic or international adoption, and that their children are harmed by a lack of access to the benefits of family life;


Determined that social orphans could be greatly assisted by the adoption by the international community of a set of guiding principles to assist in the provision to each child of a permanent and loving home, in accordance with the human rights of children;


Believing that there has not been a coherent, human rights based approach to the complex and multifaceted problem of the social orphan;


Have agreed as follows:


Article 1

States Parties shall, in order to assist in ensuring the human rights of social orphans within their territory, locate, account for, and publish information on all such children. They shall take all feasible measures to provide permanent family solutions for children living out of parental care at the earliest possible stage, taking into account the rights and interests of birth families as well as children.


Article 2

States Parties shall make accessible to an independent, impartial body of observers and analysts the group facilities in which these children reside. They shall allow for independent monitoring of the terms and conditions of national foster care programs devised as replacements for institutional living. They shall not obstruct such observers from gathering information on the conditions in which these children live.


Article 3

States Parties shall provide for a uniform approach to children living without parental care that will reflect international human rights norms. In particular, they will create mechanisms to expeditiously assess the life circumstances of children who come into state or other forms of non-family care, and determine within the shortest reasonable time what the likelihood is of that child either being reunited with his or her family; living with a willing and able extended family member, or finding a new home through domestic adoption.


Article 4

Where none of these domestic solutions are feasible within a reasonable period of time, but in any case not so long that the child is likely to be permanently harmed by remaining in institutional care, the child shall be provided with the possibility of finding a family through intercountry adoption, in line with the ethical procedures set out in the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, or comparably transparent procedures. A reasonable period of time shall be understood by reference to the latest research on the detrimental effects on the developing brain of a lack of consistent and devoted caregivers. A child in such circumstances should not be left in paid stranger foster care in preference to adoption, whether domestic or international.


Article 5

States Parties shall work simultaneously to effect the following national policies: the creation of a network of social workers with expertise to assist those families capable of being reunited; to provide targeted and adequate social welfare to ensure that children are not being abandoned for reasons of poverty alone; to develop training and assistance for prospective adoptive parents within the state of origin of the social orphan, and with a view to making domestic adoption a socially desirable and widely accepted option.


Article 6

Where it is determined that a child is unlikely to return to his or her family of origin, and that domestic adoption is also unlikely to occur in the near future, States Parties shall allow the child to be adopted internationally without creating any artificial impediments, such as numerical quotas, requirements that the child remain in a national database for long periods of time, requirements of multiple trips by prospective parents, or similar obstacles.


Article 7

Where children are unable to be provided with substitute families either domestically or internationally, and where aspects of their situation make it unlikely that they will be adopted, humane, family-like institutions, including foster care, should be created. These facilities should also be accessible to expert visitors representing the international community.


Article 8

States Parties shall in no circumstances prefer paid stranger foster care over adoption into permanent, loving, fully qualified families, particularly with respect to younger children who are likely to be able to benefit most from adoption.

States Parties shall acknowledge and make part of their national policies, that for children who have a realistic option of being reunited with birth families, or finding homes through domestic or international adoption, the State should not place them in “family like” institutions or foster care for longer than it takes to move them to the permanent setting.

Orphanage chaos

I often feel enormous impatience at the way in which orphans and orphanages are described and “covered”–to the extent that they are–not only in the media, but by various commentators and organizations. This stems from my unwillingness to simply accept tens of thousands of children living without families as part of the sad global landscape.

One website gives a tiny sense of the vast network of orphanages in the world–most countries have many, many childcare institutions. See The vast majority of orphanages are not represented here, but it gives a small idea of how disorganized and unregulated global orphan policy is.

I have been reading a bit about Haiti and its ever-growing orphan problem. See for example

The article states that “with about 50,000 children living in Haitian orphanages, the plight of disabled children gets lost. A child protection officer with Unicef says ‘it is unknown exactly how many disabled children are abandoned yearly.’ ”

As in many countries, the problem of abandoned children generally and the related problem of children abandoned specifically because of their disabilities come together in a terrible social crisis. Further reading indicates that there is no inspection service or even method of registering orphanages in Haiti. No one seems to know how many there are. Fragmented commentary finds the usual vitriol on the subject of orphanages profiteering and selling children–little of it coherent or enlightening.

I am constantly struck by the importance of promoting a global orphan assessment, whereby countries would be first called to account and then assisted in bringing some light to these neglected children.

Child Impact Assessments

I happened to run across this story out of Bulgaria–which contained the kind of images (there is some accompanying videotape) I have seen many times before, but it did get me thinking anew.

In the case of Bulgaria, one cannot but be struck by the many children in institutions–the lucky ones in “better” orphanages–and the complete lack of political will to find them new families, assuming they will not be going back home. The piece makes the point that many of these children are born to very young teenage mothers.

In my Children’s Rights class this past year, we viewed the recent BBC Four documentary made by the amazing Kate Blewett (of Dying Rooms fame) in a special needs orphanage in Bulgaria. See

This documentary caused a great EU-wide flap, with the Bulgarian side decrying the film as unrepresentative of the situation of institutionalised Bulgarian children–and so on and so forth.

Bulgaria is a perfect example of a country where the situation of social orphans could be very accurately assessed and publicized. Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, and there is no lack of capacity to engage in that kind of fact finding. The EU could, if it wanted to, insist that these children be either reunited with their families or found new families at a young enough age to prevent serious damage to their emotional and intellectual wellbeing.

What sadder image than that of the orphanage children at the gate, being whisked back inside by their care givers, lest someone might see them and publicize their situation?

Lula and the Law Based on Love

This article is well worth considering, for many reasons. At the very least, it seems as if there is a drive in Brazil to identify those children who will not be going back to their original families (a two year limit), and a concerted effort to get them adopted–whether domestically or internationally.

I have never liked the (supposedly rights-based) term “last resort” used with respect to international adoption. It sounds so negative….On the other hand, the new Brazilian law countenances international adoption when domestic adoption is not happening. A thirty day stay in Brazil does not seem too burdensome, although the issue of stays- in- country is contentious, and worth considering in terms of the substantive effects.

It would be wonderful if the concepts at work in this new law were to take hold across Latin America, and indeed elsewhere. It is interesting that Mr. Lula refers to the law as being founded in love–how rarely we hear this in the discourse.

My forthcoming book!

I have been busy doing the final proof read on my forthcoming book on International Children’s Rights. It has been a huge, multi-year project, and I was so happy to see the page proofs arrive from the publisher the other day. It covers many aspects of children’s rights around the world, and provides extensive material for discussion. I will be providing commentary via  posts on this blog and hopefully receiving comments about the book in the weeks to come.

I make the point in the book that, in studying children’s rights over the last number of years, it has become increasingly clear to me that one type of vulnerability feeds into another, and that the line between one category of child abuse and exploitation cannot be easily separated from another.

The projected date of publication of the book is this September/October.  Meanwhile, I am proof reading!