The same old story–“journalism” and the orphan issue

While each country’s social orphan problem has very distinctive social and demographic components, most journalistic output on the problem runs along the same lines: Adoptive parents are prancing around with bags of money trying to steal otherwise parented and wanted children, international adoption is an unregulated no man’s land of deceit and exploitation, and all would be well for these children if the Americans would just stay away. True to form is today’s piece on Haiti from the New York Times….

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/world/americas/04adoption.html?_r=1&hp

As a general matter, it is my consistent wish that some of these journalists would get their you-know-whats down into the countries they are writing on, and discover the overall truth of the matter before writing in this kind of inflammatory way.  While I generally try to avoid the anonymous “comments” that flood our online media these days, I note that the comments that appear after this article in the NYT are truly hateful.

It is, I acknowledge, really hard to know what to do with apparently but not definitively orphaned children after a natural disaster. I take a nuanced view of it. I understand the ned for caution and strenuous efforts at family reunification. I never want any child to be taken away from any family with members capable of engaging in upbringing–who would want that? But I also deeply mistrust the motives of the quoted Terre des hommes (whose work against adoption I have written on before) and Unicef, which has yet to be held accountable for its long-running role in discouraging adoption around the world. I also know that there is very little follow up in places where disasters have occurred–how many of the tsunami kids ended up permanently in institutions, or genuinely “trafficked”, for instance?

 This NYT article conflates a number of different issues, and in particular fails to deal with the fact that Haiti was already–prior to the quake–a cauldron of problems for social orphans. Not least of these is the one that bothers me so much–the fact of the restavek system, in which a large proportion of the total Haitian childhood population (I have heard upwards of 20%) works as domestic servants. Even before the quake, there were hundreds upon hundreds of orphanages, registered and unregistered. (I have also blogged on this in the past.) There is also the problem of the “phantom” street children–about whom no one has any solid information–and who live like ghosts trying to survive however they can.

So this NYT article does the easy thing–they find one example where it seems there was opposition by a father to two teenagers being adopted. I am supportive of  identifying and correcting any such injustice–I am not indifferent to it. But to use this example, journalistically, as a means of whipping up opposition to the idea of getting children out of harm’s way–possibly death’s way–this just makes me feel so frustrated! And the kicker is that Unicef and Terre des hommes seem to be saying that it is better–yes, better!!– if adoption is handled as it has been in Haiti–so that it takes around two years to move a child out of an institution.  How well this has worked out, right?

Bottom line for me–Let’s get moving towards clear and informed investigations of how many kids are living in what circumstances–surely a large proportion really and unambiguously have no one who can care for them, and reunification will not be happening. Let these children go to people who really want them and can commit to them. For those who have any family members who really want them, it should clearly be taboo to even consider allowing them to be adopted. No argument from me on that point. For the in between group–the most difficult, of course–let’s work hard on determining their situations…Is it that hard?

Anyone else out there very tired of this kind of adoption-sensationalistic journalism?

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One thought on “The same old story–“journalism” and the orphan issue

  1. To answer your question Sara, yes, I am completely tired of this kind of lopsided journalism.

    Your idea is an excellent one. In the kind of “triage” situation that now faces the orphan crisis, it would be best if we addressed the problem by dividing it up into three discrete categories: (1) Orphans with no realistic chance of being reunited with birth families, taken in by extended families, or adopted domestically; (2) orphans with known birth families/involved extended families nearby and who would, with assistance/counseling, parent; and (3) the group in between. Let’s place the children in group 1 with adoptive families abroad; let’s work with the families of the children in group 2; and let’s work actively and expeditiously to move the children in group 3 into either group 1 or group 2.

    The time has come, to borrow a phrase from Dixie Bickel, for the world community to stop sticking kids in tents and telling them to wait two (or many more) years to get a family.

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