The latest Mirah Riben article–yikes!!

Those of you with an interest in international adoption might have noticed this–the latest salvo in the adoption wars:

Riben uses very tough rhetoric and makes a good number of accusations here…..I don’t care to jump into this, except to say that it seems to me that this kind of sterile debate is exactly the reason we need to base adoption policy on facts–how many children are truly in need, how many families can/cannot be put back together, etc…..There is really no point hurling insults at one another–

I have tried to develop my own nuanced approach to these issues over the years–I think my own article on international adoption and human rights, from 2003, was subtle and open-minded. It really is troubling, upsetting, dreadful, though, to note that in Haiti, where children are truly languishing in orphanages and even dying, it is extremely difficult to carry out an adoption–does this make sense? HOw is responsible for that? And as for the folks who are so concerned about “cleaning up” international adoption (and I of course want that as well), what efforts are they making in that direction–to ensure not only that no baby buying goes on–but also that all children who need alternative families can actually get them?


7 thoughts on “The latest Mirah Riben article–yikes!!

  1. Nuanced? How can one be nuanced in response to her diatribe. She strikes me as someone who has an underlying agenda — of what, I don’t know. But she clearly opposes international adoption and is sadly mistaken about what happens with children who have been institutionalized for years.
    My core belief is this — a child’s welfare should be determined by the parents, barring abuse and neglect. If a parent wishes a child to be adopted, internationally or domestically, it should be the parents choice, not the decision of the state. Children are not or should not be property of the state, which is where her argument leads… that the state has the highest authority to determine what is best for the child.
    In the US, birthparents may offer a child for adoption of their own volition, whether the child is an infant or toddler or older. However, if the birthparents (say they have Italian heritage) desire to have the child placed with an Italian family, they would lose all rights to participate in that decision. Why should they?
    It is a thorny legal issue but I favor the preeminence of the parent over that of the state when it comes to the child.
    The Hague Convention on Adoption, which was designed to prevent child trafficking, has also undermined parental rights in favor of the state. Is this where we want to go?

  2. I wrote a post a few months ago about Sandra Bullock’s adoption for Silicon Valley Moms’ Blog that attracted the attention of Ms. Riben. I responded to her criticisms with facts, some of which I gathered right here on your blog. If anyone is interested in the exchange, it’s here:

    I couldn’t make myself read her whole piece about Prof Bartholet…it seems like the anti-adoption crowd is really after the professor ever since that writer for the Washington Times published an op-ed critical of UNICEF that cited Prof Bartholet’s work. Ugh.

    • There is just so much political venom and vitriol around this issue–and the factual vacuum allows this to continue, I think…. It seems so obvious to me that there are instances where adoption has involvd a violation of rigths–and it is so clear that lack of adoption also continues to violate rights on a massive scale–But sorting this out has to involve more than tracking down ethical violations–and I never see the anti folks–including and notably the UN–trying to determine exactly what children need–yes, need–to be adopted, because they require an alternative to their original family–the one that is not actually there for them.

  3. Riben’s characterization of Prof. Bartholet as supportive of “baby-selling” is irresponsible, reckless, and duplicitous in the extreme. It is nothing short of character assassination, the kind of ad hominem attack we have seen in recent years from the opponents of international adoption. The opponents of IA are fond of misrepresenting the writings and statements of well-meaning child welfare advocates to the extent that we appear to be in cahoots with child traffickers and murderers. Note that while the opponents like to suggest we have a tolerant attitude to the most reprehensible crimes occurring to children in the name of supporting families for children, they simultaneously invest in labeling children as “not really orphans” and in dismissing the orphan crisis as not being a real problem. Ms. Riben, 18.5 million double orphans (using UNICEF’s definition and numbers) is not an insignificant problem. And surely you have read at least a handful of the studies and reports demonstrating the irreversible intellectual, emotional, physical development damage that occurs when children are wrongfully detained in substandard orphanages and dangerous tent cities, not to mention child slavery and homelessness. What is your solution? The organizations you tout as doing better by the world’s orphans have not invested a single dime in building up family systems or reuniting children with their families of origin. It seems that UNICEF’s proscription is to wield Hague to shut down a country’s IA system, then stick a kid into an orphanage and tell him to wait 6, 7, 8 or more years on the off chance his parents might show up. Orphans need families NOW. Making them wait is the same as making them hurt. Many millions of children around the world are orphaned and abandoned, and it not that hard to prove or establish. Meanwhile many countries simply do not have the domestic adoption programs or even foster care programs to provide these children with even the scantest “family-like” setting (quite a number of which are, in fact, closer to “slavery-like” than “family-like”). Instead of “family-like,” how about families? Millions of children are waiting, and many thousands of families in the U.S. are willing to adopt them. Why can’t we bring those two groups together? To learn more, go to, sign our petition urging for change to the IA system, and find out about our forthcoming movie, Wrongfully Detained.

  4. This one caught my eye in the sidebar, sorry to leave two comments in such close succession.

    I know Mirah personally, consider a friend – not an easy friend, but still – and have been blasted online by her myself. I steer pretty clear now, primarily because the attack I experienced really did hurt, coming from someone I thought might put friendship above ideology.

    Unfortunately, ideology reigns in the adoption world. It gets so deeply rooted that it becomes impossible for people to see any other side of an issue than their own. I see Bartholet a little differently; I just think her personal adoptive parenting experience skews her opinions. I also think she spends way too much time debating IF intercountry adoption should exist (it will, because it’s needed), and should spend more time on HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER.

    Ideology has served to separate the people who should be talking to one another about the things we ALL need to do to improve adoption laws and practices, and to make it as transparent and just for EVERYONE – surrendering parents, children and adopted adults, and adoptive parents – involved at all stages of the process and throughout their lifetimes.

    I want every child to have a family. I want every adoption to just and legal and transparent. I want every surrendering parent to have every opportunity to be a parent before adoption comes into the picture. I want every adoptee to be able to know their history and to have the opportunity to know both of their families.

    Pie in the sky, maybe. But it’s what I hope will be the case someday so that people will have the confidence to adopt when it’s truly necessary for the child.

  5. My “accusation” of baby selling is supported by Bartholet’s own words. All of my facts are footnoted and documented including the deliberate distortion of the number of orphans. Simply go to the end of piece for endnotes.

    “”Baby buying is generally not thought of as a serious evil in today’s world in other contexts. Commercial surrogacy is the institution in which true baby buying takes place systematically. Surrogacy contracts specify that the woman who provides pregnancy and childbirth services, and often her egg as well, will receive money in exchange for turning over the baby born, and terminating her parental rights. Commercial surrogacy is flourishing in the United States and many other countries.” Bartholet, Elizabeth. (2009) “International Adoption: The Human Rights Position.” This is the pre-peer-reviewed version of the article “International Adoption, The Human Rights Position,” which will be published in final form in Global Policy, Issue 1, January, 2010.

    Bartholet said this! She believes buying and selling human being is not evil. Don’t shoot the messenger. I report, I do not conjure up facts out of nowhere and make them match my beliefs. We cannot simply continue to live with our heads in the sand. We need to start to listen tot eh mounting evidence – the trafficking for adoption which can n longer be seen as isolated anomalies but as endemic of a flawed and far too loosely regulated system,

    And I am not the only one pulling back the curtain and exposing the naked truth and may come from neutral journalistic positions – no personal ax to grind – as I am accused of. people like EJ Graff, Erin Siegal, Pastor Kim Do-hyun, director of KoRoot, many adult adoptees who have written about IA from their perspective such as Jane Jeong Trenka, The UN, UNICEF, SOS for children and save the Children just to name a few.

    All one has to do to find thee truth is look at the SOURCES of who is saying what and what their motivation is. Prof Bartholet represents those who profit from the redistribution of children, despite feigning interest in the lives of those children. She is as equally supportive of exporting US children as importing them! It matter snot to her as long as their is an exchange that creates a fee for her colleagues.

    Marge says IA will always exist. I hope not. I agree with Pastor Kim Do-hyun who says: “…overseas adoption is a kind of child abuse by the state. ….Overseas adoption is the forced expulsion of children from the society where they are supposed to live. In this sense, overseas adoption is a social violence against children. As humans, we exist as part of a gigantic ecosystem. The existence of the biological parents of adoptees can never be annihilated nor denied.
    “Overseas adoption is a forced separation of children from their natural ecosystems, as well as a way of forcing them into compulsory unity with settings different from and unnatural to their genetic and original social systems. Through this forced separation and compulsory unity, not only the adoptees, but also their biological parents, adoptive parents and their family members suffer trauma.”

    Again, don’t blame me for these comments which I recently found on the blog of an adoptive mother:

    Finally, I want to add that just as those who are opposed to war are not in any way “against” the troops risking their lives, but rather very supportive of them and wishing them safe return home…I have never bashed those who have adopted with good intent, who have not turned a blind eye to bribery and other improprieties as seen in the film Wo Ai Ni… and have taken good care of the children entrusted to them. I seek changes going forward and envision a world in which altruism for children and families in crisis is carried out in ways that benefit the entire family and village such as digging wells, building schools and providing medical supplies instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars – often going to baby brokers and child traffickers – to meet a demand to take children one at a time and leave their siblings and families behind.

    Those are my beliefs, the source of my passion. I am proud of of my work in uncovering lies and acts of atrocity against children and families and will never stop. If I offend the guilty, I am equally proud of that!

  6. Would like to make very clear that my own focus is on uncovering the truth about the way social orphans actually live and finding a way to guarantee permanency for every child. Moreover, I am not Professor Bartholet and do not purport to represent her views. As with all complex issues, the participants in the debate have their own unique perspectives–so I don’t want to be cast as a surrogate for any other thinker. I am happy to stand by my own views, as expressed in these pages.

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