Moving beyond the “intercountry adoption” debate

The bitter debate over international adoption continues to rage, repetitious and acrimonious.  Advocates make the case for international adoption as a central pillar of permanency for children; detractors insist that international adoption is both corrupt and detrimental to the rights of children. The substance of this debate has changed little, as far as I can see, over the past number of years.

It is my sense, having researched questions related to “children living without families” in enormous detail over a long period of time, that what is needed is to alter our sense of a state’s obligation to ensure the human rights of social orphans within that state’s jurisdiction. This is a process that requires expert international oversight. I can think of few areas where there is less honesty and transparency than this one.

In particular, nation states must account for and seek genuine permanency for these children. Not “community based solutions” alone, but true permanency. That is my main proposition. I have no wish to ignore or disparage the interests of original families or states of origin. Neither do I mystify these and privilege them over all other considerations.

Few states appear to have taken this requirement of accountability on board.  It seems that, at present, our commitment to real permanency for each child is not nearly radical enough. The population of social orphans continues to be hidden, and is likely to continue to fade from public view and consciousness.

 Some years ago, I wrote up my observations on the often twisted manner in which the human rights of children are described, and called for a recognition of the importance of real and verifiable information on the world’s orphans.  See my 2003 article at I understand that there have been serious historical examples of children being unfairly removed from their communities of origin. I also see the damage done by seeing children primarily as the products of their communities of origin. Courageous hidden camera work has consistenly shown us children ignored and mistreated by official systems of child welfare. 

In the 2003 article, I called for the establishment of an expert (but non-UN) body to which we could turn in determining how social orphans are really living. I still believe that such a body is key to separating the true from the false arguments concerning the world’s social orphans and how best to recognize and protect their rights.