International adoption laws lack compassion

International adoption has become a phenomenon within the 21st century, perhaps due to celebrity headlines, compassionate volunteers, or a heightened sense that something must be done about global poverty. While adoption laws are invented to ensure child safety, sometimes the red tape interferes. Are these laws really helping or hindering?
The sun is pouring down on a dusty village in rural West Africa, covering the three small huts with inescapable heat. Since everyone in this village works on the farm, it is usually a quiet, isolated place in the middle of the day – but not today. Wails and cries of mourning can be heard from miles away – a mother of six has just died, only two months after her last baby was born. Not only has she left a gap in her family’s home and heart, but she has also left behind her already malnourished and sickly daughter, Mariama, who is only two months old. The baby’s father already has his hands full. He has five other children to care for, as well as his own farm. He has no time, resources, or medical care to provide for this baby. His elderly auntie offers to take Mariama from him, but likewise, her time and resources are incredibly limited. For a month or two, the auntie simply feeds Mariama dry rice, because it is all she has. Unfortunately, this caring old woman is forced to watch Mariama get sicker and sicker under her care, unsure of why this is happening, and even more unsure of how to fix it. What hope is there for a baby like this? Her future seems to be non-existent.
However, this baby was given a second chance at life. She was brought from this tiny village in Sierra Leone into Kabala, a larger town of approximately 10,000 people, a town where at least a small amount of medical care could be found. Her relatives from Kabala, unsure of where to take her, brought her to their neighbour, Adrienne Melissen, a Canadian nurse who was volunteering in Kabala with her husband. Fortunately, the clinic that Adrienne was working at was able to supply the baby with formula. The formula could not last forever, however, and the family simply couldn’t afford more. After several months, there was little improvement in the child's health, so Adrienne and her husband Joe started looking into another way they could help Mariama. This is when they began to think of adoption.
This story is not uncommon. Many Canadians find themselves abroad, volunteering or working, and discover a child in need. They begin to consider adoption as a way to help that child. This can be seen as an act of charity, an act of love, or ultimately, just the desire to start a family. However, starting a family internationally requires a lot of hard work and preparation. Due to the recent scare about child trafficking, it is no longer the case that one can simply go overseas, find a child, and come back several months later with that child in tow. Now, in the B.C. Adoption Act, it states that before a child who is not a resident of British Columbia is brought into the province for adoption, the prospective parents must obtain the approval of a director or an adoption agency, who set certain conditions. These conditions include providing the birth parent or guardian of the child with information about adoption and the alternatives, the prospective adoptive parents locating and providing the child’s biological family’s medical and social history, and consent being obtained from the jurisdiction in which the child is residing. Finally, a home-study of the prospective adoptive parents must be completed in accordance with the regulations of the province. Now, all of these conditions were implemented in order to stop child trafficking, which is a very legitimate issue. However, at some point, the question needs to be asked about where the line can be drawn. If what is really in question is the child’s safety, are all these rules and regulations helping or hindering that safety?

The Adoption Net

The home-study is one of the biggest problems for Canadians living abroad who end up trying to adopt a child. A home-study is a three to four month process in which an adoption agency studies the prospective parents’ lives in order to determine whether or not these parents are fit to raise a child. Not only is this study quite long and tedious, but it usually costs upwards of $4000. Although it is certainly a legitimate concern, this is the point where it becomes clear that adoption is not a process that can always be guided with the same rules and regulations, since we are dealing with human life – and every situation is different.
It is simple enough for Canadians to do the home-study before they go overseas, but if they did not intend to adopt a child while at home then it becomes more difficult. For example, the Melissens did not decide while they were in Canada that they would adopt Mariama in Sierra Leone. The couple had been working and living in Sierra Leone for over nine months before they made the decision, which was based on circumstance. They carefully and thoroughly went through all the work in order to do the process justly and fairly in the Sierra Leone legal system, but they were then told by the Canadian government that they could not come back into Canada with their own child - they had to complete a home-study in Canada first. This is a fair and logical requirement to prevent child trafficking, but again, not an easy requirement to complete when you are living overseas.
Not only is this hard on the parents, but it is hard on the child as well. In Mariama’s case, she was adopted because her family was not able to provide adequate medical care for her, so how were they supposed to be able to provide that care for her now? This child was actually placed in a dangerous situation by the laws that were so carefully invented to protect her safety – she was taken away from her new parents and left in a situation where proper medical care and food were unavailable. Beyond that, her parents were forced to leave the country in order to complete this home-study. They were not simply a phone call away.

Baby Bureaucracy

The home-study is incredibly difficult for those living overseas because they cannot ethically leave their child in dangerous conditions to complete this study at home. An individual assessment of the situation by adoption officials would have helped Mariama immensely. Many other countries are struggling with their own red tape issues.
India and China have both seen huge booms in international adoption. In India, commercial surrogacy became legal in 2002, referring to the law that grants tourists permission to find an Indian mother as a surrogate carrier of their child. They then fly out of India with the child several weeks after birth. Usually, they are allowed to do this with no problem, but, like Canada, India does have certain laws to prevent child trafficking. One such law states that in India, a single father cannot adopt a baby girl. Usually, this would be legitimate – the Indian government is being overly cautious in order to prevent the rise of the sex trade and baby trafficking. But when you look at it on a case-to-case basis, it becomes more complicated. For example, Tokyo Dr. Ikufumi Yamada and his previous wife, Yuki, went through this process in India. However, a month before the baby was born they were divorced because his wife decided she did not want children. Now the father is not allowed to take the child that he has adopted home to Japan, despite his potential qualifications as a parent. His child is left in a terrible situation.
In China, single parents, parents over 50 years of age, parents with a severe facial deformity, and parents with a Body Mass Index over 40, which is medically considered morbidly obese, all are no longer permitted to adopt children. Although these rules were implemented to protect children, the strictness and intensity behind them again reminds us of the fact that we are dealing with real lives, and it is not easy to simply make one rule or regulation that fits them all. Not all obese people make bad parents, and a single parent is better than none at all.
In both of these situations, there is no easy solution or way out. The adoption rules are meant to protect and safeguard children all over the world, to ensure that child trafficking is not occurring, and to provide children with a healthy and happy home. Yet it is not easy to make a rule in a ‘one-size fits all’ format when you are dealing with human lives. Every situation is guaranteed to be different, and sometimes, an exception will have to be made. The system that is meant to safeguard should perhaps be willing to adjust its strict policies if the situation requires.
No matter what country your child comes from, adoption should be a decision based on love, commitment, and a genuine connection. For this reason, it is necessary to have firm rules in order to ensure that potential parents legitimately want to help a child, and are not simply taking advantage of the situation or acting on a whim. However, on a case-to-case basis, the best interests of the child must be addressed. Perhaps we don't need a new system of rules and regulations, but we definitely need an adoption system where compassionate exceptions are a greater possibility.

Krissi Bucholtz

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