Orphan Gear: Advocacy or Exploitation?

Some adoptive families have t-shirts or do family photo sessions with signs that say something like “147 Million Orphans Minus One.”


Some of my acquaintances on Facebook have criticized these families. The criticism is that these families should not draw attention to the fact that their child was once an orphan. Typically they complain that either parents see their child as a charity project or simply calling attention to the child’s background encourages others to see the child as a victim.

On a gut level, I’m not completely at ease with the “147 Million Orphans Minus One” t-shirt for children. I do prefer the “Superman was adopted” t-shirts, because they are more empowering and fun. And what kid doesn’t look for an excuse to wear a cape?


Still, the criticisms seem a little harsh.

First, advocacy doesn’t mean that the child is being used. All the adoptive parents I know treat their children as the fully-fledged members of the family that they are, not as charity cases. They recognize that their children are blessed to have them, but they feel that they are even more blessed to have their children.

And second, acknowledging tragedy in one’s past doesn’t necessarily victimize that person, particularly if the emphasis is on overcoming that tragedy or reaching back to help others.

In sending the message that there are millions of children in crisis, and that their own child was once one of them, parents are announcing that advocacy begins at home. If you see something in the world that needs to be changed, you have the power to change it. And they are encouraging and allowing their child to come to terms with his past and to have compassion for others who are less fortunate at the same time.

Letting your child know that you expect him or her to be an advocate for social justice in the world is a powerful message and one that countless adoptees have embraced. And openly acknowledging where one came from is a vast improvement over the secrecy that used to surround adoption.

3 thoughts on “Orphan Gear: Advocacy or Exploitation?

  1. I agree with you completely. Very good article. To throw this out there a little farther, it seems to be trendy of late for adopting moms to constantly blog about how offended they are when people ask questions or make a flippant remark. We should never let the chance pass up by to spread the word that kiddos need a mommy and daddy. As long as we aren’t directing the publicity to ourselves, it is all a good thing. Good write

  2. I love this, Katie. Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it until recently. I ordered the “Superman was Adopted” tees for my boys and shared the order link with other adoptive parents. One friend said that her children don’t like to wear adoption tees. That possibility had never crossed my mind. I agree with your thoughts on this, but also, like you, can see the other side. I think it’s important before jumping to negative conclusions, to see the good behind wearing a tee like that. It’s to bring about awareness and need to the world about our orphan crisis. Once again, enjoying your thoughts!

  3. I am a very public advocate of intercountry adoption (Yes, I wear the t-shirt!) … And, I understand the fine line this post mentions, for both sides … Adoption of children in ANY country IS positive! Unfortunately, Intercountry Adoption has become a very heated political topic & a very young child should not have to publicly field unsolicited questions on a “hot political” topic. I feel very uncomfortable with “young” children publicly wearing ANY kind of “political-agenda wear”, being used as a “bill board” for another’s political opinion. I have always taken the line that this type of political posturing should be used by adults or older, age appropriate children only … who are wanting to publicly share about current political issues.

    I’m a parent who chose international adoption to create my family & the legalities associated with an adoption plan or case should be shouldered by adults, only. And, I strongly believe that when creating a family through adoption … the Children don’t adopt … the Adults do. I do not refer to my children as “adopted” children (private or public) so, I don’t buy shirts referring to “adoption” for them to wear . Now … :) both my young children know superman was “adopted” (he is so cool in our house!). Yes, my children love their superman t-shirts & wear them with pride … but the shirts don’t display the word “adoption” … drawing public attention & throwing my children innocently into a “hot” political Q&A with the public about their possible life details. But, my children will randomly announce to the grocery check-out line that “Did you know Superman was adopted?”, pointing to their t-shirt. But, we simply take questions about my children’s specific life details on an individual basis, as needed, personal & private.

    I do think that if adults (whether it be adult adoptees, a.parents, child advocates, etc) choose to wear “adoption wear” … that is their personal choice. And, all adults need to share what they are passionate about, however they feel led … :)

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