Uganda’s international adoption program is under attack and this post explores who is behind efforts to close the program.
In 2011, the Government of Uganda launched its Alternative Care Initiatives task force to review the 800+ orphanages currently operating in Uganda. Ugandan law states that the institutionalization of children is not an appropriate response to family separation and that a child’s stay in such institutions should be extremely limited while a permanent solution is sought.
The “Core Values” then go on to list a variety of alternatives, none of which include international adoption. So although thousands of children reside in orphanages, which are deemed unacceptable, some Ugandan child welfare advocates believe orphanages are more acceptable than international adoption. The child welfare task force wraps up its outline of “values” with a nationalistic tribute to the ability of Ugandans to fix their own problems, and a desire to eschew future funding from “donors and outside support.”
Hmmm. What “donors and outside support” are funding the this effort? ACI does not specify, but as with so many other countries that close their international adoption programs, the money trail leads back to UNICEF. UNICEF publicly states that it does not oppose international adoption, but when pressed, a different story is revealed.
Enter Mark Riley , who now chairs the ACI panel, directing child welfare policy in Uganda. He appeared this summer at an “Adoption Trafficking Awareness Event” in Washington state (online searches reveal he speaks at anti-adoption conferences regularly). His bio from the event stated that, “For the last 2 years Mark has been working with the Ugandan government, funded by UNICEF, supporting their efforts to reform child care services across the country. Mark is an advocate for a suspension of international adoptions out of Uganda due to the level of unethical and criminal activities that he has witnessed.”
In other words, Mark Riley is leading the charge to end international adoption for the thousands of children in 800+ orphanages across Uganda, and UNICEF is funding this effort.
On his Facebook page, Mark Riley attacks adoption agencies that use the “loophole” of a child’s best interests to obtain a judicial waiver of Uganda’s 3-year residency requirement. Riley thinks a judge should not have discretion when reviewing the residency requirement and argues that the “best interests” loophole should be closed: “If a country has weak drink driving laws should not mean that drink driving is ok until the laws catch up or loopholes closed.” I don’t see the link between drunk driving and adopting an unparented child, do you?
I can see that Mark Riley cares about important issues like poverty alleviation. But taking away international adoption under the pretense that everyone in poor countries is able and willing to care for their children if only they have enough money is ridiculous. It is also cruel to children who just need families somewhere to adopt them before they grow up in an orphanage and THEN get trafficked. Riley’s and UNICEF’s fantasy does not account for the reality we see in wealthier countries, where millions of children are adopted domestically or raised in foster care systems because of mental illness, disability, substance abuse, dysfunctional families, affairs, rape or imprisonment.
Sometimes mothers here in the U.S. choose adoption for their babies simply because they are not ready to be moms, and we even applaud their mature sacrifice. But people like Riley and NGOs like UNICEF deny this could ever legitimately be the scenario in poor countries. They are in favor of taking away the choice of international adoption from people they see as intellectually incapable of making such a decision.
Review of Riley’s FB page, shows just how extreme his opposition to international adoption is. He posts a picture of a t-shirt worn by an animal rescuer that says, “Those who say money can’t buy happiness have never paid an adoption fee.” Mark assumes (or pretends) that it was worn by an adoptive parent and writes: ”Please line up to punch this adoptive parent! (and people wonder why child protection and anti-trafficking workers find many adoptive parents sick and twisted)…”
But the bigger ethical issue is this: is opposition to international adoption ethical when it means that children will be raised in institutions rather than families? Absolutely not. Being raised in a family is every child’s basic human right. Leaders like Mark Riley and the NGOs he works with have no business taking any solutions off the table. If there are road bumps or glitches in the process, we owe it to every one of these kids to buckle down and work on fixing the problems, rather than throwing up our hands and banning international adoption, which is a great solution for many unparented kids.
I hope that UNICEF’s leading role as an international adoption opponent becomes increasingly publicized so that UNICEF will be held publicly accountable for policies that have destroyed so many children’s lives.