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Brasov - Romania
Reteaua de Sprijin Comunitar

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Liberal Democracy and Globalisation - International Adoption & Romania

When I was asked to write this chapter on 'liberal democracy and globalisation' I realised that the ideal subject would be international adoptions. On the one hand international adoptions have been 'liberalised' (in a broad economic sense) since the fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s; on the other hand it has become a globalised industry. In this chapter I will present a short history of international adoptions and outline my own involvement in the issue.

First of all, I should say something about my own background as this helps to explain my own motivation and drive. Before entering politics I had gained valuable experience in children's issues at Save the Children, Dr. Barnardo's National Children's Homes, Foster Parents Plan (USA) and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).

This gave me a valuable overview of the kind of problems that children face all over the world, as well as the kind of solutions that organisations and individuals look for in trying to help children in need. While a Member of the European Parliament I was appointed to be Special Envoy for Health, Peace and Development for the World Health Organisation. I must say that this experience has enlarged my vision and focus on primary health care, an issue which includes pre and post natal child health, midwifery and the whole subject of family-based care.

All this was an excellent grounding for my first foray into Romania, in 1990, where I got involved in helping at the biggest and worst child care institution on the outskirts of Bucharest. I immediately set up the Parliamentary Appeal for Romanian Children in 1990, with colleagues from the Labour and Conservative parties (strangely enough, the Liberals were not interested back then). In 1999 the European Parliament asked me to become the Rapporteur for Romania and I naturally placed child and health issues - for all of Romania's 6.5 million children - at the top of my agenda. What has always driven me is to try and protect children, often the most vulnerable members of a society; and when that society is weak, when its legal system is corrupt, when its public services are dysfunctional, the children are the first to suffer.

I have dedicated much of my professional life to helping find the most effective policies for those children, and I am proud to be associated with Romania which is a country which has gone from having the worst child protection systems in Europe to having one of the best.

International adoption is often presented as a solution to the problems faced by children in poor countries around the world: a middle class family in the West wants to adopt a child from a poor country, often from a grim institution, and in public relations terms it often comes across as a good solution, often the only solution.

One can see this phenomenon most clearly in the USA, where adoption agencies are self-regulating - in other words they can be both unscrupulous and legal. The media tends to distort the picture when it comes to internationaladoptions. What is just an ordinary story of one family trying to adopt a child from another country gets transformed into a grand struggle against post-communist bureaucracy; the family are often presented as heroes and their visits to that country are described as 'mercy missions' as if their main purpose is to help develop social services rather than adopt a child. The context of these articles is that the country in question is presented in turmoil, with grim child care institutions, its peopleunable to look after their own children and young mothers abandon babies continually. The only solution put forward is international adoptions - whereas this should only be a possible last resort, when all other means of caring for the child in his or her country of origin have been tried and failed (viz. article 22b, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - UNCRC).

This is how the public relations experts who are hired by the adoption agencies manage to spin the story - no longer is it an ordinary family trying to adopt; it has become an epic struggle between the forces of good and evil. The fact that international adoptions is often not good for the child in question, and experience shows that it has a corrupting effect in the source country, and it opens the door to the worst forms of criminal opportunity, is rarely mentioned.

I have seen this phenomenon play itself out over the last fifteen years in Romania. If one looks at the history of international adoptions from Romania you can see how it has evolved over the years; from a free-forall in the early 1990s to an unregulated free market for children between 1997 - 2001, when children were exchanged as commodities by a fiendishly simple 'points for cash' system, where an NGO would earn number of points and would be able to exchange these for y number of children . The international adoption business has been banned in Romania since 2001 and the new legislation, based on child rights, came into effect in 2005 (under which international adoption is only allowed for members of the extended family). As I said above, Romania has gone from having a barbaric child care system under the Communists to having some of the best legislation in Europe. In Eastern Europe they are setting the standards in terms of deinstitutionalisation and finding family-based solutions for children in difficulty; it is the only former Communist country which has been able to dismantle effectively its vast network of child care institutions and place the children in substitute families. Although there are still major problems in Romania with corruption, and poverty, the fact that they have managed to reform their child welfare system is a huge achievement. What is very interesting to note is that the organisations which have a financial interest in continuing international adoptions, also have a vested interest in promoting Romania as a disaster case where nothing has changed, babies continue to be abandoned, and where they are still unable to look after their own children.

Even the Romanian branch of UNICEF has taken a somewhat sensationalist angle to its work by commissioning a study which shows the rate of babies being abandoned in maternity hospitals being approximately double the official rate. This was not a case of UNICEF being right and the government being wrong; it was a case of shoddy research from which a sensational figure was announced to the press two months before the report was even written.

The fact that Romania's new law on child rights is a very good piece of legislation, better than in several EU Member States, and that Romania is one of the few countries to have found a way to de-institutionalise its children in care, has been ignored by these groups. Because of these vested interests, negative stories continue to pour out of those newspapers which do not have the resources, or interest, in finding out for themselves what the real situation is.Getting back to the main point of this chapter, the history of international adoptions as a lesson in 'liberal democracy and globalisation', I would like to briefly describe the history of international adoptions. There has been a decline in the birth rate in several Western countries for many years. Particularly affected are the Latin countries of Italy, France and Spain. For those families who are unable to have their own children they are often presented with the opportunity of adoption; but adopting in most EU states is complicated and takes a lot of time. The procedures are complex and there are just not enough young children available for adoption. There is much more demand than supply.

In the West this situation is based on the reality that child protection laws give a tight net of protection to the hundreds of thousands of EU children who are in the care of the state. International adoption has been going on for most of this century. It started as an organised state-to-state process following the Second World War when there were thousands of displaced families, and many homeless children in Europe and Asia. It started as a genuine humanitarian action and gradually got distorted as the private companies involved got better at organising an international network, high level lobbying and Public Relations. Often, financial interests were put before the best interests of the child. In the Islamic world and Africa the practice of international adoption isgenerally not allowed and until the 1990s, international adoption was not very widespread (although there were always many adoptions from South Korea to USA). This changed when the Iron Curtain fell and the economies of formerly oppressed countries began to be liberalised. During the early 1990s Romania was the country with the most International adoptions. By the end of the 1990s Russia and China were the biggest 'suppliers'. According to a recent article in the Daily Mail (UK) over 50,000 Chinese children have been adopted by families in the US during the last ten years 1.

The business of international adoption has grown massively since 1990. But this growth is not really subject to any set of standards and is, in effect, unregulated. As the media and public start to find out more about what goes on under the guise of international adoptions, scandals have been making the news. The Times of London recently published a horrifying story about the trade in child body parts from Ukraine, and suggested that international adoptions were perhaps a cover for this trade (a proper enquiry into this needs to be commissioned) 2. There have also been some very lively debates in the Russian Parliament about the alleged murder of 15 Russian children by adoptive parents in the USA. As the international adoption business liberalised, as a result of the opening up of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, the business has globalised. What started out with good intentions – a family's desire to adopt; a somewhat misguided attempt to help communities in difficulty - has opened the door to less scrupulous types who have other interests than adopting a child. It concerns me greatly that the trafficking of children and body parts has burgeoned alongside the growth of illegal international adoptions.

The situation with international adoptions today is particularly interesting. Having gone from a free-for-all in the early 1990s the adoption industry has consolidated, expanded globally and now has its tentacles in scores of emerging countries around the world. This industry thrives best in economies that are in transition, where social services are undeveloped, where local officials are easily bribed, and where the international adoption process can be presented as some kind of solution. The countries that provide the highest number of adoptive children are China, Russia and some of the nations of the former Soviet Union, and a few Central American countries like Guatemala. But regulation is catching up with the international adoption industry. Romania led the way in this regard and was always quite transparent about the problems and corruption caused by this practice. The latest scandal in Romania concerns 33 children who were adopted internationally but 'left behind' by parents who no longer wanted them. In some cases, different children were taken abroad than those who were officially approved for international adoption; in other words identities were purloined, leaving behind children who had no legal identity, no proof of existence and no access to public services. These children are now clamouring for recognition.

If we look at the history of international adoption over the last fifteen years we can see an interesting pattern, a pattern which, is similar to the growth of a liberal economy in an emerging economy. This phenomenon of rapid economic growth, accompanied by a lack of regulation and the spread of corruption, is a common feature of emerging free market economies. This stage is usually followed by a first attempt to control and regulate the business, but these first attempts often fail to get things under control. Eventually the enterprise is brought under proper control even though this often means a loss of economic opportunity for some players.

sursa: Individual - 2007 May 14


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