jueves, febrero 11, 2010

Why adopting Haitian children is a terrible idea - for them and us by Elizabeth Chin

The group of Baptist missionaries who tried to take 33 Haitian children across the border into the Dominican Republic are far from the only people trying to "save" Haitian children in the aftermath of the earthquake. Even aid workers (who ought to know better) have been caught trying to wangle kids onto planes headed for, well, anywhere. Frustration abounds that in a crisis like this, a body as woefully ineffective as the Haitian government is insisting that children not leave the country without proper paperwork and proof of adoptability. People are clamoring that all of those kids should get adopted, and fast. But not so fast. In fact, it's a terrible idea.

Even before the quake, Haiti was full of orphanages, and those orphanages were full of children. Simple, right? Not really. On many of the orphanage Web sites, if you accessed information about a specific child, you would find a note that went something like this: "This child is not in residence at the orphanage but should you be interested in him or her, we can provide more information." What that meant is that this was a child whose family was so desperately poor that they were willing to give that child up. Even before the quake, most "orphans" in Haiti had parents.

What kind of parent, you might ask, would give up their precious child? To answer that question, you must understand the kind of poverty in which the vast majority of Haitians find themselves. Throughout the nation, whether in rural villages or in the hillside slums known as bidonvilles, keeping your children fed is a daunting task. In a country where food is not noticeably cheaper than it is in the United States, the average Haitian lives on less than $500 per year. Imagine being faced with these two options: Watching your children slowly starve to death, or sending them away in the hopes that they might survive. Sophie's Choice? Haitian parents make it every day.

The point is, if they actually had a choice, most parents of these "orphans" would choose to keep them at home. In rushing to adopt these children, we participate in a cycle of violence that tears at the heart and soul of Haitian society, and stands to do violence to our own hearts and souls as well. We know from the experiences of children pulled out of Vietnam in Operation Babylift and, more recently, the experiences of many Korean adoptees, that the better life imagined for them in the U.S. is one often full of heartache and ambivalence.

Too often these children feel racially "other" in communities that give the message that being racially "different" is a problem to be solved; when they are not "grateful" for their new lives, they are shamed or dismissed. As thousands of these earlier adoptees have reached adulthood, significant numbers of them are engaged in activism to halt such adoptions and to provide birth families ways to stay together. We should listen to what their experience tells us.

Rather than adopting, a much greater gift would be to work toward restoring the Haitian economy so that peasant farmers could feed themselves, their families and their nation. Haiti needs its children.

Haitian children, in turn, have a right to their home language, to their home culture, and most of all they have the right to live among the people who love them deeply and fiercely: their own families.

Adopting a foreign child costs more than $10,000. Think of how many families could stay intact if that money were used not to take families apart, but to keep them together.

Chin is a professor of anthropology at Occidental

College in Los Angeles. She has conducted fieldwork

in Haiti since 1993.

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