Statement on Haiti adoptions from Adoptees of Color
January 25, 2010
This statement reflects the position of an international community of adoptees
of color who wish to pose a critical intervention in the discourse and actions
affecting the child victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. We are domestic
and international adoptees with many years of research and both personal and
professional experience in adoption studies and activism. We are a community of
scholars, activists, professors, artists, lawyers, social workers and health
care workers who speak with the knowledge that North Americans and Europeans
are lining up to adopt the orphaned children of the Haitian earthquake,
and who feel compelled to voice our opinion about what it means to be
saved or rescued through adoption.
We understand that in a time of crisis there is a tendency to want to act
quickly to support those considered the most vulnerable and directly affected,
including children. However, we urge caution in determining how best to help.
We have arrived at a time when the licenses of adoption agencies in various
countries are being reviewed for the widespread practice of misrepresenting the
social histories of children. There is evidence of the production of documents
stating that a child is available for adoption based on a legal
paper and not literal orphaning as seen in recent cases of intercountry
adoption of children from Malawi, Guatemala, South Korea and China. We bear
testimony to the ways in which the intercountry adoption industry has profited
from and reinforced neo-liberal structural adjustment policies, aid dependency,
population control policies, unsustainable development, corruption, and child
For more than fifty years orphaned children have been shipped from areas
of war, natural disasters, and poverty to supposedly better lives in Europe and
North America. Our adoptions from Vietnam, South Korea, Guatemala and many
other countries are no different from what is happening to the children of
Haiti today. Like us, these disaster orphans will grow into adulthood and
begin to grasp the magnitude of the abuse, fraud, negligence, suffering, and
deprivation of human rights involved in their displacements.
We uphold that Haitian children have a right to a family and a history that is
their own and that Haitians themselves have a right to determine what happens
to their own children. We resist the racist, colonialist mentality that
positions the Western nuclear family as superior to other conceptions of
family, and we seek to challenge those who abuse the phrase Every child
deserves a family to rethink how this phrase is used to justify the removal
of children from Haiti for the fulfillment of their own needs and desires.
Western and Northern desire for ownership of Haitian children directly
contributes to the destruction of existing family and community structures in
Haiti. This individualistic desire is supported by the historical and global
anti-African sentiment which negates the validity of black mothers and fathers
and condones the separation of black children from their families, cultures,
and countries of origin.
As adoptees of color many of us have inherited a history of dubious adoptions.
We are dismayed to hear that Haitian adoptions may be fast-tracked due to
the massive destruction of buildings in Haiti that hold important records and
documents. We oppose this plan and argue that the loss of records requires
slowing down of the processes of adoption while important information is
gathered and re-documented for these children. Removing children from Haiti
without proper documentation and without proper reunification efforts is a
violation of their basic human rights and leaves any family members who may be
searching for them with no recourse. We insist on the absolute necessity of
taking the time required to conduct a thorough search, and we support an
expanded set of methods for creating these records, including recording oral
We urge the international community to remember that the children in question
have suffered the overwhelming trauma of the earthquake and separation from
their loved ones. We have learned first-hand that adoption (domestic or
intercountry) itself as a process forces children to negate their true feelings
of grief, anger, pain or loss, and to assimilate to meet the desires and
expectations of strangers. Immediate removal of traumatized children for
adoptionincluding children whose adoptions were finalized prior to the
quake compounds their trauma, and denies their right to mourn and heal with
the support of their community.
We affirm the spirit of Cultural Sovereignty, Sovereignty and
Self-determination embodied as rights for all peoples to determine their own
economic, social and cultural development included in the Convention on the
Rights of the Child; the Charter of the United Nations; the UN Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights. The mobilization of European and North American
courts, legislative bodies, and social work practices to implement forced
removal through intercountry adoption is a direct challenge to cultural
sovereignty. We support the legal and policy application of cultural rights
such as rights to language, rights to ways of being/religion, collective
existence, and a representation of Haitis histories and existence using
Haitis own terms.
We offer this statement in solidarity with the people of Haiti and with all
those who are seeking ways to intentionally support the long-term
sustainability and self-determination of the Haitian people. As adoptees of
color we bear a unique understanding of the trauma, and the sense of loss and
abandonment that are part of the adoptee experience, and we demand that our
voices be heard. All adoptions from Haiti must be stopped and all efforts to
help children be refocused on giving aid to organizations working toward family
reunification and caring for children in their own communities. We urge you to
join us in supporting Haitian childrens rights to life, survival, and
development within their own families and communities.
Forwarded by Ezili's Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network
The Caribbean nation should be reimbursed for centuries of punitive treatment and brutality by the outside world
Last week started with a conference in Montreal, called by a group of governments and international agencies calling themselves Friends of Haiti, to discuss the long and short term needs of the recently devastated Caribbean nation. Even as corpses remained under the earthquake's rubble and the government operated out of a police station, the assembled "friends" would not commit to cancelling Haiti's $1bn debt. Instead they agreed to a 10-year plan with no details, and a commitment to meet again when the bodies have been buried along with coverage of the country sometime in the future.
A few days later in Washington, Timothy Geithner, the US treasury secretary, came before the house oversight committee to explain why he paid top dollar for $85bn worth of toxic assets when he bailed out the insurance company AIG. Geithner said he was faced with a "tragic choice". "The moral, fair and just choice is to protect the innocent," he said.
There is no connection between these two events. But in the public imagination maybe there should be. The world cannot yet find $1bn in debt relief for Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, a country that spent more in 2008 servicing its debt than it did on health, education and the environment combined and that has now been flattened. But, over a weekend, a single country could rustle up $85bn to keep a single company in business. It is an obscene reminder that, in the world of global capital, distressed assets are still more valued than distressed people.
The scale, urgency and determination with which western governments moved to salvage a broken system stands in stark contrast to their laggardly, inadequate and negligent approach when it comes to rescuing a broken society. I refer here not to the emergency aid operations in Haiti, which, given the logistical obstacles of operating in a crushed nation, have been impressive. Nor to the charitable donations from all over the world that prove that people are far more generous than the governments they elect. But to the resources and long-term systemic solutions that Haiti needs and the west could summon if it so desired.
The recent earthquake was an act of nature. But the magnitude of the devastation, the consequent human toll and the inability of the country to recover unaided are the product of its political and economic marginalisation. Haiti was not so much a disaster waiting to happen as a disaster that kept happening, but that too few cared about. Haiti needs a bailout. And if it does not get one the disasters will never end.
A recent UN study on the impact of 21 natural disasters on heavily indebted poor countries concluded that rebuilding costs leave long-term financial burdens. The UN's trade and development body found that a natural disaster leads to a 24 percentage-point increase in a country's debt-to-GDP ratio.
"Shocks on such a scale can lead to a vicious cycle of economic distress, more external borrowing, burdensome debt servicing and insufficient investment to mitigate future shocks," it said.
Like a moviegoer walking into a thriller halfway through, those unfamiliar with Haitian history could be forgiven for mistaking the villains for the victims and benefactors for malefactors. For it was not simply a mixture of bad governance and even worse luck that got Haiti to this place (though they have played their part). Haiti is not a failed state; it's a state that has been failed since its birth, and precisely because of the nature of its birth.
Haiti gained its independence from France in 1804 through a slave rebellion the first postcolonial, independent black-led nation in the world. For this audacity they would pay for generations. Napoleon told one of his ministers at the time: "The freedom of the negroes, if recognised in St Domingue [as Haiti was then known] and legalised by France would at all times be a rallying point for freedom-seekers of the New World." The US president Thomas Jefferson was similarly concerned that Haiti would set a bad example.
The US refused to recognise the new country for more than half a century, and would then go on to occupy it for 20 years between the wars. The French burdened it with a punitive debt the country shouldered for over a century.
Both the US and France backed the Duvaliers' brutal dictatorships and when democratic government did arrive it was hogtied by terms imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. Among other things, rigged trade agreements transformed Haiti from a self-sufficient rice producer to importing the bulk of its rice from subsidised growers in the US. When Haiti fined American rice merchants $1.4m in 2000 for allegedly evading customs duties, the US responded by freezing $30m in aid. With friends like these, Haiti does not need enemies.
So Haiti's bailout would not be an act of charity, but reimbursement and reparation. This is not a hand out but a hand back. In terms of Haiti's needs, it would be the beginning not the end. The country needs investment in its social and civic infrastructure so that it can shape its own future. It needs the kind of long-term interest from honest brokers that does not arrive for a coup or disaster and then leave when the cameras are gone.
A few months after President Betrand Aristide was ousted in a coup in 2004, Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, told the UN forces: "The stakes are high. This time let us get it right." A month later I visited the town of St Marc to find the Red Cross centre had only one (broken) ambulance; the chief inspector of police had no walkie-talkies and one car; the town hall had no phones, and few tables or chairs; and its unelected deputy mayor had not been paid for four months. The stakes were high. But they did not even come close to getting it right.
The west owes Haiti. And yet still it keeps trying to extort more from the misery. The living had not yet been pulled from the debris when the vultures started circling. A day after the earthquake The Street, an investment website, published "An opportunity to heal Haiti", claiming: "Here are some companies that could potentially benefit: General Electric, Caterpillar, Deere, Fluor, Jacobs Engineering."
James Dobbins, a special envoy to Haiti under President Clinton and director of the International Security and Defence Policy Centre at the Rand Corporation, saw other possibilities. "This disaster is an opportunity to accelerate oft-delayed reforms," he argued. The reforms included "breaking up or at least reorganising the government-controlled telephone monopoly", and restructuring the ports. In other words, privatising what little is left of the country's state enterprises.
It is difficult to see what more the west could extract from a country where half the population struggle to eat once a day and people pay to have their children sold to families in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Tragic choices indeed.
When they believe something to be a priority, western governments can forgive bad loans, pump out money and ease restrictions on credit. They have done it to save the wealthy from themselves; now they must do it to save the poor from the wealthy.