Adopting the orphaned children

The tsunami that devastated South Asia on December 26, 2004, has mobilized millions of people eager to contribute resources and time. The horror of those moments and the devastation captured on video and seen around the world cannot be forgotten.

Whole towns were wiped from the Earth and the history of family after family was erased. As an armchair voyeur to the event, I fixated on the children orphaned.

The fate some of these children may face serve as grim reminders of the conditions millions experience throughout the globe as a result of war, plague, and poverty. The Children’s Division of Human Rights Watch reports on situations in which homeless or street children are tortured and killed. In thirty-three nations, exploited children as young as seven are forced into the military. Some become laborers in sweatshops while many children, male and female alike, are sold into prostitution and are nothing short of sex slaves. There is reason to speculate that some of victims of the tsunami may face a similar fate. The fortunate have found shelter with neighbors or members of their extended families. Other will spend years in less than adequate orphanages or remain homeless, becoming easy prey for those who seek to exploit them.

Eager to step forward, individuals throughout the world have inquired about the feasibility of adopting the orphaned children. The response to international adoption requests has varied from country to country and has not generally been enthusiastic. Thailand, for example, discourages children being taken away from their cultural traditions and asks those interested in adopting to first consider donating funds to UNICEF. These funds will be put to good use making sure the children are cared for until the right situation can be found in their home country.

International adoptions have always been complex, wrought with red tape, complications and expense. Fraud has existed in agencies that do not guarantee protection of perspective parent’s funds, overcharge for services, and demand unexpected expenses. The process itself is lengthy, and it is difficult to find out the conditions a child has experienced prior to most adoptions. Health records are sketchy at best and sometimes totally non-existent. Not addressing what such a lack of information can mean before initiating the process has led to failed adoptions.

Some successful adoptions of hard to place children here in the United States, and internationally, have been in so-called non-traditional families. There is, however, a movement afoot to halt individuals with alternative lifestyles from adopting altogether. US Judge James Lawrence King ruled in favor of a Florida law banning homosexual adoption, noting that “Plaintiffs have not asserted that they can demonstrate that homosexual families are equivalently stable, are able to provide proper gender identification or are no more socially stigmatizing than married heterosexual families.” This ruling has broad ramifications and soon may well be applied to single parent adoptions as well.

One cannot categorize by family constellation alone whom is the most qualified to adopt. Dedicated two parent families, single individuals and those with alternative lifestyles who are well aware of potential problems and deeply committed to a child are the most appropriate adoptee. In the best of all circumstances the residue of having lived through the tsunami and its aftermath will be minimal; and the newly adopted child can make a smooth transition into their new family and alien cultures. It is essential even with the most altruistic motives to weigh the issues before going ahead with plans to initiate such an adoption, which can wrench children away from the only culture and, way of life they know, after having just lost their families.