Saturday, January 23, 2010

Adoption nightmares in Haiti

My mother called last night as she and my stepfather watched the Hope for Haiti Now telethon.

"I know it's not really what you were planning on but maybe you should consider adopting a child from Haiti."

I'm not quite sure how to respond.

"If I was 25 years younger, I think I would do it," she says.

"I'll go turn on the telethon, Mom," I reply.


The scope of the Haitian tragedy is, quite frankly, beyond my capacity to truly comprehend. I don't think the human mind is designed to wrap itself around death and destruction of this magnitude, even if you're sitting there in the middle of it. I see the photos, the videos, hear and read the stories, and it's overwhelming. Part of you just wants to say "This can't possibly be real." After all, we've all seen death and destruction on a grander scale in the movies and really, no one was actually hurt. But it is real. It's just so overwhelming.

But then you reduce the scope of your view, see the individual stories and the tragedy becomes far more tangible if no less horrifying. Truthfully, by narrowing your view the reality becomes almost more harrowing as it's easier for those of us safe and secure in our homes to put ourselves in one person's shoes rather than comprehend the horror inflicted upon millions.

As a prospective adoptive dad, the stories of the children and families have resonated most deeply for me. Amidst the wreckage, and death that now engulf Haiti, aid and government workers are overwhelmed as they try to cope with a flood of displaced children -- 45% of the population is under the age of 15 and UN observers estimate that 40,000 to 60,000 children were killed, orphaned or separated from their families. At the same time, adoptive parents in the U.S. and Europe struggle to find out the status of the children they'd hoped to bring home to join their families. The process is at a standstill as the country, its infrastructure, its social and government organizations all collapse.

Sadly, with this tragedy and the true agony of the children and adoptive parents comes a darker side. UNICEF and other international aid organizations are now calling for a halt to all adoptions in Haiti with the exception of those for which the paperwork was largely complete. Why? Because of the tremendous risk of child trafficking either with orphans or those children do have families and simply who hope to be reunited with them as the chaos is controlled. The threat is real -- UN workers have reported "people driving to the airport in expensive cars and putting children on outgoing flights without any documentation."

As if the tragedy in Haiti wasn't already horrific enough, these children continue to suffer due to the actions of evil men. I know "evil" is a strong word and one that can be tossed around a bit too easily but I do believe that it applies to those adults who knowingly take these and other children, whether it is to make money posing as legitimate adoption agencies or to exploit these children through the 21st century equivalent of slave labor or in the sex industry.

With time, effort, and funds, the lives of these children will hopefully improve and Haiti will be rebuilt in some fashion. Adoptive families will hopefully be able to bring their new family members home and aid will flow to the children who remain. However, it will be a long process and they need our help. If you haven't already done so, I urge you to please consider making a donation to the Haitian relief efforts now. You might not be able to make a large donation but for the people of Haiti, many of whom have nothing left, a little from each of us will add up.

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