Friday, June 3, 2016

Children Are No Longer for Sale In Uganda

Imagine this:

Wealthy Saudi Arabian families hear about the 400,000 children languishing in foster care in the United States, and feel a deep desire to help with this crisis.  However, these Saudi families don't have the time to go through foster parent training and don't want to spend large amounts of time in the U.S. They do, however, have lots of money, and are able to find lawyers to find loopholes in American laws to make this happen.

Unfortunately, the Saudi families can't actually adopt the children immediately according to US law.  So instead, they have the courts grant them guardianship.  Then they take the kids back to Saudi Arabia and adopt them there.  Some of the kids haven't even been released for adoption-- one day, they should have been reunited with their birthparents.  But the adoptive families are sure they are giving them a better life, so it will all be okay.

In fact, these adoptions become so popular in Saudi Arabia that there aren't enough American kids in foster care to go around.  So the lawyers hire "facilitators" to go out and "find" children in the poor areas who might like to experience a "foreign exchange program" in Saudi Arabia for a few years.   Lots of poor American parents sign up.  After all, life with a fabulously wealthy Saudi family has got to be better than life in the ghetto.  The parents just don't realize they will never see their kids again.

If such a scenario would infuriate you; if you would demand the end of such a monstrosity, then that's good.  You should feel that way.

But this is exactly what's been happening in Uganda for the past few years.

Uganda has never had an official international adoption program.  The law was extremely clear:  any non-Ugandan who wanted to adopt must foster the child for three years--in Uganda--before the adoption could be finalized.

But Africa has been popular in the adoption world for the last two decades.  And since Liberia's program closed (because of corruption), and Congo's program closed (because of corruption), and Ethiopia's program massively slowed down (because of corruption), agencies were eager to find a way to get kids adopted out of Uganda.

Unfortunately, adoption agencies just had that nasty 3-year residency law to deal with.  So, they found some lawyers who decided they could "make" a way (for the right price, of course) for Americans to bring children home from Uganda.  Sure, the law said that anyone who adopted a child had to live in Uganda for three years, but the law did not say that a prospective legal guardian had to live in the country at all!  Ah ha!   And since the United States does not require a child to be actually adopted before they move to the U.S., (because why would that be important???) these Ugandan children could enter America with their "legal guardians" and get their adoptions finalized in the States.  Bingo!  Another African country in the adoption bag.

But if orphans are getting rescued, does it really matter how it happens?

If you read my series on corruption in international adoption, you can already picture what happened next.  Orphanages, often funded by adoption agencies, sprung up by the hundreds all over Uganda.  Parents in poverty realized that sending their kids to an orphanage was a good way to get them three meals a day and free education.  And all of a sudden, thousands of kids were unnecessarily separated from their families.  Sometimes the families knew their kids would be adopted, but didn't feel they had any other choice.  Other times, the kids were trafficked.  Papers were falsified.  Everyone was lied to.  But money was the common denominator.

Behind the scenes, groups of children's advocates have been working.  And just last week, Uganda's president signed an amendment to the adoption law.  The loophole is now closed.  Legal guardianships can only be granted to Ugandan citizens. 

Friends, this is a win!  

This is a win for Uganda.
The government has taken back control of adoption in their country--exactly as it should be.  No longer will the agencies and the orphanages be accountable only to themselves.  A centralized authority will regulate adoption and child protection. Corruption should dramatically decrease, and that's a benefit for everyone, especially the poor.

This is a win for the kids in orphanages.
No longer is there a financial incentive for orphanages to fill up their beds.  No longer is there a "demand" for adoptable children which unnecessarily separates kids from families.  Instead, there is space for ministries to find alternative care for needy children, like foster care, assistance for those in poverty, and even support for parents of kids with disabilities.

This is a win for Ugandan families who want to adopt.  
Guess what?  This is a growing movement in Uganda!  In fact, I've heard that there is now a waiting list of Ugandan families who want to adopt a baby.  No longer will their desires be overshadowed by foreign agencies with lots of money who need to fill their demand.

This is a win for foreigners who want to adopt.  
Though the new amendment closes the "guardianship" loophole (which should have never been a thing in the first place), it also majorly reduces the amount of time it takes for a foreigner to legally adopt a Ugandan child--from three years to one year.  True, requiring a year of residency essentially ends international adoption.  Foreigners can still adopt--but only if they are residents, so this new amendment makes it significantly easier for them.  The best part is that this almost entirely dismisses the need for adoption agencies, cutting off almost all of the money flow, which should greatly encourage ethical adoptions.

In addition, there is a small provision in the law for the judge to make exceptions in extreme circumstances.  I know of children adopted from Uganda who had medical conditions that would have meant certain death if they had stayed behind.  This provision in the law should still allow children like this to find a new life in America.

Uganda is now on track to becoming a member of the Hague Adoption Convention.  Woohoo!

As I've said before, let me assure you that I am not casting judgment on any family who has brought home a Ugandan child.  Most of the time, adoptive parents are one hundred percent trusting their agencies, who probably never explained to them the reality of Ugandan law.  Some did adopt their kids the right way.  And certainly there are many true Ugandan orphans who have now found forever families.  Even in the corruption, God can bring out good.  But with this new law, light has been shone onto the dark side of Ugandan adoption.  It is a reason to celebrate!

This is a win for Uganda, its children, and for ethical international adoption everywhere!  Well done, Uganda!

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