Haiti adoptions - a last resort

It would do us well to heed UNICEF's admonition against impulsive adoptions.

By JPOST EDITORIAL STAFF
January 27, 2010 21:08
3 minute read.
Brahms Mathieu Jean-Louis and his mother.

haiti survivors 58. (photo credit: E.B. Solomont)

 
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When we see a child in distress, the natural tendency is to rush to help and offer comfort. But we don't quickly and permanently take the child home with us. Much the same should apply to the many thousands of children - some evidently orphaned or abandoned - wandering the streets of Haiti's quake-ravaged capital, Port-au-Prince.

Their plight tugs hard at our heartstrings. They need shelter, food and care.

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But does that mean they should be sent abroad for adoption, uprooted from their familiar socio-cultural environment? Should their problem be solved outside their own country?

Acute moral issues are involved. For a start, there is no foolproof way of telling which of these children is indeed orphaned. Well before the recent devastation, Haiti reported some 380,000 homeless children, many of them AIDS orphans. And even then, the statistics were problematic. As is the case in many impoverished countries, parents who lack the wherewithal to look after their children, sometimes board them in orphanages, with the aim of taking them back when the family fortunes improve.

Amid the turmoil into which Haiti has now been so violently plunged, everything is incomparably more chaotic. The central government, dysfunctional as it was, is now in tatters. No proper recordkeeping exists and chances are minimal for immediately reuniting displaced children with parents who may be hospitalized or relocated. It is all but impossible to rapidly establish which child has lost both parents and which has a surviving parent, siblings or extended family.

Thus the obvious danger exists that a child whisked out of his or her native element, albeit for the most high-minded and charitable reasons, will be tragically missed by surviving relatives. Children, moreover, are emphatically better off growing up with their own kin than with even affluent and kindhearted foreigners.

Jews should be extra-sensitive to the searing wrongs which can be borne out of seeming compassion. We should recall the gargantuan effort that was required to return to the Jewish people thousands of children who had been hidden during World War II. In its aftermath, many caretakers and Catholic institutions refused to relinquish their charges. There is still no telling how many Jewish children remained behind, unaware of their true identities and lost forever to their families.



There is no parallel between that era and the Haiti disaster, but that history and pain oblige us to show particular sensitivity.

THIS SENSITIVITY is patently missing in the alacrity of numerous well-intentioned Israelis to adopt Haitian children and in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry's announcement that it intends to promote such adoptions. The desire to help is admirable; the consequences may not be. Israel most certainly shouldn't open itself to charges that it attempts to steal youngsters.

As National Council for the Child Chairman Yitzhak Kadman noted, dislodging children from their natural surroundings "is the wrong solution. If resources are allocated for Haitian children, they should be earmarked to aiding them in their country.

"Extracting children who had experienced major trauma and transplanting them to a faraway alien land, where they are detached from their culture and extended families, is a dreadful mistake."

Kadman added: "It's good that Israel opens its heart to the hardship of Third World children, but first it must look after those already living among us" - that is, children of illegal foreign workers whose status in Israel is not regulated. These children, of course, generally have parents - which leaves them unavailable to prospective adopters.

Unfortunately, for some nowadays, the desire to adopt doesn't only arise from the wish to become a parent and offer a nurturing home. Adoption has also become something of a fad, emblemized by Hollywood stars who, much though they might dispute this, seem to "collect" tots of assorted backgrounds and extractions, almost as fashion accessories.

The vogue may be contagious. But cute cuddly babies, unlike cute cuddly puppies, grow with all the needs, complexities and problems of human beings. And they can't be abandoned when they are no longer cute.

The repercussions of the Haiti quake will be felt for a long, long time yet. It may well be that Israel, so quick and efficient in providing emergency rescue and medical assistance, has a further role to play.

But it would also do us all well to heed UNICEF's sobering admonition against impulsive adoptions which might in the end actually abet child-traffickers. No matter how dire the humanitarian circumstances, UNICEF prudently cautions, "inter-country adoption should be the very last resort."It would do us all well to heed UNICEF's sobering admonition against impulsive adoptions which might in the end actually abet child-traffickers.

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