Two days ago I posted about an adoption interview/debate on Al Jazeera’s English network. This post is about the second half of that interview with Tom DiFilipo, President and CEO of the Joint Council on International Children’s Services (JCICS), and Louise Melville, a Care and Protection Adviser for Save The Children.
You can watch the clip of the 2nd half of the interview below, and (if you’re interested) you can read my commentary below the interview. If you cannot see the interview below, you can go to the interview on YouTube.
(Click on the play button in the center of the box or at the bottom of the box to watch the video right here. If you click anywhere else in the box, you will be taken to YouTube’s website.)
Now for my own summary of the inteview’s key points, along with some additional comments of my own:
This topic — the language used to discuss international adoption — greatly interests me, especially because I’m studying linguistics at the University of Texas at Arlington. The words we use carry with them not just the meanings that we can look up in the dictionary: they also imply our perspective on the topic we’re discussing.
Consider this example: A CEO is on trial for embezzling money from his company. In the course of the trial, the judge interjects a question directed at the defendant: “While you were stealing this money, did you — for even one moment — think about your employees and what your actions would do to them?” We would hope that the defendant would be granted a new trial with a new judge, because the current judge is assuming the defendant’s guilt before the jury has issued its verdict.
The interviewer in this adoption story talks in exactly the same way during the course of the interview. Consider this list (drawn from both part 1 and part 2):
- supplier countries
This expression is used almost exclusively in international trade contexts and in contexts of illegal goods moving from one country to another. The implication is that inter-country adoption is primarily a trade, and the children are the commodity.
- huge global business
Using business categories to frame adoption is an insidious reduction. Like any other social service, the professionals who provide services have to be paid (just as Louise from Save the Children is probably paid). But talking about adoption as “huge global business” suggests that the participants in the process (the adoptive parents, the adoption professionals, and the birthparents when any are present) are simply engaging in a quid pro quo transaction.
- Guatemalan police have rescued nearly 50 infants from what they claim was an illegal adoption home
The interviewer assumes that the children were in some danger from which they needed to be rescued. The reality seems to be that the home was a legal and legitimate home for children who were in genuine need. This action by the Guatemalan police will almost certainly delay or even bring to a halt the adoption of children who may not find a permanent home any other way.
- baby trade
The Interviewer makes this statement in reference to international adoptions in general, again using the language of commerce to color the discussion. (He is not making specific reference to illegitimate or coerced adoptions; he qualifies the expression by making reference to adoptions from China, Guatemala, and Russia. Most adoptions from these three countries are heavily regulated.)
- child theft is common
This is a reference to Guatemala. The claim is frequently made, but there’s no more than occasional anecdotal evidence, in spite of whole bureaucracies which exist to investigate and prevent adoption fraud. No one denies that child theft happens. But I’m not aware of any evidence that the practice is wide-spread.
- lucrative business
Again, the commercial language.
- children put up for adoption
Although the expression is common, it (at least weakly) implies a context in which the child is merely an object being “offered up.”
When Tom legitimately (and with obvious frustration) objects to the language being used to frame the debate, the interviewer tells him to leave that to the side, as though it’s unimportant. (This exchange occurs at the end of part 2.)
I should note that Al Jazeera is not alone in using negative adoption language. You can find this kind of language used in most major U.S. news outlets.
The Definition of Orphan
In the course of the interview, Louise makes the valid point that most children in orphanages around the world have one or two living parents. Hence, they are not really orphans, and inter-country adoption is not a legitimate solution. Instead, the international development community should help families in poverty, assist relatives who can care for children in need of a home, and develop foster care in-country. All this, she’s says, in opposition to having children “sold to wealthy families in the West.”
It’s true that most children in need of homes have one or two living parents. And it’s true that countries should focus on finding in-family or in-country solutions. But it’s naive to suppose that the international community can (or should) eliminate relinquishment as an option for parents. Consider America. The U.S. has an astonishingly low poverty rate relative to the rest of the world, and basic services are almost universally available. But domestic adoption is still common. Why? Because there are personal and cultural (and sub-cultural) reasons for relinquishment and abandonment that no government or aid group can eliminate.
Louise and others would take away the safety net of international adoption without solving the problems that lead to relinquishment and abandonment. JCICS and organizations like it are simultaneously doing two things: working to reduce relinquishments and abandonments, and providing options for birth families and for children in need in cases where a child cannot (for whatever reason) be reared in the environment they were born into.
Perhaps we can revisit some of these topics on the blog later. Tom DeFilipo Did a great job within the constraints of a short interview/debate. We are deeply grateful to JCICS and organizations like it that advocate for realistic solutions to children’s welfare issues.