Adoption, Sexual Abuse and Aid

I read a recent post on Women In and Beyond the Global on the forced powerlessness of pregnant women which refers to a study on

two  sets of interrelated events: [1] the effort to pass laws that give a fetus the constitutional right of a person, thus far passed in 38 states; and [2] the increased number of arrests and incarceration of pregnant women.

The study looks at the arrest and incarceration of pregnant women on which the basis of arrest was to protect the fetus.   It’s not clear what happens once the babies are born – how long do they get to stay with their mothers, what happens afterwards, are they given up for adoption, taken into foster care? Or a mix of all of these?   Being pregnant then becomes part of the regime of punishment both for the mother and child!  This is incarceration and the concept of punishment at its lowest and most obsene. It does nothing but satisfy the need for that ‘pound of flesh’.    One example of the punishment of women and young girls dates to the 1940s  when  white teenage girls being used to fuel the adoption business and Black teenage mothers were punished by denying them public assistance.

“Beginning in the late 1940s, community and government authorities together developed a raft of strategies some quite coercive, to press white unwed mothers to relinquish their babies to deserving couples” (70). Those teenagers were presented as “mentally disturbed” because they failed to have a husband to protect them, “a proof of neurosis,” making them potential bad mothers. The same authorities singled out and removed unwed Black teenage mothers from any public assistance, intensifying their already precarious situation.

Reading this report, I was reminded of the raid on Haitian children in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.  No one knows the number of  children, who were taken to the US and Europe for adoption.  In the initial period many adoptions took place without proper  background checks into prospective parents or  confirmations on the real status of the children.  There were thousands of orphans already living in orphanages at the time of the earthquake and in the first few months  5,000 of these children, were fast tracked to adoption in the US. Yet 6 months after the earthquake, families were still being reunited.

Under a sparingly used immigration program, called humanitarian parole, adoptions were expedited regardless of whether children were in peril, and without the screening required to make sure they had not been improperly separated from their relatives or placed in homes that could not adequately care for them.

Some Haitian orphanages were nearly emptied, even though they had not been affected by the quake or licensed to handle adoptions. Children were released without legal documents showing they were orphans and without regard for evidence suggesting fraud. In at least one case, two siblings were evacuated even though American authorities had determined through DNA tests that the man who had given them to an orphanage was not a relative.

Often the media would report from Haiti, Ethiopia, and Guatemala about stories  of mothers and fathers giving away their children for a ‘better life in the US’.   Stories like this one from Haiti where parents decided to give up their youngest also raise questions on whether ‘orphans’ are really orphans and how much coercion takes place.   People have to do what they need to do to survive and the morality in question here is the violence of poverty which forces them to make hurtful choices.  For example in this report from Ethiopia the father believes the ‘adoption’ is temporary and that his child will return. A  recent study  found that 4 out of 5 children in orphanges actually had one living parent but this is not surprising as running an orphanage or adoption agency whether in Haiti or in the west, is a lucrative business and in many cases they are nothing more than legal trafficking agencies buying and selling children.  Right now there are  over 2 million food insecure people in Haiti.  I agree with my host, community organizer and educator, Rea Dol who believes these figures are under estimated.    Families in crisis need support to keep their children but instead of struggling with the people, saviors  assault their dignity’.  Save the Children has much to say on this and it would be interesting to know what kind of support THEY are providing in Haiti or do they just write good reports?  Rea Dol who runs SOPUDEP, a free school for 700 children and located directly opposite Save the Children can tell you a great deal about the ’real work of that NGO

As far as organizations that could have helped SOPUDEP, there is Save the Children who sponsored a lot of organizations. They’re located right next door to us and they never helped us at all. They had a cash for work program for rubble removal, but I had to pay out of pocket to arrange rubble removal. When they finally came six months after the quake, they asked how they could help us and said they could fix the roof and clean out the toilets. But we didn’t see these as problems. We had more urgent needs related to our classrooms, but that assistance wasn’t there.

The school had reopened in April under tarps surrounded by rubble  and collapsed walls.  They needed urgent supplies for the children but like hundreds of thousands of other Haitians the republic of NGOs was nowhere to be seen and even when they are they come with bags with their logos, some water treatment tablets, tarps, a few pencils and expect Haitians to sign so they can write fancy reports on how they helped this organisation and that camp – like missionaries and colonials handing out trinkets to the natives!  Arriving at SOPUDEP four months later after the school had broken up for holidays was an assault!

There were genuine adoptions both prior and post the earthquake  and the Haitian government is revising the laws.  However  laws on adoption don’t protect children in orphanages.   A number of orphanages in Haiti have been found guilty of sexually abusing the children under their care [see here and here and here and here] but these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  There is no monitoring or  control over faith based organizations  and charities who can enter the country and establish themselves at will. In a matter of days they can set up an orphanage, a church, a mission, an NGO  - whatever they want whether in the town or in the rural areas.   There have also been repeated abuses by the UN occupying force in Haiti, MINUSTAH and in some instances officers have been removed but as far as I am aware none have been punished.  According to Save the Children  sexual abuse by aid workers is significant and underreported.  These actions are not taking place in secret – people know whats going on as many of the assaults take place with groups of abusers.  Its not one aid worker or one solider its a couple of aid workers or a couple of soldiers.

Our research suggests that significant levels of abuse of  boys and girls continue in emergencies, with much of it going unreported.The victims include orphans, children separated from their parents and families, and children in families dependent on humanitarian assistance.

Its also happening to children walking on the street, going to school, running errands, vendors and so on.  The report suggests that to limit the underreporting,  parents and children need to speak out .  But as  families are afraid to break the silence  due to stigma, fear of loosing aid/food, powerlessness, there needs to be another way  of monitoring those who work at ground level.   Haitian children are  especially vulnerable to sexual abuse as the country is awash with NGOs, missionaries, faith compounds and assorted people.    Women’s organisations such as those run by the SOPUDEP, Fanm Voudou Pou Ayiti and Kofaviv  work with women victims of sexual violence but much of their work is in the camps and with limited resources  it is impossible to undertake the necessary investigative work into what is happening in orphanages and within the aid sector.   Why are aid agencies not responding to sexual abuse by their staff?   Whether Sudan, Congo or Haiti – these are all highly militarized states and in the case of Haiti, under occupation and the NGOs and aid workers are part of the militarized structure and the violence it reaps.