If you get an opportunity, check out the 2002 flick “Rabbit Proof Fence,” which tells the tale of two mixed race Aboriginal Australian girls who run away from a government-sponsored settlement camp. The girls walk for nine weeks, while being pursued by a tracker through Australia’s outback, in hopes of returning to their community and family.
I was unaware of Australia’s dubious history of institutionalizing Aboriginals against their will in government-sponsored camps where they were used for cheap labor and “re-education” until I watched the film, which is based on a true story. Up until the 1970s, it was government policy to “breed out” all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigine by controlling breeding and swaying the swift assimilation of “some Aboriginal people into the European population.” There was also the 1915 Aborigines Protection Amending Act, which enabled the Aborigines’ Protection Board to remove Aboriginal children from their parents without having to establish that they were in any way neglected or mistreated. Many of these stolen children were placed in good “Christian” families, sometimes overseas in Western countries, to aid in their assimilation.
I haven’t seen the movie in years, but I was again reminded of it while reading a story in “The Nation” about a growing trend called the evangelical adoption movement in which some Christians advocate for international adoptions from distressed countries like Haiti to address the worldwide “orphan crisis.” As result, evangelical adoption conferences are being held around the country, and between 1,000 and 2,000 churches participate in something called the “Orphan Sunday” event, which will be held in November. The call to serve appears to be working; as of last year, the evangelical adoption agency Bethany Christian Services announced that its adoption placements had increased 13 percent since 2009. This increase was in large part due to the mobilization of churches.
Perhaps there may not be anything shady about this whole deal. Maybe this is just an extension of missionary work aimed at addressing child welfare needs in distressed countries. But in our own country where millions of children remain in state run foster care, you do have to question whether this is just the mission of some compassionate followers of Christ or the work of evangelical zealots that are baby snatching under the guise of Jesus.
Since the 1960s, there has been an increase in the number of inter-country adoptions with inquiries about international adoption up 95 percent among self-described Christians. The demand for global children is so high that the U.S. Department of State regularly lists and monitors open calls for adoption on its website.
Groups like UNICEF, one of the world’s most influential child welfare organizations, support inter-country adoption and have worked to ensure that many countries abide by the guidelines established by the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. However, UNICEF acknowledges that there are exploitative, unethical and outright illegal practices that exist in the inter-country adoption system. Issues such as the sale and abduction of children, coercion or manipulation of birth parents, falsification of documents and bribery, have all painted a troublesome picture of how inter-country adoption is sometimes executed. How can we forget the Laura Silsby saga, in which she and nine other Southern Baptists—who claimed to be motivated by God—were caught trying to transport thirty-three orphans from Haiti to an imaginary orphanage in the Dominican Republic. There was also the story of the twenty-eight children from Leh, the Himalayan mountain region of India, who were rescued by police after a Christian-based NGO allegedly kidnapped them for the purpose of “religious conversion” and adoption. The issue of fraud, coercion and flat-out kidnapping related to international adoption is so unruly in Ethiopia that this past March, the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported that they would sharply reduce the number of adoption cases they would review from 50 cases per day to no more than 5 per day.
What instances like these should remind us is that there is an undercurrent of morally and superior arrogance even under the so-called best of intentions. This call for adoption only increases demand, which in turns fuels the trafficking of children and turning orphans into a commodity to be traded on the black market. While Christian pro-adoption groups might really care about these children, they should also be just as concerned about the tactics that some countries and adoption agencies implore to place children with these “good Christian families.”
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.