Should Children Ever Be Removed from Their Culture through Adoption?

Is it ever in the best interest of a child to remove them from their culture through adoption? In the debate over international adoption, this is one of the most common questions and issues raised against international adoption. I have found Dr. Elizabeth Bartholet’s arguments to be very helpful:

International adoption critics treat children as necessarily ‘belonging’ to their countries of birth. They defer to national governments as having important rights at stake, and accord overwhelming significance to the often arbitrary lines separating countries. This translates into policy preferences for virtually all in-country options as compared to out-of-country adoption, and into mandatory holding periods which delay and often entirely deny such adoption.  But children’s fundamental human rights to grow up in a nurturing family should trump nation-state rights to hold on to children. Moreover, keeping unparented children in their countries of origin does nothing to actually strengthen the economic and political situation of those countries. It is simply a symbolic way for the powerless to stand up to the powerful, for countries formerly victimized by colonialism to make an anti-colonialist statement. And it exploits the least powerful of all, the children of the poorest groups in these countries. Ironically these are often the children of the indigenous groups that were the primary victims of colonialism, while the rulers who decide to hold on to these children are often the descendants of the colonial invaders.

International adoption critics say they promote in-country solutions because this serves children’s heritage rights.  But this is retrograde thinking which ill-serves children’s real needs. Children are not defined in some essentialist way by the particular spot where they were born. Science provides no basis for believing that children are better off if raised in their community of origin (Bartholet, 2007a, pp. 360–361). Nor does common sense. Had Barack Obama been born in Kenya instead of Kansas, would we view him as deprived of his Kenyan heritage by being raised in the US? Was he deprived of his Kansas heritage by being raised in Hawaii and Indonesia? Is he deprived or enriched by his complex national, racial and ethnic heritage?  His testimony, as revealed in books and speeches, indicates that he feels enriched and empowered to act more effectively.

We live in a world increasingly defined by globalization, with adults eager to cross national boundaries for economic and other opportunities. Some 1.6 million per year immigrate to the US alone, and immigrants constitute 12.5 per cent of the US population.

In this world it would be laughable to argue that adults should be prevented from leaving their country of birth so they could enjoy their heritage rights. It would be thought outrageous for nations to hold on to adults behind walled boundaries because they constitute ‘precious resources’.  Heritage and state sovereignty claims can only be made in the international adoption context because children are involved, and children are peculiarly incapable of protesting.  Truly honoring children’s rights would require abandoning such talk, treating children as full members of the global community and responding to their most fundamental needs.

[from ‘International Adoption: The Human Rights Position’ By Elizabeth Bartholet]

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