Monthly Archives: February 2010

Kinship & Adoption

Indian children, photo taken after tsunami

Since I last blogged on Haitian adoptions, the buzz has quieted, but several good articles (in my humble opinion) did surface. Many of them stress that transnational adoption is not a sustainable solution, but a band-aid to systems keep people living in poverty, while others urge the world to learn something from the history of this practice and question its policies.

My own research continues to follow the ways in which traditional kinship practices coalesce or collide with the modern concept of childhood implicit in transnational adoption. Two authors who I find neither glorify traditional kinship practices nor champion transnational adoption, but meticulously detail the way the two interact amongst differing cultures are Jessaca B. Leinaweaver, in her work on Peruvian child circulation, and Kay Ann Johnson, who has written numerous articles and books about the complicated nature of the abandonment of baby girls in China.

As I prepare for my qualifying examinations in May, I am learning more and more about the ways 21st century technology is effecting kinship practices all over the world. An article today in The Times of India, describes a new phenomenon dubbed, Embryo Adoption, in which the term ‘birth mother’ in the adoption narrative becomes even more fuzzy and elusive. I’m wondering how others are responding to these increasing global trends and how we might reflect upon the ties of family, kinship, and motherhood, and how they are being fundamentally altered.

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On love:

Multilingual Love

I’m up late the night before church, already thinking about the week ahead, pondering Valentine’s Day and love, but in the Biblical sense. Yes, I am thinking about, well not just thinking about, planning to preach on lovethis Valentine’s Day!

But as I’m praying and contemplating and reading these letters to the early church, letters about faith, spiritual gifts, and unity, I notice that Paul can’t help talking about love.

And when all other things pass away, prophecies and tongues, even faith and hope, love is what remains. And so tonight I’m thinking about God’s love and about how worthy God is of our love, for his mercy and for his goodness. And I’m thinking about the other-worldliness of God’s love, the mess we make of it here on earth, and yet the constant call to participate in the kind of love that never fails.
If you’re looking for some scripture this week, read Ephesians 4:1-16 and 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 with me, and let me know what you make of God’s love.

Weighing In: “Haitian Children and the Adoption Question”

I have added my comments to a blog post that ran yesterday in the NY Times entitled “Haitian Children and the Adoption Question.” While the blog included a pragmatic discussion among lawyers, and an adoptive parent/pediatrician (one of whom wrote a very helpful article referencing the problematic history of transnational adoption), you can see many of the comments ultimately obsess over the incident of the Idaho Baptist attempting to cross Haitian children over the border into the DR.

While some of these comments are self-conscious reflections on white privilege and hegemonic culture, they are a distraction from the blog’s prompt, namely, “What rules should govern in adopting orphans from Haiti?” This is a question I would argue is also a distraction from the flaws within the system of transnational adoption which (historically and as it presently stands) institutionalizes inequality and fails to integrate local, cultural understandings of kinship amongst global demand for children. Again, you can read my comment (#11) here. The debates over transnational adoption bring many charged feelings to the fore, and I do not intend to discount them for academic arguments; yet my current anthropological project seeks to historicize transnational adoption within its various cultural contexts, looking for a brighter and better future for children everywhere.

Reflections on Haiti and Transnational Adoption

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake and the outpouring of stories and thoughts on transnational adoption, I’ve been working to collect some of my thoughts in a more popular reflection article. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

Suddenly the world is fixated on Haitian orphans, and yet the back-pedaling by Western and Haitian governments regarding baby-lifts, the Idaho Baptists transporting children across the border into the Dominican Republic, and the subsequent fears and allegations of child trafficking in and out of the country are all too familiar and predictable consequences of natural disaster. In fact, the legacy of transnational adoption emerged from this very type of intense need that disaster creates, in South Korea, Vietnam, and Romania, to name a few. What is so striking about this temporary transnational solution for caring for orphaned children is the way it became institutionalized, and as such, arguably institutionalizes and perpetuates the very need it seeks to address.

In the United States it is only rather recently that we have come to eschew our children’s economic worth and privilege their philosophical and sentimental value. What has arguably led to the sacrilization of children in this country, is an impractical luxury in other parts of the globe, where children labor to supplement family income, provide childcare, and serve as social security for their aging parents. While we tend to rationalize these differences on a continuum of cultural progress, we live in a globally integrated society, one in which children have borne the burdens of economic disparity and have become increasingly commodified in a market of babies and reproduction.

Despite these realities, I in no way mean to demean the generous and earnest motives of adoptive parents. Nor do I disagree that it is both healthy and genuine to want to respond to the immense need in Haiti at this moment, especially when one hears accounts of children working as indentured servants or being sold for the price of an ipod. However, at precisely this juncture we must sincerely scrutinize whether the demand for children in this elaborate process of international adoption fuels the supply as well. In other words, the 1993 Hague Convention’s urge that sending countries take sufficient measures to reunite children with their biological families appeared a strong step toward making transnational adoptions legal and transparent. Yet, the compelling demand for babies from the West hardly diminished in the 1990s. In turn, the allegations of illegal selling and buying of children for adoption and into slavery subsequently increased.

As country after country closes its borders to Western adoptions, the most recent being Haiti, should we not stop to consider whether the fingers pointed at corrupt officials and poor governments should instead point at the inequalities on which the process currently thrives? Conversely, I would argue that transnational adoptions, as sleek and standardized as they have become, rarely take into account the local, cultural understandings of kinship and childhood in sending countries. Even when children are orphaned or temporarily unable to be cared for, culture has rarely failed to generate and provide an appropriate, sustainable safety net, a local network for meeting needs. The implication here is not to dissuade investments in Haiti’s future, but rather to call attention to the ways in which efficient, yet mechanized systems such as that of transnational adoption often fails to consider the local, human voices and interests of Haitian parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and last but not least, children themselves.

Haitian child being rescued during the quake.