Today is Children’s Day in China and all over the world.
Children are squealing with delight as they run around in the city courtyard below our highrise this morning, and yesterday we had the privilege of passing out cakes and red bean buns to the twenty-two disabled children being fostered in a rural community a few hours out of the capital city of Guangxi. I’m so heartened by those kids being fostered, loved, and accepted not only by the foster mothers, but by whole families and communities.
But the future is not so bright for all the children of China.
A recent article in the Xinhua news highlighted Guangxi as just one area of China where children are being left behind in the countryside to be cared for by their grandparents while their parents flee to find work in the cities, and the harsh consequences of those family breakdowns.
And the future is comparably complicated for children in Africa, and other parts of the developing world.
The dynamics of international adoption are never simple, but a recent report from the African Child Forum shows a sophisticated understanding of international adoption and development, namely that, “Adoption can save the lives of individual children and give them unique opportunities to live healthy and prosperous lives, but it does little to address the problems that led to the child’s orphan status in the first place” (Fortin Anaylsis May 30, 2012).
I can’t offer a simple solution today. I’ve written previously about cultural differences that make even such a seemingly noncontroversial phrase, such as “in the best interests of children,” quite contextual. I’ve also discussed with some frequency on this blog the relationship between birth planing policies and international adoption, as well as the portrayal of Chinese children in the media. And I’ve tried to balance these more political discussions with ones that reflect the hope that foster mothers’ in China inspire.
But I can say today that despite the bleak news, and the complexity of working for change in the face of cultural differences and a legacy of misunderstandings, I’m still filled with hope.
A few months ago, one of our foster mothers had been neglecting the two foster children in her care due to her increasing age and a host of other complicated reasons. And so, the children were moved. One child was sent back to the orphanage, her age and her problems too advanced for any new family to take on. And my heart broke.
But the other child, only two years old, was placed in a new family. When we visited the family a month after the switch, I noticed something different about this child. She was smiling. I realized that in all the time I’d known this little autistic girl, I’d never seen a smile cross her face. In fact, I’d never seen her quite look another adult in the eyes, but here she was, playing with her foster mother, who held her as they both giggled, snuggled, smiled, and laughed.
Yesterday the orphanage monitor praised this woman and her husband’s dedication to their two foster children, and the same smile crossed her face, but this time, tears also slipped from her eyes.
That had been my reaction, too, when I saw those precious smiles for the first time. Big fat, flowing tears of joy.
So friends, you see, even as there is much to lament, there is much to hope for today when it comes to the world’s children.
Pray with me for their future, for their present, but most of all for them to experience the love of a family and for them to know, no matter who they are or what they’ve been through that they are worthy of unconditional, tears-of-joy kind of love, the kind that really exists not just in heaven, but here on earth, and my they all know it in their lifetime.
All photos by Evan Schneider.