Adoption has a dark side

By Olivia Sullivan - Staff Reporter

What were you doing when you were 5 years old?

Were you playing on the swings at the park? Were you finger painting and learning the alphabet? Were you in school for the first time, anxious to leave your mom at the door of your new classroom?

For Saroo Brierley, he was separated from his family after he mistakenly got on a train traveling across the poverty-stricken country of India. There was no way for him to contact his family, and he had very little knowledge of the name or whereabouts of his actual home in rural India. 

Almost 1,000 miles from his home, the child managed to live on the streets for weeks before he was sent to a government agency for abandoned children. Then, Saroo was transferred to an orphanage where an Australian family adopted him.

After 25 years with his Australian family, Saroo began to search for his biological family back in India, based on the limited memories he had from age 5. 

Saroo was not stolen. He was not an orphan. He was simply lost; the government agencies made a small effort to trace his birth family, but ultimately the attempt did not help.

In the 1980s, India's population was more than 700 million people. The chances of Saroo finding his birth family was borderline impossible. Thanks to his extensive research via Google Earth, Saroo was reunited with his birth family in his home village in India in Feb. of 2012.  

Saroo is the author of an autobiography A Long Way Home and the inspiration behind the movie Lion. 

More than 240,000 children are adopted each year from countries all over the world, according to United States Intercounty Adoption Department. 

Some children, like Saroo, are lucky enough to end up in loving homes and presumably live a better life than the one they may have had before their adoption.

Other children aren't so lucky.

Hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing yearly and of that, 440,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year, according to the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. 

Some children are illegally stolen from their families in third world countries. Others are sold into sex trafficking, and many kids are legitimately lost. 

Janine Myung Ja is the co-founder of Against Child Trafficking in the USA (ACT) and was adopted from Korea with her twin sister. Janine has lived in Washington since 1972 and took classes at Highline. She has dedicated her life to telling her story of transnational adoption and her experience of  searching for her Korean family as an adult, as well as helping other adoptees tell their own stories.

The ACT organization provides professional support for victims of child trafficking, conducts research studies, investigates adopted child trafficking cases, educate society on the problem, and fundraise for overseas reunions. 

The challenge is that the public is so in love with adoption, they will pay the agencies large sums of money – almost at all costs – for a child, Ja said. 

Society also tends to give immediate trust to adoption agencies that ignore the rights of children in their home countries, she said. Therefore, many people unknowingly sabotage the work that protect children from being trafficked for overseas adoption.

While adoption can be an amazing experience for both the parents and the child, it is important to make sure you are adopting through a reliable, creditable agency. 

It is also the new family's job to provide a safe, loving environment for the child. 

Adopted children are not clean slates. They are built on their past memories and experiences, which can be troubling to integrate into their new lives. 

Lost children are routinely placed into the child market for intercountry adoption rather than immediately returned to their families, which should occur instead, Ja said. 

Some adoption agencies force children (who are labeled a 'legal' or 'manufactured' or 'paper' orphans) to wait until adulthood before being permitted to initiate a search back to their birth families, she said.

This is largely the fault of the special interest groups, made up of facilitators and paying adopters, and adoption lobbyists who have created a fierce demand for children under the guise of "charity," Ja said. 

Yes, adoption is a life-changing act. But it is up to society to make sure it is life-changing in the best way possible. 

Olivia Sullivan is the opinion editor of the Thunderword.

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