The international adoption process pushes so many people away with inter-country politics, excessive costs and red tape, and sometimes even unnecessary rejection. Instead of pushing people away from adopting orphans, we primarily need to be pulling them closer together.
I recently made the Jewish case for promoting adoption and have previously shown the deep roots of this commitment. We need to create a much larger Jewish discourse about our role in responding to the global orphan crisis. The longer these children stay in orphanages the more risk of their suffering irreparable emotional, neurological, psychological, and educational damage.
I recently watched the must-see award-winning film, STUCK, by Both Ends Burning, which documents the struggles and rewards of international adoption. This very well done documentary follows the stories of four orphans from Ethiopia, Vietnam, and Haiti, and their heartbreaking struggles to make it home to their adoptive families.
The subjects of the documentary are just four examples of millions of children around the world who are stuck in a broken system, and the growing outcry in the international community is that every child must be granted the right to grow up in a loving family. We must become more aware and outraged by the incredible obstacles placed in the way of people who are only trying to become parents, and the children who desperately want to have a family. There are an estimated 17.9 children worldwide who have no living parents. This is probably a low estimate, as UNESCO data indicate that there are up to 150 million street children who spend their days in the streets of Latin America, India, Eastern Europe, and other areas. Some have families to return to at night, some have homes to sleep in, but millions literally live and sleep on the streets. In Latin America, they are called “los abandonados” (the abandoned ones), and many spend their days sniffing glue or paint thinner in an effort to get high and forget their hunger pangs. They are also subject to abuse by pedophiles and at risk of being intimidated and even murdered by the police, with little chance of obtaining justice. The idea that many of these children have families that can provide for them is a cruel exaggeration.
For years, liberal adoption policies allowed many Americans to have inter-country adoptions. The U. S. State Department reported that there were 233,934 total adoptions from 1999-2011, an average of about 18,000 a year. However, as the following list shows, the number of international adoptions has declined greatly in recent years.
- 2002: 21,467
- 2003: 21,654
- 2004: 22,991
- 2005: 22,734
- 2006: 20,680
- 2007: 19,608
- 2008: 17,456
- 2009: 12,744
- 2010: 11,058
- 2011: 9,319
- 2012: 8,668
The following factors should be noted:
- Due to increasingly difficult regulations, the number of adoptions to the United States has decreased by 62 percent.
- A 2012 State Department report noted that adoption service providers charged between $0 and $64,357 for all services, with a median charge of $28,425. The median wait takes 896 days; some adoptions have been held up for years due to bureaucratic obstacles.
- Current models predict that there will be even fewer adoptions in 2013, due to the Russian orphan ban. In addition, the State Department is not accepting applications from Cambodia and Guatemala.
STUCK is a film designed to raise awareness—and inspire outrage—over the deplorable practices allowed in current international adoption. Politics, inefficiency, and apathy leave children trapped and uncared for in orphanages around the world while there are loving families eager and willing to adopt them.
I would encourage others to watch the film, to consider volunteering to be part of the STUCK team when the film comes to your city, sign the petition, join the National March for Orphans in Washington, DC, on May 17th. When we raise our voices and advocate the voices of millions of children, we can make great change.
Counterintuitively the Skulener Rebbe taught that one should even show more care to an orphan than to their own children. The Rebbe stayed in Europe after World War II defying the Soviets to look after refugees and keep orphans in his home. On one cold night, he found an orphan on his floor crying without a blanket. He went and took the blanket off of his old child and gave it to the orphan child. His son understood but nonetheless the Skulener Rebbe said “My dear son, please understand. You have a father. You can at least warm yourself with that. That child has no one in the world; let him at least have a blanket.”
May we open our hearts to the orphans of the world crying out for homes and for love.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Senior Rabbi at Kehilath Israel, the Founder and C.E.O. of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and is the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” In 2012 and 2013, Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”