What would you do?

No, this isn’t one those questions intended to corner pacifists. This is a question that I actually have, based on experience I actually experienced, and a question I would actually like to have an answer to, although I understand that a solid answer to what I am pondering is allusive at best.

Here is the scenario: I am a youth pastor, and not too long ago I was at a youth pastor peer meeting with about five other youth pastors. It was a good meeting, refreshing to hear other people’s joys and frustrations that I can relate to. We ended the meeting with a homemade lunch which was really good, but over the lunch the conversation turned towards everyone’s family. One of the younger married youth pastors began telling of how he was just finishing up the adoption process and he and his wife were about to get their first child: a cute little Guatemalan baby, they had pictures, a name and everything. Then one of the other youth pastors chimed in that her sister (or other close relative, I forget exactly) just recently adopted a Guatemalan baby, so needless to say, the table conversation was about Guatemalan adopted babies for at least fifteen minutes. For these fifteen minutes I kept my head down, and didn’t speak.

Now, rewind a number of months backwards to July of 06. I went to Guatemala with the youth of my church (I was an intern at the time) and helped lead an “MCC Learning Tour” as I think these trips are called now. We spent some time in Guatemala city and some time in the country with some tenured MCC missionaries down there. On the very last day, just hours before we went to the airport to leave, we went to a touristy market. At the market there were numerous North Americans with Guatemalan babies that they had freshly adopted. The tenured missionary looked at the happy couples with the new additions to their families and said something along the lines of, “look at those happy couples, supporting one of the worst kinds of human rights violations.”

Guatemala is second only to China in its number of babies adopted to foreign couples. It is understandable that China is number one, but Guatemala number two? This is because Guatemala has a thriving infant market. Guatemalan babies are stolen from their mothers and sold to adoption agencies, or young women get pregnant and sell their infants as a form of revenue. Then whoever can afford all the adoption fees (North Americans) adopt the infants. This isn’t the case with all of Guatemalan adopted babies, but it happens enough that Guatemala’s adoption numbers are disproportionately higher then they should be.

The question remains, what would you do? I chose to look at my plate and feel sick to my stomach. I said nothing. Would you have spoke up and let these joyously expectant parents know that there is a good chance they are supporting an atrocious human rights violation? Would you have congratulated them on their new child? Would you have stared at your food?

Comments (7)

  1. Lora

    I think in that context, I probably would’ve just stared at my food, while looking at least vaguely uncomfortable. The time when it might be safe to have a such a conversation is when it’s still just talk–not when there’s a name and a photograph with hopes and dreams attached. I have seven cousins who were adopted, five from outside of the U.S., and life wouldn’t be the same without them but knowing them has made me a lot more aware of the complexities of international adoptions. One of my cousins (currently living abroad) is trying to adopt a little girl, and the girl’s grandparents are fighting for custody. It’s way more complicated than can be stated here, but in the end, I think every child deserves a stable home and a loving family, no matter how or why that child was brought the world. For me, that trumps nearly everything else.

  2. tomdunn (Post author)

    I was kind of hoping you would respond to this, because I thought of your family as I wrote this post. (for those of you that don’t know, Lora and I come from the same community) I think what you are alluding to is what makes this issue so difficult. I have no doubt that the people I was having this conversation with will make great parents. I don’t think this justifies some of the human rights violations, but problem is not with the adopted parents, it is with the organizations committing the crimes.

  3. Lora

    It reminds me of an allegory I’ve heard from many MCC workers: someone notices that there are babies floating by in the river, so they get in and pull them out. Eventually, they begin to ask why there are so many babies, and head upstream to try and figure it out. I’ve long felt most white, North American Mennonites would prefer that MCC just keep pulling out the babies and nothing more, but MCCers generally feel like their work lacks integrity if they’re not both addressing immediate needs and systemic injustices. It is a good and noble thing to give homes and families to children who have neither, but there is something to be said for understanding that our wants and desires can have far-reaching consequences, in spite of our best intentions. There are ways to thoughtfully these issues, and one is to keep taking your youth group (and sponsors!) to Guatemala.

  4. BeccaJayne

    Hey, Tom. I don’t get to read YAR as often as I want, but when I do, I want to respond to everything! There’s always the chance if you could have brought up this issue with your fellow youth pastors, their stories might reflect a different scenerio, but how does one tactfully bring up something that may “mar” someone else’s huge life decision? That’s the tough part. If you ever want to talk to someone more on this subject, my mom or dad could fill you in on Liberia’s situation. Many kids’ families “pose” them as orphans so that they can be adopted into the Western world. I am really torn on this, and it’s easy for me to ponder it, being an American, I guess. I might feel differently being a Guatemalan or a Liberian…One of my friends and her husband are thinking of adopting a Kenyan, not to be a close and active part of his life, but so that he can have American citizenship. I don’t know how I feel about this, either. One thing I really want and need to practice is bringing up subjects like this at the right time and place, with as much grace and gentleness as possible. Say hello to Kidron for me! Happy ‘007. :)

  5. Talia Carner

    The Chinese government’s decision to tighten rules for foreign adoptions is more curious when considering that 1.7 million girls are “missing” in China each year. Beyond sex-selection abortions and babies killed in the first weeks and months of their lives, hundreds of thousands of are abandoned. Most of those found are subject to neglect in Chinese orphanages, where many will not live past age five. Keeping them alive will not solve the population explosion crises which the one-child policy was supposed to solve.

    Furthermore, according to 2005 China Quarterly, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 abandoned children are living outside state controlled institutions, because they are not entitled to wubao [social protection system]: if the parents are known, they are not entitled to wubao because their parents are responsible for them, and if the parents are not known, they are not local orphans and hence not entitled to wubao ….

    The single-digit thousands of abandoned babies adopted by foreigners is only a drop in the bucket–yet is has been an excellent source of income for China, at the tune of over $100 million this past decade. Therefore, it seems that the tightening of the adoption rules has more to do with China’s own image: The Chinese government denies the systematic gendercide and the availability of baby girls. “Saving face” for the Chinese is coupled with their poor view of Americans–who are obese, “immorally” divorced, and given to frequent visits to psychiatrists. The age limit at 50 as well as marrital status (no singles or gay)–regardless of the age or the medical condition of the prospective adoptee–only makes sense when we look at the history of China that has never catered to individuals’ needs nor has shown regard for human suffering.


    Talia Carner
    Author, CHINA DOLL

  6. Hootsbuddy

    I have thought about this post ever since it was published. I also made a copy and gave it to someone else to ponder. Today we came to agreement that under the circumsances described it would be best to remain silent, praying for a private moment and suitable conversational opening to discuss the issue later. A generic public discussion of this or some other moral challenge is not the same as a targeted point or discussion aimed at an individual (or more) in a public forum.

    Baby and child trafficking is, of course, an unmitigated evil. But to couple that evil with the good of an adoption doesn’t seem like a Godly gesture. Even if the adoptive couple became aware of their complicity in a bad practice it isn’t likely or even desireable that they would or should reverse their commitment on that account.

    Be prepared for a more spiritually suitable, probably private, conversational opening and pray for the right vocabulary when that time comes.

  7. Skylark

    I don’t suppose there’s much to be done about the Guatemalan babies who have already been adopted by North Americans. What are you going to do–throw them back? In a different context, one that’s less about specific adoptions and how specific parents feel, it would be fitting to let them know about the situation so they know not to adopt any more Guatemalans from questionable ethical backgrounds.

    It sounds to me much like the American doctor who went to Sudan hoping to help people get well, and her heart broke so much by the slave trade she paid for a slave and set her free. The question there is should she have paid money that would help keep the slave trade going. The freed slave was certainly grateful–that’s as undeniable as the Guatemalan kids getting a better chance at a middle-class American life–but it goes back to the issue of individual cases vs. systemic problems.

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