I got my hopes up a bit when I saw that the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa had updated its witness list for tomorrow’s hearing on the “Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans.”
Then I saw that there is still no one listed as having been an orphan, no one listed as having been adopted as a result of being an orphan, and no one listed as being a family member of an orphaned child.
I am not suggesting that any minor children who are orphans should be speakers, but here’s a reality that too many people forget: orphans grow up. Adopted children grow up. There is no shortage of adults who could speak of their experiences as orphans and as adoptees, but, as is often the case, they are not included here. Equally marginalized are the extended family members of orphans, family members of children placed in orphanages, and original/first/birth family members of adopted children. No one on the speaker list is identified with having that actual life experience. No organization committed solely to family preservation/reunification is on the list.
Such joy. The story behind those beautiful faces: This is Janet and her daughter Queen. Janet was referred to Abide by a local orphanage. She had approached the orphanage looking to place her two daughters there so she could work and find a place to live. Abide Family Center was able to help Janet achieve both goals without separating her girls from her.
That is what can happen to children who might otherwise be placed in an orphanage, though they are not orphans and are in fact deeply loved.
So who is going to speak at the hearing tomorrow?
In addition to the representative from Both Ends Burning (an attorney and adoptive parent) and from Zambia Orphans of AIDS, there will be two policy experts, one from the US State Department and one from the US Agency for International Development.
A (prospective) adoptive parent of a child from the Democratic Republic of Congo will speak. She has been part of Both End Burning’s campaign regarding the DRC’s decision to suspend adoptions in light of fraud and corruption. The US adoptive parents have been granted legal rights, but have been unable to get exit visas for the children. There has been a great deal of controversy around the efforts of the US parents and government to pressure the DRC to release the children.
The final speaker listed as of today is with Save the Children, which published the 2009 report Keeping Children Out of Harmful Institutions: Why We Should Be Investing in Family-Based Care.While Save the Children is about a wide range of child welfare programs, they place an important emphasis on family preservation.
From pages 4-5 of the Save the Children report:
One of the biggest myths is that children in orphanages are there because they have no parents. This is not the case. Most are there because their parents simply can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them.
For governments and donors, placing children in institutions is often seen as the most straightforward solution. And it’s a way of sweeping out of sight the poorest and most discriminated-against children with the biggest problems. Encouraging parents to place their children in care is even used as a means to make easy money by some unscrupulous and unregulated institutions.
But, with the right kind of support, most families would be able to keep their children.
Supporting families and communities so that they can look after their children themselves might seem more complicated in the short term. But in the long term, it pays enormous dividends. Not only are individual children more likely to thrive and
go on to be better parents, they are more likely to contribute to their communities and to their country’s development.
Children deserve families, and institutions are not the right place for children to be raised. Absolutely right. No disagreement there. I applaud the report’s point that most children in orphanages are not orphans, and that there are huge long-term dividends to keeping children with their original families.
Here’s a quote from a ThinkAfrica press article, “Adopting From Africa, Saving the Children?”:
It is estimated that there are 58 million orphans on the continent. While the proportion of these adopted may be small, it is clear that the trends are significant enough for government officials from over 20 African countries to have convened at the Intercountry Adoption: Alternatives and Controversies of the ACPF Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2012.
What is shocking is how these orphans are characterised. According to Save the Children, over 80% of children in orphanages around the world have a living parent and most are there because their parents cannot afford to feed, clothe and educate them. In Ghana, the figure is as high as 90%. In Ethiopia, the government recently attempted to trace the families of 385 children from 45 institutions; the families of all but 15 children were located.
When seen through this lens, the African orphan crisis is more of a crisis in family support. Poverty is not a reason to remove a child from his or her parent, yet this is exactly what is driving Africans to give up their children in what they perceive are temporary arrangements which will give their children stability and an education before returning home.
Adoption is a viable option for a small number of children, especially those with medical issues. All adoptions, though, should be done with complete transparency and integrity. Too many African “orphans” have turned out not to be orphans at all, and those are important voices that will not be heard tomorrow. Too many first parents have lost their children because of poverty. Too few family reunification/preservation programs have adequate funding, support, and prominence.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,and International Organizations hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans” is scheduled for July 16. The announcement is here. You may be able to watch a live video feed of tomorrow’s 2pmEDT hearing here.