I watched today’s live video stream of the House Subcommittee on Africa’s hearing on “The Growing Crisis of Africa’s Orphans.
No adult African adoptees or orphans testified.
The speakers on the first panel were Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator for the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, and Robert Jackson of the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs. Ms. Lindborg emphasized the goals of the Children in Adversity report. She noted the need for strong beginnings for children, in terms of nutrition and emotional support, as well as the importance of putting families first. Extended families are very important in Africa, she said, and those families need to be strengthened. Mr. Jackson discussed the State Department’s efforts in regard to child trafficking, child soldiers, and children orphaned from AIDS. He mentioned the need for ethical, transparent adoptions meeting the goals of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. At the State Department, the Office of Children’s Issues serves as the Central Authority for the Hague Convention.
The first speaker on the second panel was Kelly Dempsey, the attorney from Both Ends Burning. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) asked her how many times she has been to Africa. She has never been to Africa, she said. She is an adoptive parent, not of a child from Africa but from Vietnam. In her statement and responding to the questions from the Subcommittee Chair Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and from Rep. Stockman, she spent most of her time strongly criticizing the US State Department for its handling of the adoptions from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is not, by the way, a signatory to the Hague Convention. You can learn here about the differences between adoptions from countries that have and have not signed the Convention.
Another speaker was Jovana Jones, who has legal custody of a deaf little girl she and her husband hope to adopt from the DRC, which has suspended adoptions. She spoke of all the work her family has done in preparation for the child’s arrival, and of her concerns for the child’s educational and developmental needs. Rep. Stockman asked if Ms. Jones had been to the DRC, and she said she has not. Rep. Stockman has traveled there, and noted that the DRC is an inherently challenging country, not just for adoption but for travel.
The 2 most compelling speakers to me were Shimwaayi Muntemba who is from Zambia and who co-founded Zambia Orphans of AIDS, and Muluemebet Chekol Hunegnaw, who is from Ethiopia and is a Senior Director with Save the Children. Both African speakers were powerful in urging that a systemic, holistic, family-based approach be taken to the needs of Africa’s orphans.
Speaking after Ms. Dempsey, Dr. Muntemba mentioned her family members lost to AIDS, and that she raised her sister’s son. She noted that for Africa, adoption is new, and is one opportunity for children. She stressed though that the breakdown of family systems and resources in Africa is where help is much more needed, particularly higher educational opportunities for girls, and greater support for child-headed households (where children as young as 7 are caring for ill parents and grandparents and often younger siblings as well). Greater political will is needed, she suggested, to better meet the needs of the orphans.
Ms. Hunegnaw from Save the Children said that in terms of looking at the magnitude of the crisis of Africa’s orphans, a systemic approach that supports more kinship care, provides resources for families, and considers the holistic needs of the children should be the priority. She urged the Subcommittee to maintain funds for family strengthening programs in Africa and to codify in legislation the goals of the Children in Adversity report.
Both Dr. Muntemba and Ms. Hunegnaw stressed the traditions of kinship care in Africa. While both acknowledged that intercountry adoption could be an option, they emphasized that well-focused resources could lead to better family stability and prevent children from becoming orphans or entering orphanages.
I didn’t hear the other speakers on the panel acknowledge the benefits of resources to improve African family preservation and prevent children from becoming orphans. Ms. Dempsey’s focus was essentially only the State Department, which she called a failure and an obstacle.
Two bits of news:
Rep. Stockman said the president of the DRC will be coming to the US in a couple of weeks, and Reps. Stockman and Smith are planning to meet with him and share the concerns from today’s hearing.
There will be a Part 2 to this hearing. Rep. Smith made a point to say that Ambassador Susan Jacobs (or her designee) would be invited. (Apparently she had been invited to this hearing.) He said nothing about inviting adult African adoptees or orphans.
You can watch the entire hearing, which lasted about 2 hours, by clicking here.