Born in October 2000 – this handsome boy ‘Rick’ was placed from India a year ago and is obedient and eager to please.
This is just one example of a post on an online bulletin board, like a Yahoo group, that allows parents with an adopted child they no longer want to just pass him on to complete strangers without so much as a background check.
A horrifying investigation by Reuters has uncovered this network that flouted pretty much every adoption safety regulation you could name, yet flourished unchecked under the noses of authorities on Facebook, Yahoo and other groups. (Read the full five part investigative story here.)
It allowed people like Nicole Eason to “adopt” children over and over again from parents whose own adoption experiences had gone sour.
Eason had her own biological children taken away from her after doctors found the 9-month-old girl brought to hospital with a broken femur her parents could not explain. An 18-month-old she was babysitting died in a bathtub on her watch. A sheriff’s office found her home to be full of trash, stale clothes and stagnant water.
Eason would never be able to adopt legally.
So she went online. And she found frustrated parents who, after a few conversations and exchanging emails and pictures, were perfectly willing to turn over children, often with special needs, to her. She sometimes provided them with a social worker’s report about her home which she had actually fabricated.
All the transaction required was a notarized power of attorney that transferred the care of the child from one set of parents to the other. Like a receipt for a sale of a pet.
Even the name for this child exchange comes from the world of pets – “private re-homing.” Or “non-legalized adoption”. Eason explains “the meaning of non-legalized is, ‘Hey, can I have your baby?’”
That is how Eason, at various points, had in her care the following children according to Reuters:
A 10-year-old African American boy she took in while living with a pedophile who told a chatroom he was taking home a “fun boy”.
An 8-year-old girl.
Dmitri Stewart, a Russian adoptee now 20.
Anna Barnes, a Russian adoptee now 18.
Quita Puchalla, now 21, adopted as a teenager from a Liberian orphanage.
A 5-year-old from Guatemala.
The first reaction on reading the report is to be aghast at the parents on both sides of the exchange. The ones who took on a responsibility and then discarded it because it got to be too much. And now console themselves saying it could have been worse. “It could have been Hannibal Lecter,” says a police officer who gave away their 5-year-old from Guatemala who had reactive attachment disorder making him increasingly violent. On the other side, there are parents like Eason, who take advantage of the parents’ desperation to fulfil their own mothering needs even if they are unfit to be parents.
But what is truly shocking in reading this report is realizing the role, or rather non-role, of the state in dealing with some of its most vulnerable citizens – children.
1. The state did not even know this problem existed. This has to come light not because some social worker got alarmed or a child welfare agency got suspicious but because some of the moderators of these Yahoo groups saw red flags and journalists started digging. It did not require much digging because the issue was not underground. It was happening in plain sight, marketed as a service to allow prospective parents to find each other, without the hassle of dealing with the government and its red tape.
2.The monitoring agencies clearly don’t do their job. Otherwise someone in child welfare should have noticed that children adopted or taken in by foster parents had vanished from the system. International adoptees are even worse off. Nobody, it seems, really keeps track of them once the initial paperwork is done which is unconscionable.
3. Even when foreign governments started clamping down on adoptions by countries like the US citing abuse, it did not cause the US government to wake up. In fact, the laws are so weak to non-existent, that even after finding what Reuters calls “underground market for discarded adopted children” few can be prosecuted for anything unless they have directly harmed the child.
4.The government provides little by way of resources to parents who do struggle with children once they have adopted them. The report outlines how onerous it is to find another home for the children but children do not come with a warranty says a child welfare officer. “When you adopt a child, that’s you child.”
5.These children were legally adopted either from a domestic agency or from abroad. Once that happens the state has to have some responsibility for their welfare. An adoption agency in Mumbai is not going to be sending welfare officers every six months to check in on the child and make sure she is OK.
In America, huge amounts of energy have been expended on preventing gay couples from adopting with right-wing groups claiming they are unfit parents. Where is their moral outrage for these unfit parents? Anti-immigration activists rant about the un-trackable undocumented immigrants in America’s midst while the government does not track these children, something it could easily do since they are coming into America legally.
The internet has been a huge boon for making connections and eliminating the middleman and red tape. It allows us to buy all kinds of things from the comfort of our homes. We can find that rare edition of an out-of-print book or that camera that someone bought but does not want anymore. This is the dark, dark side of that convenience where in the guise of facilitating connections between would-be parents who want children and children who need parents, children, often from abroad, become little more than commodities who can be discarded when inconvenient, packed up and shipped across hundreds of miles to perfect strangers.
Read the five-part Reuters report here.