Recently I came across a flier in my elevator encouraging me to donate to UNICEF. The flier even promises that the dorm that raises the most money per person will win a 21 Choices Party. (We won't go into the question of how it isn't charity when there's a reward attached.)
The flier says that UNICEF helps children worldwide. Assuming that the first point is true, the question becomes how are those children helped and to what end. I can find little evidence that UNICEF helps, even smaller evidence that it helps in the right direction.
One thing that UNICEF supports is the Hague Convention on Protection of Children, which has had disastrous consequences in Guatemala and has led to the death of hundreds of children.
As I've said before, I've visited Guatemala three or so times. My uncle is a radio talk show host in Guatemala City and I have had the privilege of meeting the ambassadors of Canada, Sweden, and America down there, in addition to Guatemala's former president.
I do not doubt that there are "baby brokers" who abuse and misuse adoption law for their own private gain. As callous as it may sound whenever there is a good and one willing to supply it, there will be a market price. But, as John Stossel points out in a column from February, there were but five confirmed cases of 4000 legal adoptions in 2006. (As an aside, I'd like to think that I had a hand in getting Stossel to write this piece as I asked a question of him at UFM on this very topic.)
And yet now adoption in Guatemala is a "social service" rather than a "business" and its had disastrous consequences for the children.
The sentiment was captured perfectly by a UNICEF representative who huffed to The New York Times that adoption "has become a business instead of a social service."
Oh, yes, everyone loves "social service." But when adoption was a government-run social service in Guatemala, the results were disastrous.I happened to be in Guatemala City last month visiting the Americas' most free-market university, Universidad Francisco Marroquin. UFM's president took me to visit Ines Ayau, a nun who runs an orphanage that was formerly in the hands of the government. The children are well cared for now, but before her church took over, Ayau said, the government staff had forced some children into prostitution. The orphanage itself was rat-infested and without electricity, and the government used the facility to funnel money to cronies. "Thirty-six persons were working, (but) 105 were on the payroll."
. . .
Even if the new bureaucracy isn't corrupt, there's little chance it will process adoptions as quickly as the brokers did because without profit, it has no incentive to move the kids through the cumbersome adoption process. When other countries have put adoption in government hands, adoptions slowed or stopped. Paraguay went from sending more than 400 kids to the U.S. in 1996 to sending zero in 2006.
That's a tragedy.
Well said, but alas, it's a UNICEF-backed tragedy.
On this point, here is a letter from Families Without Borders with which I very much agree with encouraging UNICEF to change its policies vis a vis adoption. UNICEF's positions are in bold, while the argument against that policy is in italics. The introduction has no emphasis.
On any given day in Guatemala, 60 children under the age of five die as a result of poverty-related factors. This is almost eight times the child mortality rate of the United States. Another 1500 to 5000 children live on the streets and survive by begging, robbery, or prostitution.
Yet another 25,000 to 30,000 children live in orphanages (mostly private) due to abuse, neglect, poverty or parental abandonment. At least half of the children in Guatemala are considered to be malnourished so severely that their growth is stunted and immune systems compromised, two- thirds live in poverty, and 30% live in extreme poverty.
Each year, a relatively small number of Guatemalan children (2219 in 2002) find homes in the United States through the legal intercountry adoption process, and fewer than 1000 more are adopted into other countries. As we write, the future of intercountry adoption in Guatemala is being decided as politicians and government officials are pressured to implement prohibitive adoption laws aggressively promoted by UNICEF. The backdrop for this struggle is a larger debate over how to protect "the best interest of children "worldwide". UNICEF has been an active and powerful voice in this debate, placing considerable pressure on the Guatemalan government to accede to the Hague convention on Intercountry Adoption and attempting to influence the framework and conditions under which future intercountry adoptions will proceed.
We acknowledge that UNICEF offers considerable assistance to children worldwide through vaccination, education, and nutrition programs, and we do not find fault with that well-intentioned mission. However, we feel that elements of the UNICEF position on intercountry adoption are misguided and threaten the welfare of the very children they claim to protect.
UNICEF Position 1- Every effort should be made to keep the child in his biological family and within his ethnic group. If this is not possible, adoption should preferably be by Guatemalan parents, then by foreigners residing in Guatemala, and as a last resort, by foreign parents.
Formal domestic adoption is rare in Guatemala, not because of cost but because a culture of formal adoption does not exist in that country. While Guatemalans rarely adopt formally, a system of "informal adoptions" already exists in which family members simply take over the care of relatives' children. Other factors make intercountry adoptions more common than formal domestic adoptions- including the fact that middle to upper class Guatemalan couples reportedly prefer to adopt children a particular hair and eye color, ethnic origin, etc., while the majority of children available for adoption are indigenous (Maya, Garifuna, or other) heritage. While we support efforts to make formal national adoption affordable and desirable, we do not support any proposal that delays a child's eligibility for intercountry adoption while domestic options are sought. Such a system can only lead to a greater number of children languishing in temporary care for long periods of time. Potential adoptive parents, whether domestic or intercountry, should be the ones that wait on a list, not the children.
While we fully defend in-family adoptions, we vehemently oppose the system supported by UNICEF in which an adult birth mother would be forced to notify her extended family of her pregnancy and decision to place the child for adoption. Similarly, we do not support a mandatory waiting period to allow for family or domestic adoption. We believe each adult birthmother should have the right to decide whether family placement is a viable, legitimate option for her child. A system in which every adult birth mother is compelled by law to notify her family of her adoption plan would undoubtedly increase child abandonment and infanticide and unnecessarily delay placement of children into permanent homes.
UNICEF position 2: Adopting parents should not reside in a country with racial discrimination.
While we acknowledge the intent behind UNICEF's position- to protect the adopted child from prejudice- we do not believe that any country is free of racial discrimination. We cannot support such a standard as it would lead to the cessation of virtually all intercountry adoptions.
Furthermore, racism and a rigid class system within Guatemala places most children born into poverty or of indigenous heritage at a distinct disadvantage within their own birth country.
UNICEF Position 3: The current laws established for intercountry adoptions in Guatemala do not create a transparent adoption process that provides clear knowledge of the child's origin.
The adoption process in Guatemala for children voluntarily relinquished by their birthmothers (described by UNICEF as "extra-judicial") currently includes a birthmother interview and social study by a court- appointed social worker, a secure DNA study of the birthmother and potential adoptive child, four separate occasions over a period of several months that the birthmother affirms her intent to relinquish, and an investigation into the background of the prospective adoptive family. Along with a specialized attorney (the Notary), two separate Guatemalan government institutions- the Family Court and the Attorney General's Office (PGN)- are involved in this process, along with the U.S. Embassy and Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Notarial Process, sometimes referred to as the "extra-judicial" process because it is finalized before a Notary rather than a Judge, was established in the Guatemalan Constitution as a way to deal with non- litigious matters and is in fact a part of the judicial system. The Notary is held to the same legal standards and consequences as a judge. The current system is relatively efficient and effectively reveals any misrepresentations of the child's origins. Consider that less than 0.6% of US adoption cases have been denied due to "negative" DNA matches since 1998.
It is unclear what changes UNICEF would propose to make the system more effective at preventing fraud than the current "extra-judicial" system. Systems which place great power in the hands of judges are typically prone to corruption, incorporate less accountability, and generate greater delays in permanently placing children. T he one component of reform UNICEF clearly supports is centralization of adoption procedures by the government. However, in countries that have implemented a "central authority" to regulate adoptions without sufficient economic and infrastructure support, the effects on the welfare of children has been devastating. In most cases, intercountry adoptions have virtually come to an end and alternate systems remain nonexistent or are ineffective at caring for the children. Ms. Gladys Acosta, the UNICEF representative in Guatemala, has responded to concerns raised about inadequate alternate support systems by stating, "To take care of unwanted children is not the main concern of UNICEF, but of the local government. UNICEF only has to take care that Guatemala passes laws that the international community expects, to fulfill the international treaties that Guatemala has accepted to become a party."
Guatemala currently does not have any significant program in place to assist the poorest families. In 2000, public spending on social protection (assistance and insurance) was 1.8% of the GDP while it is estimated that 8.4% is the minimum annual cost of eradicating the poverty gap, and most of the recipients were in the wealthier urban areas rather than the poor rural regions of Guatemala.
UNICEF Position 4- International adoption should be reformed because it has become a profit- making enterprise that has led to the commercialization of children.
A great deal of UNICEF's agenda focuses on economic aspects of intercountry adoption. UNICEF has been critical of the fees paid to attorneys to process adoptions, arguing that any economic gain leads to commercialization of children. We believe that attorneys must remain at the center of the legal adoption process in Guatemala and that reasonable fees should be paid to the specialized professionals. It is not the child that is being marketed, but rather the services provided by the attorney, Notary, foster mother, translators, and medical professionals.
UNICEF Position 5: All private relinquishment adoptions should be suspended so as to favor the large number of older, institutionalized children.
We cannot favor any proposal that pits on child's best interest against that of another. We do not support the elimination of relinquishment adoptions as a means of encouraging adoption so certain other children. Instead, we support initiatives tat reform the public adoption process while maintaining proper safeguards. UNICEF has suggested that the "popularity" of private adoptions among biological parents is evidence that child trafficking is taking place. However, after reviewing 90 randomly selected cases in 1999 as part of a UNICEF- sponsored study ILPEC, not a single case in which a biological parent was forced or paid to relinquish her child was identified. In fact, the popularity of direct relinquishment adoption likely reflects a birthmother's desire to avoid placing her child in an orphanage.
UNICEF Position 6- Children should not be relinquished for adoption due to poverty.
We agree that a main goal for humanitarian aid should be the elimination of poverty , so that every family has sufficient resources to raise all the children born into it with a reasonable level of nutrition, medical care, shelter, etc. However, this is simply not the reality in developing nations such as Guatemala. Unfortunately, extreme poverty is a fact of life for 30% of the population and there are few, if any, government programs to assist these families. Even private humanitarian aid is only effective at reaching a small minority of needy individuals. Therefore, until there is adequate support for the desperately poor families, the reality is that poverty will continue to be a major reason for birthmothers to make adoption plans for their children.
The unfortunate Impact of UNICEF Policies on Guatemalan Adoptions-
UNICEF continues to aggressively lobby the Guatemalan Congress to pass extremely restrictive adoption laws that, if implemented, will likely have disastrous consequences on the health and well-being of thousands of needy children and their birthmothers.
The lobbying of UNICEF has successfully disrupted adoptions in India, Romania, El Salvador, Honduras, and many other countries. For instance, a recent UNICEF report has proposed a ban on relenquishments and a national moratorium on intercountry adoption in India. The impact of this report has caused unnecessary suspicions of all adoptions and has had a negative humanitarian effect on the children.
If you agree that UNICEF's positions on intercountry adoption do not support the best interest of the children of Guatemala AND that your donations to UNICEF would be better served on vaccination, education, and nutrition programs, then we ask that you contact UNICEF and ask them to reconsider these positions and re-allocate resources to humanitarian programs, or that you consider shifting your sponsorship to a humanitarian organization that better represents the mission you support.