March 19, 2011
Like you, I have spent the last several days in awe, watching the television and internet pictures of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. I, actually, have relatives living near Tokyo and have been in email contact with them. They have no electricity and no telephone service, but they can access the internet (do not ask me why). They have sent some horrifying pictures taken right out of their apartment window. I can look at these pictures and see the numbers rise on the death toll, and it makes me wonder about all those children lost or separated from their parents or those whose parents have perished in the devastation.
Disasters such as the recent events in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti can stimulate humanitarian efforts to bring the children to America and often spurs an increased interest in international adoption. In situations of conflict or disaster there are inevitably children with no apparent close family. These children are not necessarily orphans, so international organizations use the term “unaccompanied children” to distinguish them. The term orphan can only apply to children whose parents are declared or known deceased. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has introduced measures to protect and assist these unaccompanied children.
Initial efforts are directed towards locating the child’s family or finding community members who can care for this child. This and other international organizations work tirelessly to prevent additional unnecessary separations and reunite children with their families as quickly as possible. They try to ensure the children receive the protection and assistance they need, and to find a long-term solution for each child. Therefore, in an emergency situation, an unaccompanied child is not adoptable, at least in the short term. Efforts must first be made to trace family members and to provide basic protection such as food, shelter, and emotional and psychological care. Every attempt must be made reunite children with their biological families. In general, a relatively long period of time must elapse before international adoption is considered. During times of catastrophe, the international community tacitly agrees to not displace children to other countries right away and that adoptions will take place only after civil order has been established or re established and all in country resources have been identified for children. Such placements could add to the trauma they have already suffered. In addition, it is essential that civil order is re established to ensure that all adoptions are processed ethically and in the child’s best interests.
During the best of circumstances, international adoptions from Japan to the United States are not commonplace as Japanese regulations require parents to reside in Japan for a minimum of six to 18 months. However; there are many ways to assist the children of Japan other than filing a petition to adopt. Individuals can make contributions or volunteer for reputable relief or humanitarian organizations. One such organization is The Happy Hearts Fund founded by Petra Nemcova. Petra is a survivor of the Indonesian tsunami and founded the Happy Hearts Fund specifically to develop sustainable programming for children in natural disaster areas. Currently this organization is active in nine countries. Adoption is certainly not the only avenue to advocate for children. Please check with your local Red Cross or Salvation Army for additional opportunities to support our youngest disaster survivors.
photo by U.S. Pacific Fleet