Corruption Abroad and International Adoption


It is MLJ Adoptions’ understanding that, in the near future, media attention will most likely be given to specific instances of fraud and corruption surrounding several adoptions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in which children living in orphanages, not legally free to be adopted, were adopted internationally, unbeknownst to their biological families. While we have not received confirmation, unofficial accounts indicate that in order to facilitate these underhanded adoptions, biological families may have even been led to believe that their children were deceased and birth certificates may have been fraudulently altered or forged, and/or death certificates may have been falsely created. MLJ Adoptions was in no way involved in processing these unethical adoptions and is extremely concerned about any unethical practices in DRC. Our concern is both for these children and their families, and for all orphaned children in DRC.

This particular situation underscores a number of concerns, such as occurrences of corruption in adoption, the negative light in which adoption is so often cast in the media and the major ripple effect that can emanate from that exposure, the plight of the “social orphan,” as well as the great need for oversight at the agency level.

Corruption Abroad

When we hear about corruption occurring abroad in adoption, adoption is often depicted as the culprit. In reality, adoption is not the cause of corruption abroad and stopping adoption will not stop corruption, but it will inhibit children from having families. Corruption is often the result of poverty and desperation. Children with the greatest need for adoption often reside in some of the most poverty stricken and desperate areas of our world, where corruption is pervasive. Expecting that adoption can remain untouched by corruption in a country that experiences pervasive corruption is unrealistic. We often think about corruption as confined solely to developing countries, but it also exists within our own country as well; the United States is not immune to the weaknesses of humankind.

Corruption in DRCThough no method is infallible, MLJ Adoptions embraces a proactive approach in the DRC to counteract corruption. MLJ Adoptions is a Hague Approved agency; we believe fully in the objectives of the Hague Convention and are “convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children.” Our foreign supervised providers sign ethical statements, receive training in order to learn how to conduct Hague compliant adoptions, and are subject to regular oversight and monitoring. Furthermore, MLJ Adoptions regularly visits the countries in which we have adoption programs and engages in communications with Embassies abroad. MLJ Adoptions is not perfect, but implementation of policies, procedures, and training does provide many safeguards in the international adoption process.

Corruption and the Media

Instances of corruption in adoption often receive a significant amount of media attention, and of course, corruption in adoption should never be brushed under the rug or avoided. The media may focus more on sensationalistic topics and in its reporting may not always mention the great need for adoption, its more positive aspects, and its successes (which are a significant majority of the international and domestic adoptions). Negative stories can leave readers and viewers with the impression that all adoption is intrinsically evil and rife with corruption. Unfortunately, the actions of a few can wreak havoc on international relations, affect the adoptions of many, lead to widespread concern abroad and even, potentially, result in country closure to international adoptions.

In adoption, little to no tolerance exists in regards to corruption once it is unearthed. As stated, a country may even close to adoptions in response to instances of corruption. Yet, such an extreme response to corruption appears to be nearly singular to adoption. When corruption is exposed in other areas, such as politics, business, natural resources, and immigration, we identify corruption risks, implement anti-corruption strategies and transparency initiatives, and we work towards increased awareness. It is rare that a system would be simply shut down due to corruption; there is too much at stake, those industries are necessary and needed.

However, there is also far too much at stake in the realm of adoption. The need for adoption is great; it is estimated that there are anywhere from 143,000,000 to 165,000,000 orphans in the world. Taking away a child’s chance for a family is not the solution to corruption in adoption. Adoption in itself is not inherently corrupt and eradicating adoption will not eradicate corruption.

Social Orphans

This situation also calls attention to the prevalence of social orphans. The social orphan is the most common child in an orphanage. This child has parents living that cannot or will not take care of the child, but the parent’s rights to the child are still intact and have not been terminated. Often these parents are working long hours in remote areas, are not able to afford/feed their children, or have drug/alcohol related issues that are preventing them from parenting. The sad reality is that children who are social orphans typically cannot be adopted. The problem of the social is orphan is complex and the solutions are not ones that can happen easily or overnight. We encourage you to read our blog discussing social orphans here, which outlines this problem in depth and proposes a number of possible solutions.

Need for Agency Oversight and Monitoring

More oversight and monitoring of foreign supervised providers are needed. With the implementation of the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012, which is set to come into force in July 2014, all adoption agencies placing children internationally will need to be Hague Approved or Accredited. Hague Approved or Accredited agencies must operate under the strict standards of the Hague Convention to maintain approval or accreditation. Oversight and monitoring of agencies, while not a full-proof measure, certainly helps to ensure that agencies are conducting adoptions ethically and in the best interests of the children. Further, Hague standards require such agencies to have specific processes and procedures in place for the selection, monitoring and oversight of those individuals acting on their behalf in-country. We are hopeful that the upcoming requirement that all agencies are Hague Approved or Accredited, meaning that their in-country practices are regulated, will improve adoption and eliminate corruption in the process to the extent possible.

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo

For more information about MLJ Adoptions’ international adoption programs, please contact us.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.