imaginary PPT for a workshop that will never happen

So we’re here today because some of you have expressed concern about the illegal and unethical trafficking of your children.

The most frequently expressed concern has been, How do I tell my child that _________(insert unsavory or horrifying fact about the signs of trafficking in child’s history here)? The manner in which this has been expressed is more often, How can I keep my child from finding out that __________?, but we’re coming back to that.

So for the moment let’s assume a couple of things:

  • Nobody here thinks that they participated in an adoption process that was completely legal and above-board in every way, in a system that recognized and respected the rights of children and their first parents. If you think you did that, the workshop you’re registered for is down the hall, look for the sign on the door that says ‘Fantasyland Adoptions’. Nothing we’re going to discuss today is likely to interest you.
  • When you made the decision to adopt your child, there were certain known unknowns. For example, maybe you reluctantly accepted that your child was not going to be able to find out much about her bio relatives. Or maybe you literally searched the world for a location that would let you adopt a child whose birth parents would not be able to reverse your adoption of their child. Regardless, that was a known unknown. The unknown unknowns are more relevant to our situation today. For example, Facebook. When we adopted, social networking becoming ubiquitous in developing countries was unknown and not listed as a possible thing that could happen. Another unknown unknown was cheap, reliable DNA testing.
  • Your intent in adopting was to give a good home to a child who needed a family. At some point in the last decade, you’ve encountered someone who questioned your motives (and perhaps your ethics) in adopting your child, which you’ve thought over with the gravity it deserves and told that busybody to go…okay, you’ve concluded that what you set out to do, and believed you were doing, was a good thing.

We’re agreeing on these unifying assumptions because it will save us a lot of recriminations and horizontal violence–attacks on each other, which are more easily carried out than attacks on the people who wronged our kids and some of us–to start from goodwill about each other.

If you can’t agree that the Other People in here, the ones who adopted for the Wrong Reasons (because Jesus told them to in a dream, because their pastor suggested that they rescue a poor child, because they wanted to save a baby girl from a society in which women are chattel, because their first crush was the exchange student from ________, because they think people of their child’s ethnicity are smarter, better looking or more grateful than people of more common colors found in a ghetto near their home…) had reasons to adopt, you’re not going to have a lot to contribute to this conversation.

If you can’t agree that someone wronged your child, and probably defrauded you, by erasing your child’s identity for profit…this is also not the workshop for you. The fact that you understood from the jump that your child came with the Anonymously Left in Basket feature, whether this was desirable or repugnant to you, does not have any bearing on the violation. You can’t waive your child’s right to her identity, any more than you can waive her Cambodian citizenship. It’s not yours to give away, because it’s a fact about her life that predates your existence in it.

If you knew that you were giving money to someone who was going to spread it around to encourage official acceptance of documents you knew were false, that may be a bit more grey area in terms of your role in the crime as opposed to being a victim of fraud. However, to the extent that you paid an agency and your own government fees that were designated to fund an investigation of your child’s background, and that wasn’t ever done by anyone…that’s misrepresentation, but as I understand it most of you signed a contract that voids your right to address that.

Let’s start with the sentence I’ve heard more than I could have imagined in the last months, as I talk to other parents who adopted the same way we did: How can we keep our kids from finding out that there were arrests and prosecutions for criminal activity related to their adoptions? Short answer: We can’t. This happened and they’re going to find out about it. They’re going to be free to read the report from the ICE investigator, and the depositions, and the victim impact statements from the kids who recall the details of being sold for adoption. This is not remotely something anyone can keep her child from learning.

The real question is, How can we talk to our kids about this difficult information about their lives, in a way that takes appropriate responsibility for what we knew at the time while allowing them to develop their own perspectives on what happened to them?

This is not an area that we can look to others to fix for us. We have a unique opportunity, as parents of children whose sending country was used as the test case for prosecuting illegal acts in international adoption. We don’t have an obligation to other families waiting to adopt, requiring us to keep quiet; we do have enough data that indicates our kids were subjected to a human rights violation to safely conclude that our obligations are to our own kids. We don’t have any reason to think that discussing these violations will lead to reprisals against the perpetrators; one has been prosecuted for tax offenses and the rest aren’t subject to US law.

I only have one child. Recently she told me that she’s thankful to have adoptive parents who understand that even though she’s American now, she’s always going to be Cambodian too. This came up around our recent homeland trip and some questions she’s had from peers about her racial makeup. I hope that ‘always Cambodian, always our kids’ can be our expectations as we work to understand, assemble and reveal what’s known and unknown about our kids’ origins. I know that for our family, knowing the answer to the question Was this child trafficked? has made it easier to discuss the more present concerns about what Cambodian is, and whether it’s a thing to be proud of.

Leave a Reply