The truth will set you free.

But first, it will piss you off. So saith Rita Mae Brown, and she had a point.

This week, lawyers in South Carolina are choosing a jury for Mary Mooney. Of all the adoption agency owners in all the developing countries in all the world, she is the unlucky one…I hope.

Her co-workers have pled guilty already and so Mooney’s trial is a unique chance to get a look inside the sausage factory of international adoption.

Mooney is charged with conspiring to commit visa fraud. According to the indictment, by hiring local staff to run around villages in Ethiopia and recruit poor families to transfer their babies’ custody to her agency, she committed and profited from a crime.

That’s surprising, because while Mary Mooney was making a living for 15 years running all around the world hiring people to do that same thing, from Viet Nam and Cambodia to Africa and Eastern Europe, it sure looked like that was her job. All along, apparently it was fraud to create paper trails for the children her agency wouldn’t have been able to place with US families if they had told the truth.

The truth is that, for 20 years of booming revenue and expanding markets for US adoption agencies, this is how they worked: Hire local staff. Encourage families to take a small gift in exchange for custody of their babies, with the understanding that the child will be back in 15 years or so. Fabricate documents for national government officials–US and the placing country–that state the children are orphans with no known family. Find US families with an extra $30,000 laying around and relieve them of it–the US will offset $10K of it in the form of a tax rebate, so there’s no real limit to the fees agencies can demand.

As long as the adopting families believe the stories you tell, you can go on like that for 15 years. Oh, and make sure to gather credentials that imply you’re one of the good guys, like starting the National Association of Ethical Adoption Professionals. Get on the committee that implements the treaty regulating international adoption, because laws are one thing and how they are enforced is another thing entirely.

And, to beggar the meaning of irony, why not improve the most widely-read journalism on the fraud and deception in international adoption with a juicy quote about unethical practices in placing countries?

Mary Lib Mooney, director of the National Association of Ethical Adoption Professionals, blames the large number of U.S. agencies using freelance facilitators, who operate on commission, rather than salaried staff members to locate adoptable children in foreign countries for the cycle of corruption. ”They go to these countries, and they hire any Tom, Dick or Harry,” she says. ”Whether it’s the trash man or a schoolteacher, they hire whoever can get the most babies for them. It’s money, money, money.”

Mooney would know. If the government can prove the charges against her, that will have two positive effects.

By punishing Mooney for doing what everyone did, the US sends a deterrent message to future adoption entrepreneurs. If the State Department plans to enforce our laws here and through our embassies, it’s only fair to give a warning shot. Lauryn Galindo, who placed more than 800 Cambodian children with US families, pled guilty…to money laundering. The couple who owned Focus on Children, an agency specializing in Samoan children who were old enough to tell their adoptive families that they had been taken from birth families illegally, were permitted to plead guilty and pay a fine. So it’s time someone went to trial to raise the risk level for others–that’s a legitimate function of law enforcement.

The trial as a fact-finding tool, though, may be more important. In the transparency offered by this form of exploration, the facts will come out. And while the truth of adoption is still unassembled–we’re all just blind people reporting on the part of the elephant we can touch–while I empathize with the adoptive families who are hoping and wishing and dreaming that nothing like this happened to their child, that their adoption was one of the good ones, that their kid’s paperwork was accurate–the facts are a start.

UPDATE: The US department of Justice just accepted a guilty plea from Mooney.

Part 3: All those sad stories are a bunch of scams, then? No. Really, they’re not.

As Abigail Hayworth reports in this weekend’s ‘Guardian’, the most common form of sex trafficking in Cambodia isn’t counted by the UN studies or Cambodian law. The poorest families in the city, and those who move to Phnom Penh, will be offered enormous sums for their teenage daughters’ virginity. Some of them will accept the money. This is not, technically, trafficking. So when you hear that the problem of girls being sold is exaggerated, or that Somaly Mam’s lies must be covering up a scam because sex trafficking isn’t common, this is the context: As long as selling your own child to one customer, locally, isn’t trafficking…there’s no problem.

Is it really so common that teens are sold for sex, though? One of the victims, who was sold at 12, told a reporter that it happens to nearly everyone. I can tell you that it’s known to be an issue by Cambodians.

A few years ago, I was walking with my Cambodian daughter in a beach town, Kep, that few foreigners visit. As we passed a group of men working on a roof, they froze, glaring at us silently. Two of them followed us toward our hotel, suspicious. The only framework they had to interpret our presence was that my child had been sold for sex. I explained that my daughter wasn’t answering their questions because she speaks no Khmer, and invited them to verify this with the hotel’s yard man. They did, and apologized; I tried to tell them that their vigilance was nothing to be sorry for. Not in their town, was the message–we’re not going to ignore one of our girls being taken to a hotel by a Western man. Because, apparently, everyone knows that a young teen in that setting is going to be abused by the guy who paid off her parents.

That sounds pretty awful, and it is, but it’s not hopeless. It’s just going to be harder, slower and less glamorous than a raid on a brothel that frees 9-year-olds from daily assaults. The good news is, that was the low-hanging fruit: Everyone, in Cambodia and outside it, agreed that buying or kidnapping children in order to sell the right to rape them is just a bridge too far. The men who once bought those children are being prosecuted by their home countries, and the girls’ home villages are filled with people who want those perverts run out of Cambodia. That’s a good start.

But the virgin trade, the sale of teens by their own mothers, is far more complex. There are strands of expectations that bind the victims: Good girls support their families, good girls don’t have sex outside marriage, virginity is virtue. Unbraiding those expectations requires offering alternatives to the girls and their parents before the transaction is ever offered. Families need realistic options that promote education and training for the poorest children, giving them value beyond their bodies’ sale price to a powerful, rich man who believes that sex with a virgin will make him healthier.

It’s not hopeless. These are organizations that I’ve visited, donated to and can vouch for. They are really doing it, saving children and families from sex trafficking, one hard case at a time. They do not need fuel for their SUVs, or bribes for the police to overlook a paramilitary raid on a brothel. They need regular, dependable small sums to support big changes.

PIO runs centers to reach vulnerable children where they are: In Phnom Penh’s slums. These children need education, job skills and regular meals. Here, Phymean Noun tells her story, about how she decided to make a difference for children at risk, and…it’s true.

Riverkids was launched to solve a particular crisis: Dale and Jimmy talked to their newly adopted Cambodian children, and learned that they were not exactly orphans. The girls had been sold by their parents, who had other children to support. Read about what Riverkids does, and how they balance their kids’ privacy and security with donors’ desire to see where our money is going, and you’ll have a fresh view of Somaly Mam’s errors and mistakes.

-Sustainable Schools International provides full-scope support, financial and technical, to some of the rural villages in Cambodia with a school building. As you know, a school isn’t just a building–it’s the center of a community. Schools need teachers, students and a village that understands why and how they can help their children break the cycle of destitution. SSI works with local people to develop the capacity needed to run a learning community that works. SSI can take small regular donations and accomplish great things, one child at a time.

If 100 Cambodian men with high status–politicians, businessmen, military officers–took the same attitude of the roofing crew we stumbled past in Kep, this problem would be eradicated in a few years. Meanwhile, small steps…to support families, show that girls have value, and restore victims to their places in their home communities.

Why did Somaly Mam tell those vivid, awful and unverified tales?

Part 1: The trap of saving Cambodia

Part 2: Why would anyone coach teenagers to lie about being sold into prostitution?

Short answer: Because everyone can agree that girls who were sold or stolen to be prostituted are innocents, who deserve charity.

Longer answer: Studies demonstrate that donations are driven by specific kinds of information. Stories that are about one victim draw more donations than stories about systemic problems. An earthquake that topples a neighborhood is a crisis; 5500 people lost to AIDS every day is a statistic.

When you run a social welfare non-profit like the Somaly Mam Foundation, you have to make some choices about what best serves your clients. The choice that many Cambodian NGOs make is to lead with stories of suffering–their directors have observed that almost-unbearable, horrifying tales get money to run their programs. (Whether this is best for the people they serve is another question; see Part 3.)

The particular fabrications delivered to a foreign audience by Somaly Mam, arguably the most famous reformed prostitute in the world, are startling. Because they could be true. As it happened, her self-made legend was made up to validate her approach to the problem of sex slavery, but it wasn’t implausible.

Hundreds of young ladies, some 13 or 14, are sent by their own families to make desperately needed income by tricking in Phnom Penh. Some girls Somaly has rescued from sex work are too young to be living on their own. None of them had an alternate idea to support their families the day they started selling sex. What happened to those teens, what happens every day in Cambodian cities, is sad, shocking and wrong. Why wasn’t it enough to simply say: This is what’s going on, and your help is needed to give these girls options?

Somaly said it herself, in the film ‘Half the Sky’, produced by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: “I’m not trying to interfere with those who choose this, but only to help those who were sold into this life.” Innocent victims are the more compelling ones, because victims of systemic inequality who’ve made the best of a bad hand by choosing sex work (as her former husband suggests Somaly herself did) aren’t innocent enough to elicit sympathy, or need to be rescued.

The stories were designed to support a certain way of looking at the problem (involuntary sex work) and its solution (rescue and a release from debt). Another way to frame what Mam wants to save the children from is a future in which girls have so few options that selling sex appears to be a good solution. Without the narrative about trafficking, all Cambodia has is a problem that requires vocational support and economic development to tackle.

Development work is not glamorous. It wouldn’t make a very interesting movie of the week. It looks like a beautiful, made-up young lady taking a moped taxi to the micro-finance storefront and depositing a portion of her earnings from the weekend, knowing that she is getting closer to owning a sewing machine that will allow her to work at home and pay school fees for her children. It looks like the oldest sister regularly attending school, where donor funds are used for that most boring and pedestrian of purposes, sending her home with a bag of rice each month. It looks like boys pumping water at the schoolhouse to free their sisters’ time and labor so that both can learn to read, write and count.

It’s dull and repetitive and the only people I’ve met who will do it, year in and year out, are driven by a spiritual glow that they call by various names, among them ‘God’s will’. They are not going to be honored at a gala with celebrity partners, or written up by the New York Times, for their rescue work as the daring saviors of the innocent.

Next: Are all those charities trying to rip off foreigners, then?

“I’m going to Cambodia on my school break!”

“…and I’m going to play with orphans and dig a well for a village and buy silk handbags made by victims of human trafficking!”

I cringe at the cheerful declarations from the well-intentioned youths, whose schools and colleges suggest (or even require) that their students show a social conscience by visiting some underdeveloped backwater and helping with something.

I’m grateful–with recent events, it’s a real worry that international donors will run away from Cambodia and look for that perfect developing country, in which the poor are all deserving and the victims are all verifiably oppressed. So I have to suppress what I know, because I can’t give up on Cambodia. But I can’t give up on a wider pinhole to look through, either. So:

1) No, you’re not. By visiting an “orphanage”, you’re supporting a business model that benefits the director while separating children from their living parent(s), who were given something in exchange for custody. Maybe it was a sponsorship by foreigners for the child’s education; maybe access to the city school; maybe the parents accepted a small donation to help with other expenses.*

Regardless, the family has been separated because children in group care gather donations and ‘project fees’, which you may pay to get to visit.

2) If you think about it, even illiterate peasants in huts in the jungle know how wells work. The issue has never been whether the village needs a well**, but that the equipment that delivers water costs money.

Now, I’m no economist, but how many well tubes do you think each RT airfare from LAX can buy? You’re going on vacation to a place where you can’t drink the water. The best possible effect of your donation is promoting access to water for people who live in those conditions all the time. Digging the actual well isn’t adding any value, really. (Unless you’re a hydro-engineer who’s hiring an interpreter to teach someone from the village something they don’t know about how to develop a well using locally available resources, in which case, lead on.)

3) How sure are you that those crafts were made by victims of trafficking? And did you know that if they were trafficked, they were probably sold by their parents? And if they entered sex work un-coerced, they may have no alternative to support their families, which may include siblings, children and parents? Some of the victims of trafficking who are ‘rescued’ escape their ‘rescuers’, because removing them from that brothel doesn’t solve the problem that got them there. So one thing to watch in your shopping is whether the victims have to be locked in the shop at night to prevent them going elsewhere.

Leaving prostitution, however it was entered, isn’t easy anywhere. In a society in which women who have sex outside marriage are looked down on, it’s particularly difficult; women who have been making money from sex work can’t return to their villages and expect their children to be treated with dignity. Garment work, which is the only option for less educated Cambodian women, doesn’t pay enough to feed the workers and their dependents. There is no quick fix.

In the end, why does it matter that the workers who made your silk backpack were saved from a degrading series of events? Or whether the kids who need the basics of life (education, a healthy and regular diet, and toothbrushes) have parents or are orphaned?

Donations are driven by the most upsetting, the most hair-raising, the most depraved tales. These serve to dehumanize both the receiver–poor things, their culture/country is such a mess!–and the giver–poor things, they have no innate charitable impulses, but must be bludgeoned into empathy.

It doesn’t matter so much that Somaly Mam told some whoppers in pursuit of foreign supporters for her work. Her exaggerations are the product of a donor-driven race to pathos, in which the winners are the victims with the most extraordinary tales of woe. What if, instead of looking for the really worst-off, we instead recognized that Cambodia is fully stocked with worse-off…and committed to supporting development work that builds capacity for Cambodians.

Ultimately Khmer people have to save Cambodia. All the rest of us can do is try not to make things worse by rewarding dysfunction.
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Part 2: Why did Somaly Mam tell those horrible stories if they aren’t true? What’s being covered up?

Part 3: All those charities over there sound like a bunch of scams, trying to get money from clueless foreigners.

*Yes, it’s accepted by Cambodian culture that children may be placed for work by their indigent parents, and it’s not even illegal for the buyers charitable donors to give some charity to the parents as well. Children are considered part of the family’s asset picture and expected to contribute to household economy however they can.

**For certain agreed values of ‘need’. If the village chief’s priorities are elsewhere, and he’s perfectly satisfied with the continued use of female labor, then the question may be ‘why do we need a well when every girl between 5 and 15 hauls her family’s water from the river each morning?’

Adoption Advocates Int’l closes, for good

Fourteen years ago, we opened an application to adopt through AAI. Our home study reflected what we believed we could do: Parent any child under 2, from anywhere in the world. However, AAI’s director didn’t hesitate to screen me out as a prospective adoptive parent.

When I asked how they would determine which child we were eligible for, she explained to me that if I didn’t think I could accept any child that she saw fit to place, I should take my money elsewhere. She archly informed me that she’d decide which child we could handle raising. Because, she said, the agency has a responsibility to all the children. And they match children with families to get as many children out of orphanages and into “forever homes” as possible.

We took her advice and went elsewhere. By this point, I’d learned enough about adoption to be aware that some children were easier to place than others. AAI’s lack of transparency about how they placed healthy babies triggered questions about why their policies were a secret–you couldn’t run an international agency without a process that your paying customers would accept on the matter, and ‘Trust me, I know what you’re capable of’ isn’t a process.

10 years later, AAI’s director took another inquiry, from a couple whose adopted child eventually died in their home. Carri Williams, who was convicted of homicide in Hana Alemu’s death, called AAI about a Deaf boy in an Ethiopian orphanage. Immanuel needed a family that could teach him to sign. Carri knew ASL, and when she glimpsed Hana in a marketing video made by the agency, she asked whether they could have that girl, too.

And so a couple who had 7 kids already, who honestly reported that they used physical discipline “as needed” on the children born to them, paid for a home study approving them as a good-enough family. Nine months later, Hana was in their home. 30 months after that, she died in the backyard, after over a year of torture.

The parents are responsible, morally and criminally, for what they did to Hana. Hana starved and froze to death in her own backyard. But who else failed her?

The dual nature of the agency’s responsibilities–screen out bad wanna-be-parents, but find homes that can afford the fees of an international adoption for older, hard to place kids–is an obvious ethical quagmire.

Nothing illegal or technically improper happened in this fee-for-service model. Hana and Immanuel were transported around the world, to the financial benefit of an adoption agency. Even when the result is more typical–the adopted child also benefits, when s/he thrives–there are glaring moral and pragmatic problems.

We tolerate an adoption system that charges the recipients of the child on a per-placement basis, while allowing one set of hands to make all the relevant judgments when approving the parents and referring the child. When we tolerate this, we’re lowering the ethical standards to whatever the most desperate agency is willing to do.

AAI has closed, none too soon; another agency working in Ethiopia has shuttered after its principals were arrested for visa fraud. So…we’re getting there>

Pro tip for aspiring adoption fraudsters: Don’t email your fake USCIS documents!

There are many troubling specifics in this indictment of IAG, the South Carolina adoption agency working in Ethiopia until a few months ago.

I can’t begin to plumb the apparent recruitment of deaf children for adoption. There’s enough detail to let me picture the house calls, on Ethiopian families, to pitch them on placing their children–with US families who have been told the kids are orphaned.

Of course this brings to mind Immanuel Williams*, a deaf child adopted by abusive parents who killed his adoptive sister. Was he, too, removed from a government school in Ethiopia, then placed with the (abusive) adoptive family on fraudulent documents erasing his living parent(s)?

Maybe it wasn’t this specific conspiracy that resulted in his adoption, but instead a similar scheme run by another US agency. Maybe his paperwork was true and he had been left at the orphanage that created his adoption file. Maybe not. This is why child laundering is wrong, in a nutshell.

Meanwhile, what can we learn from the indictment?

Faking documents to file with Ethiopian and US courts: not a good idea. Documenting how easy it is to fake such documents: really bad idea. It seems possible that everything illegal and unethical described in this indictment might have been gotten away with, but for the incredibly bad judgment shown by one of the conspirators. Emailing a co-worker to describe his brilliant idea for jumping through the hoops–making up USCIS-required documents approving adoptive families–may have been the undoing of the scheme.

Or maybe one of the conspirators, or a cooperating witness, or one of the defrauded families, told the wrong person. Where “wrong person”=”someone with a functioning sense of ethics”.

*This link leads to a narrative of one day in the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, adoptive parents who saw a video at church of the deaf orphans in Ethiopia and decided to adopt one. Carri happened to know ASL (American Sign Language). Needless to say, their trial for murder (of the other, hearing, child they adopted along with Immanuel) is not easy to read about, even in the surprisingly gentle words of the inestimable Maureen McCauley Evans.

Adoption agency workers indicted for…facilitating international adoptions?

This is good news: 4 people who work(ed) at IAG, an adoption agency in South Carolina, have been indicted for acts during the course of their work placing Ethiopian children with US families for adoption.

The sad news is the crime they have been charged with: Fraud against the US government.

There’s little doubt that Mary Mooney, James Harding and Alisa Bivens made placements by paying orphanages to create false records for children, erasing their identities and replacing the truth with a convenient fiction making the children ‘orphans’. I’m confident that the bribes they paid Ethiopian government workers to create fake paperwork for the US embassy have been carefully documented. My guess is that some people are going to jail.

Because if the US attorneys didn’t have solid evidence about the bribes and the conspiracy, they wouldn’t have been able to bring the case at all. Everything the indictment alleges about children who were living with relatives, including their own parents, being laundered for adoption through an orphanage that exists for that purpose, is business as usual.

The press release (linked above) is oddly silent on whether and how the “discovery” and prosecution of this fraud may affect the victims–the children who were bought and sold, the families in Ethiopia and the US who were defrauded out of money and/or things money can’t buy. The subject, of what families who used this Hague-accredited, licensed agency can expect from their government, just didn’t come up.

It’s not surprising that this case, an attempt to hold some people accountable for practices that are widespread in international adoption, will be focused on the fraud against the US; indeed, until the laundered children reach the US Embassy for their visa interviews, no crime has been committed. It is disappointing, though, that an indictment that apparently took 5 years to investigate doesn’t openly and directly address what will happen for the families who were taken in by IAG.

‘One bad apple’ will assuredly be the response from other agencies; ‘there but for the grace…’ from families who used another vendor. But in truth, the policies and processes Americans tolerate, as adequate regulation of adoption from abroad, make this prosecution both overdue and underwhelming.

It’s about time.

Oh Melissa…what were you thinking?

The legendary Melissa Harris-Perry, whose MSNBC news show has presented some truly insightful coverage of the racial history of the US, made a mistake. A photo of the Romneys’ grandchildren was never going to be a good fit for the annual comedians’ year-in-review show.

The adopted black infant in the picture, who is the only grandchild of color, is going to have some challenges in his life, despite all his family’s wealth.

For one thing, he is named Kieran Romney. Kieran, which is Gaelic for ‘My grandpa has a car elevator’*. This person is going to have a lot of conversations with rent-a-cops that start, “Sir, please stand here while we wait for the manager,” when all he is trying to do is buy a belt.

Melissa is sorry. She should be, because I just made a joke about the adoptive parents’ apparent choice to name him exactly what they were going to name their white baby–without thinking through how that might affect him as a black man in a racially prejudiced nation.

The joke was about racism and how it will affect Kieran as he grows, premised on the Romneys’ apparent efforts to transcend racism by “not seeing color”, a common misconception of all-white adoptive families…and I’m not even a talk show host. Or comedian. It wasn’t that hard to come up with a way to mock the problem (white parents thinking racism won’t affect their child of color) instead of attacking the child’s role in the family.

Alternately, there’s always the option of not making the adopted child of color the center of your jokes about a political figure who is eminently mockable for his actions. That would work too.

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*This is a joke. ‘Kieran’ actually means ‘dark-skinned’ in Gaelic, which is why I’m sticking to my contention that Ben and Ofben (this is also a joke) went ahead and applied a name they liked to their new baby without taking his race into account. Because the alternative explanation, that they chose this name for this child, is too disturbing to contemplate.

‘Cambodian child trafficking for sex slavery’: a headline that never wears out

Once again this morning CNN brings us the story, or part of it. Cambodian mothers who sold their tween daughters into brothels and now regret it speak to reporters. Their daughters tell the tragedy firsthand.

[Aside: Yes, this really happens; no, we can’t justify practices that “save” certain “orphans” by suggesting that this was their fate otherwise. Simply put, while we can be sure that some Cambodian children adopted by foreigners were indeed sold, we can’t be as sure that they were going to be sold for sex slavery later.

The problem is that there are so many poor families in Phnom Penh. Some parents sell their children, or one child, to save the family, but we’ll never know which children were rescued from this fate. More to the point, we can’t rescue them all by placing them in safe, warm homes in Iowa.]

So, onward: Upstream, past the pool where one child at a time is fished out of the swirling waters, to the bad guys who are throwing the children into the river?

-Debt. Cambodia’s poor have no access to banking. They use moneylenders, who charge exorbitant fees, sinking families into a spiral of unsecured debt. If the only asset the household has is a 13 year old’s virginity…

-Rescue of victims fails, over and over. Because it is an accepted value that girls support the family, teens who have been sold may not be able to resist their perceived obligations to younger children and parents. Further, once the girl has lost her virginity, she is referred to as spoiled, soiled and worthless. A song is taught in Cambodia’s schools, for those lucky enough to go to school; it explains that a girl is like a white cloth–once dropped in the mud, she can never be clean again.

-Family planning traditions lead to cripplingly large families among the poorest Cambodians. This hilarious ad for contraception gives some insight into the cultural problem, leaving aside an aid policy framework that relies too heavily on religious organizations to deliver actual help to the poorest.

If the part of the Bible that forbids abusive money lending practices and adds a jubilee year were the primary focus, converting Buddhists with perfectly serviceable animist traditions to Christ would net out as a social good; unfortunately, the part about sexual purity as spiritual goodness seems to be at the center too often.

Rescue. Trafficking. Poor mothers selling their children. It’s complicated.

It’s all perfectly legal

And that’s the problem. My government protects me from buying a cell phone made by child labor, but stamped its approval on my adoption of a child who was nobody’s idea of an orphan.

David Smolin’s draft article on the special role of the US in inter-country adoption is brutal, thorough and exhausting. He explains the double-edged sword that hangs over placing countries: Americans’ unique approach to adoption law and policy can provide opportunities for nations with stressed, inadequate child welfare systems to get needy orphans into homes.

On the other hand, the rules that implement the international laws governing adoption (the Hague convention) were shaped by US adoption agencies. Predictably, those rules legalized child buying, by exempting adoption agencies from liability no matter what their agents in other countries do. The regulation of payments legalized huge fees, sums that are based on what US lawyers and private adoption social workers can get away with, not on the salaries (ha!) paid to child welfare workers in placing countries.

These rules warp the incentives for agencies and their in-country staff, in countries that are leaders in corrupt government practices* as well as sending children abroad for adoption. The rules lead to a pattern of slash-and-burn adoption booms, moving around the globe in flight from US state department investigations and placing countries’ shutdowns.

That’s how it is. How could it be? One thread I want to pull at is an idea from Desiree Smolin: Treating incidents of trafficking as plane crashes. What if each discovery of a long-ago-adopted “orphan” as a victim of child trafficking led to an extensive investigation into the systemic failures that allowed it? What if, instead of sending families that have found their children were procured through theft or payment to see a therapist, the adoption agency sent them to a federal prosecutor?

One obvious advantage, from my seat, to treating child laundering as a crime: That reform would shift the responsibilities in adoption to governments and adoption agencies. The system we have now places the work of identifying unethical sourcing of children, and choosing a form of reparation or remediation for any wrongdoing, on parents–birth and adoptive. When adoptions go well, in the sense that the child and parent(s) develop a loving attachment in which telling each other what we know is a priority, the problem is shared with the adoptee. There are families in which this problem is never spoken aloud; I hear from parents who can’t cope with facing what happened to them, and are furious with me for speaking of it, weekly.

The system is working as designed. Agencies and their partners in placing countries are helping a handful of children to loving homes, at great expense, and all of the legal and ethical complications are the personal problems of the families that participated.

This thing happened to us: our daughter’s first family was told…whatever they were told…to release her for adoption; we were told she needed a family; she has to live with knowing that she was treated as a product, and both her families were the suckers who naively made the transaction possible.

What if this were the story of a crime, not the unfortunate personal history of one family?

*Yeah, I know, your adoption was perfectly clean, and how dare anyone insult the sovereign state of ____________ by implying that there is a coherence between the lists of placing countries and the bottom 25 nations for government honesty, as reported by the folks who live there.