Should international adopters send the children back?

This is the ninth question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following question originally appeared on Yahoo!Answers:

Should international adopters send the children back now as in like a revolution or returns or something? Since it’s so wrong and all.

Answer: Despite the snarky tone of the question, it deserves an answer all the same. Note how it assumes that agency lies entirely with adopters. But it’s a moot point, because they don’t have to send us back; we’re leaving in great numbers as soon as we come of age. As soon as the adoption fog lifts. As soon as the Kool-Aid supply runs dry. And we’re going to stop adoption and trafficking of “Third World” children. Korea soon enough, and line the other countries up behind that. And the “revolution” (as you facetiously put it) will come in the reverse direction. There is nothing new in this idea of return—see also those who have exiled themselves abroad—much less in that of revolution coming from the outside, as seen in the following two quoted passages.

The following passage is from The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin, a preacher as well as the son of a preacher, and a fellow adoptee. First published in 1962.

“Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue. In those days, not so very long ago, when the priests of that church which stands in Rome gave God’s blessing to Italian boys being sent out to ravage a defenseless black country [note: Ethiopia, colonized by Italy during World War II]—which until that event, incidentally, had not considered itself to be black—it was not possible to believe in a black God. To entertain such a belief would have been to entertain madness. But time has passed, and in that time the Christian world has revealed itself as morally bankrupt and politically unstable. The Tunisians were quite right in 1956—and it was a very significant moment in Western (and African) history—when they countered the French justification for remaining in North Africa with the question “Are the French ready for self-government?” Again, the terms “civilized” and “Christian” begin to have a very strange ring, particularly in the ears of those who have been judged to be neither civilized nor Christian…Furthermore, those beneath the Western heel, unlike those within the West, are aware that Germany’s current role in Europe is to act as a bulwark against the “uncivilized” hordes, and since power is what the powerless want, they understand very well what we of the West want to keep, and are not deluded by our talk of a freedom that we have never been willing to share with them….”

It is strikingly similar to The Story of My Shoe, by Mutadhar al-Zaidi, made most famous for lobbing a shoe at the head of the former president-select Bush:

“What compelled me to confront is the injustice that befell my people, and how the occupation wanted to humiliate my homeland by putting it under its boot.

And how it wanted to crush the skulls of (the homeland’s) sons under its boots, whether sheikhs, women, children or men. And during the past few years, more than a million martyrs fell by the bullets of the occupation and the country is now filled with more than 5 million orphans, a million widows and hundreds of thousands of maimed. And many millions of homeless because of displacement inside and outside the country.

We used to be a nation in which the Arab would share with the Turkman and the Kurd and the Assyrian and the Sabean and the Yazid his daily bread. And the Shiite would pray with the Sunni in one line. And the Muslim would celebrate with the Christian the birthday of Christ, may peace be upon him. And despite the fact that we shared hunger under sanctions for more than 10 years, for more than a decade.

Our patience and our solidarity did not make us forget the oppression. Until we were invaded by the illusion of liberation that some had. (The occupation) divided one brother from another, one neighbor from another, and the son from his uncle. It turned our homes into never-ending funeral tents. And our graveyards spread into parks and roadsides. It is a plague. It is the occupation that is killing us, that is violating the houses of worship and the sanctity of our homes and that is throwing thousands daily into makeshift prisons.”

Adoptive parents need to understand their role as agents of the nation-state, and thus actors in its domestic and foreign wars against the poor. This stands in stark contrast to their vaunted personal “wants” and “needs”. Their actions maintain the preservation of their class status as economic stakeholders, and reveal family creation to be a function of this economic exigency:

It is misleading to conceptualize the needs and concerns of prospective parents as being somehow outside of or separate from the needs and concerns of the nation. Individuals who adopt from abroad do so within a particular domestic/international/political context. Their needs and desires are socially constructed and emerge out of the same domestic/international/political and economic context as the policies that formally address national needs and concerns. —Lovelock, K., Intercountry adoption as a migratory practice: A comparative analysis of intercountry adoption and immigration policy and practice in the United States, Canada and New Zealand in the post W.W.II period., International Migration Review

This sentiment is echoed in works that focus on adoption tangentially:

This representation of the Cold War as a sentimental project of family formation served a doubly hegemonic function. These families created an avenue through which Americans excluded from other discourses of nationhood could find ways to identify with the nation as it undertook its world-ordering projects of containing communism and expanding American influence. —Klein, C., Cold war orientalism: Asia in the middlebrow imagination, 1945–1961

Even advocates of adoption admit to this primary truth:

It can be viewed as the ultimate in the kind of exploitation inherent in every adoption, namely the taking by the rich and powerful of the children born to the poor and powerless. It tends to involve the adoption by the privileged classes in the industrialized nations of the children of the least privileged groups in the poorest nations, the adoption by whites of black- and brown-skinned children from various Third World nations, and the separation of children not only from their birthparents, but from their racial, cultural, and national communities as well. —Bartholet, E.,  International Adoption: Current Status and Future Prospects., The Future of Children: Adoption

In terms of revolution, we can say jaaye al-yom….The day is coming. It will not be in the hands of the “First World” to change or reform adoption; they don’t seem capable. It will be in the hands of the “Third” and “Fourth Worlds”—both domestic and international—to wrest control of their children away from the traffickers, the purveyors, the hawkers, and abolish adoption once and for all time. Both adoptees and adopters have a much bigger role to play than simply focusing on their individual selves, or salving their personal trauma. The trauma of adoption is collective; communal; worldwide—and so is the solution.


Debate Tactic: Adoption is a junction, between quite separated worlds at most, or simply distanced classes, or estranged family at least. In examining other such meeting points, we gain insight as to the workings of adoption in a bigger economic and political context.

About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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