Buy a baby, save a life

Thousands will be moved by the TV images of Chinese orphans to try to adopt them. And why not?

Share
Related Topics
Adoption organisations will be bracing themselves today for the inevitable reaction to last night's heart-rending Channel 4 documentary Return to the Dying Rooms. The pictures of neglected, Chinese children living in appalling orphanages, emaciated and starving, will spur thousands into wanting to rescue those tiny abandoned girls. A similar emotional outburst followed the exposure of conditions in Romanian orphanages in 1990. At the BBC, where I then worked, we were swamped with calls from people asking how to adopt the baby in the third cot from the left.

Is this a natural outpouring of human kindness, or a voracious and dangerously sentimental wish to possess pitiful-looking babies? There has always been a rather lofty contempt for desperate infertile Western couples who set off to adopt foreign babies, as if they were predators upon the world's poor families, rather than rescuers. With virtually no healthy newborn babies available for adoption in Britain, more couples seek babies abroad. But often they find themselves treated by officialdom not as saviours, but as marauders.

Illegal baby-trafficking in some countries lays them open to charges of colluding with kidnappers. And even when adopting from countries with well-organised official procedures, couples often encounter deep ideological hostility in this country.

But what harm is there in the rich world taking in the poor world's rejects? As inquiries about adopting Chinese children crescendo, the Overseas Adoption Helpline has already had 1,800 requests for information about Chinese baby girls. China is now the single favourite source of babies for British would-be adopters.

A recent reciprocal agreement between Britain and China has meant that 70 baby girls have been adopted here so far, for the Chinese have no ideological problem with exporting the babies they find so hard to care for. The Chinese stipulate that foreign adopters must have a "home study" report from their local authority (for which the parents must pay up to pounds 3,000), to certify that they are suitable. In addition, they must be childless, over 35, and their papers have to be sent to China through the British Department of Health. The couple pays $1,000 to the Peking government and $3,000 to the orphanage for past care of the child. This appears to be an example of well-regulated adoption.

But not in the eyes of some British social services departments. They take their political cue from the powerful umbrella organisation, British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, which has traditionally opposed inter-country adoption.

These days, through audibly gritted teeth, the BAAF has relented a little. Felicity Collier, their director, says: "We believe that wherever possible children should be cared for in their country of origin - though we do accept that occasionally where the problems are so acute, inter-country adoption may be the only root to survival. We feel countries should be helped to care for their own children."

BAAF's attitude reflects a sizeable part of social work thinking. Many prospective adopters still encounter suspicion and sometimes downright hostility from local authorities, who are under no legal obligation to provide the crucial home study reports.

Social workers' distaste for transcultural adoption was fuelled by the Romanian orphanages scandal. The extraordinary scene of thousands of Western couples descending on Bucharest, clutching wads of dollars in search of babies, was a disturbing spectacle - yet no doubt a great many babies were saved from death.

Now the Romanians have virtually closed their doors to adopters as a matter of national pride. This pleases Ms Collier, who says: "They are now recruiting families locally to come forward and adopt, and their child- care facilities are of much higher quality ... I understand Romania no longer has a problem."

This comes as bewildering news to the Romanian Orphanage Trust. Their director says there are still 90,000 children in terrible orphanages filled to overflowing. Many are abandoned by parents who cannot feed them, because of extreme poverty, and they become too severely retarded ever to return home. The illegal trade in Romanian babies still flourishes, with orphanage officials selling babies abroad in large numbers.

The Trust supports foreign adoptions, although it accepts this is never going to be more than a marginal solution to the problem of abandoned children. It is working with the Romanian government to try to divert the pounds 100 a month it costs to keep a child in an orphanage towards providing far cheaper help for families, where the average wage is pounds 50 a month. They see no contradiction between these two policies. If some helpless dying children can be saved by foreign families, that does not hinder the attempt at creating a welfare system to prevent more children being abandoned. They take a practical, not an ideological, view.

The O'Curry family is among those to have fallen foul of the ideology of their local authority. Four years ago they adopted a seriously backward child from a Romanian orphanage. They want to adopt her two sisters, so neglected that they cannot feed themselves, walk or talk. But true blue Buckinghamshire County Council, hardly a bastion of political correctness, has refused permission, although Mrs O'Curry is a special needs teacher.

Other local authorities still obstruct foreign adoptions: Hammersmith and Fulham uses the simple device of putting requests for home study reports at the bottom of the pile. But an interview with Josephine Kwhali, assistant director of quality assurance and planning, who chairs their adoption panel, reveals all the ideological baggage that underpins this issue.

She says the reaction to last night's film will be "emotional", with couples falling for the charm of "sweet little babies" but she doubts they will cope with the child's needs for identity and cultural roots. She questions many adopters' "value systems" and wonders why they don't try to adopt from Rwanda. "We can't try to save all the world's children - we may have contributed to many of the world's problems in the first place." She draws on the experience of black British children brought up by white adopters, who, she says, suffer serious problems with their racial identity in a racist culture.

The basic question she and others don't address, however, is whether a suitable adoptive family is one that rescues a child from certain death?

Among some social workers there remains an instinctive distaste for people who want to adopt healthy babies - middle-class, grasping, only in it for themselves ... Why, some of them ask, don't these selfish couples want difficult British 10-year-olds from a life-time in care, or children with disabilities? Because most ordinary people hope and pray they don't have difficult or disabled children. Those who do adopt hard cases are remarkable and admirable people - but why should the unlucky infertile be expected to predominate among them?

Adoption from abroad will never solve the starving world's problems, but each one is at least one child saved. If the risk of emotional scarring is so serious, perhaps the Chinese and Romanians would be kinder if they killed them all quickly? Looking at those desperate babies in last night's film, the humane answer for those with no chance of escape might well be yes, but I doubt any social worker would dare say so outright.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The campaigning is over. So now we wait...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week