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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

SEPTEMBER 2017

51

I discovered that the rosy

picture many have in their

minds about international

adoption is not always realistic.

replaced by the overwhelming joy of becoming a parent for the

first time.

This is likely the experience most people expect to have when

they adopt internationally—and for most, the process, while

lengthy, culminates with a profound sense of emotional fulfill-

ment. As many of my consular colleagues can attest, seeing an

international adoption through to a successful end is a uniquely

rewarding experience. It was an experience I looked forward to

having when I arrived in Uganda as the embassy’s consular chief.

Instead, I discovered

that the rosy picture many

have in their minds about

international adoption

is not always realistic. I

worked on hundreds of

adoption cases in Uganda,

and I found the system to

be rife with fraud, corrup-

tion and unethical behav-

ior. I saw many well-intentioned U.S. citizens and Ugandans

being deceived by conniving middlemen. I saw children who

were separated from their families and their country because

unscrupulous outsiders saw an opportunity to make money by

dividing the family.

At the same time, I saw some of my own colleagues turn a

blind eye to such abuses, despite the fact that our mandate is

to help orphaned children find the care, security and love a

permanent family can provide. In short, our policy with respect

to intercountry adoptions was not meeting this directive, and

that is why, ultimately, I made the difficult decision to formally

dissent.

A Growing Number of Discrepancies

I arrived in Uganda with a generally positive view of the

process of adoption. But I was aware of certain problems in the

country, and as I began reviewing more and more case files, I

could not ignore the growing number of discrepancies my inves-

tigative staff and I uncovered.

What we found were troubling patterns:

• Evidence that third parties in Uganda were actively recruit-

ing children from their villages to be placed in orphanages or

schools (many of them unlicensed) far from their homes.

• Testimony from parents and grandparents who said they did

not understand the consequences of the papers they had signed,

relinquishing their rights over the children being given up for

adoption.

• Stories from families who thought their children would

be returned to them after receiving an education in the United

States.

• Statements from U.S. citizens who were pressured to hire

specific individuals to provide in-country services at exorbitant

rates, or to look the other way when government officials were

paid to “expedite” the process.

• Falsified paperwork and proof that parents who had been

reported deceased were alive and well.

These were not isolated

incidents. We found such

evidence every week and

every month, in the major-

ity of cases we reviewed. I

came to understand that

we faced an intercountry

adoption process in which

intermediaries financially

benefited from desperate

or insufficiently informed American adopters and vulnerable

Ugandans. And I believed that the U.S. government should no

longer be a party to such fraud.

Like any good Foreign Service officer, I first made my case

to Washington by reporting on what we were learning through

a series of phone calls, emails and face-to-face visits. Perhaps

naive myself, I expected my colleagues to be as shocked as I was

by the evidence. But they were not.

Pressure from All Sides

Washington remained steadfast in its support for continuing

adoptions in Uganda, even as all other countries represented in

Uganda were ending them. Pressure, direct and indirect, came

in from all sides to maintain the status quo. I was given guidance

on how to navigate Uganda’s legal system, how to engage the

host government and how to handle the stakeholders—includ-

ing the petitioners, who could be peremptory and extremely

demanding. Members of Congress and their staffs called or

wrote to inquire about the status of pending cases and to urge

expeditious approvals. Adoptive families, I learned, began criti-

cizing me by name on social media—with one such family even

surreptitiously taking my photo at the airport when I was headed

away for vacation.

The government of Uganda proved to be an equally disap-

pointing partner in resolving the issue. Few officials work on

this matter, and the office charged with overseeing intercountry

adoptions has few resources to investigate orphanages or ensure