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52

SEPTEMBER 2017

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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

the welfare of children. An estimated 8 percent of all Ugandan

children are orphans, but authorities have little capacity to deal

effectively with the problems and needs of this vulnerable popu-

lation. As a result, Uganda’s adoption system is prone to abuse.

As I continued to gather evidence and make the case for a

review of the adoption process, stress built up—both in my life

and in the lives of my consular staff. Working on this issue was

all-consuming, exhausting and deeply frustrating, leading to ten-

sions at home with my Foreign Service spouse. One of my local

staff members involved in these cases contemplated quitting

because of the stress. As a manager, I sometimes lost sight of

other important aspects of my consular responsibilities because

of the time and energy I was devoting to adoptions.

I remained convinced, however, that the work we were

doing—and the atten-

tion we were bringing

to the issue—was vitally

important and could not

be ignored. As consular

officers, we are obligated to

uphold and implement the

law; and as far as we could

tell, many adoptions being

sought in Uganda were not

entirely legal or ethical. So we had an obligation to keep pursu-

ing this path, regardless of the pressure on us.

A Turning Point

One incident, in particular, convinced me that working

“inside the system” was no longer a viable option. In late 2016,

two U.S.-citizen families made the difficult decision to return

the Ugandan children they had adopted. These families had

made significant emotional and financial investments, trav-

eled to Uganda multiple times to meet the children, and raised

funds in their local communities to support their applications

and meet the substantial costs of the adoption process. But the

joys they had experienced on returning to the United States with

their adoptive children quickly turned sour, when they discov-

ered there were loving families in Uganda eagerly seeking the

children’s return.

The agencies involved in the adoption had purportedly falsi-

fied the paperwork to make it appear the children had no family

to care for them. The adoptive families were unaware of this fact,

and the children themselves were too young to understand that

their move to the United States was permanent.

The decision to return the children was emotionally devas-

One incident, in particular,

convincedme that working

“inside the system”was no

longer a viable option.

tating for the adoptive parents. After meeting with one of the

parents, I knew that the intercountry adoption system in Uganda

was fundamentally broken, and our system to safeguard the

process was not working. The only solution I saw that could

prevent similar tragedies from occurring to other families was

to suspend intercountry adoptions—a position the department

simply did not support. To save these families, I would have to

dissent, formally.

Fortunately, I found much-needed support for the recom-

mendation to suspend intercountry adoption in my own front

office. At the ambassador’s request, I documented our findings

as thoroughly and dispassionately as possible. Ultimately, we

dispatched nearly two dozen cables back to Washington laying

out our arguments with clear evidence. Because I could express

my dissent through regular

channels, in particular the

comment portions of the

cable, I did not have to use

the Dissent Channel. And

while the department has

not yet fully accepted our

recommendations, they

have taken steps in the

right direction. I am com-

forted by the fact that I stood on principle and made these issues

known more widely.

What gives me hope is the fact that the State Department

has taken some meaningful actions to correct these problems.

Earlier this year, State took the unprecedented step of debarring

an American adoption agency, one that had been facilitating

adoptions worldwide for many years, including in Uganda. This

was a true watershed moment in our efforts to eliminate the

system’s abuses. Moreover, thanks to stronger fraud warnings,

families are more willing to wait out the process as we conduct

thorough investigations of each case. Indeed, some families have

even withdrawn their adoption petitions after our investigators

discovered evidence of fraud.

The Emotional Aspect of Dissent

On reflection, what strikes me most about this entire dissent

experience is the emotional aspect of the process. As Foreign

Service officers, we care deeply about the work we do—whether

it is promoting human rights, advocating for environmental pro-

tections, or protecting refugees and vulnerable populations. And

with such work come strong emotions—especially in the case of

adoptions, where you can immediately see the benefits of your