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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

|

SEPTEMBER 2017

77

AFSA NEWS

Protecting Vulnerable Children in Uganda

THE WI L L I AM R . R I VK I N AWARD FOR CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT BY A MI D - LEVEL

OF F I CER

WENDY BRAFMAN

AFSA CONSTRUCT I VE D I SSENT AWARDS

Wendy Brafman is described

by her nominator as a pro-

tector of U.S.-citizen parents

and vulnerable Ugandan

children.

Consular officers at U.S.

Embassy Kampala had been

raising concerns about

adoptions in Uganda. Among

their concerns was the fact

that documentation was

frequently non-existent; if it

did exist, documents were

often fraudulent.

The Ugandan government

was not enforcing its own

rules and policies, so vulner-

able children were being

accepted for adoption and

rushed through the system

without due diligence. In

addition U.S. citizens were

being pressed to pay bribes,

and adoption intermediaries

charged substantial fees.

On her arrival at post in

2015, Ms. Brafman immedi-

ately faced pressure to expe-

ditiously process immigrant

visas for Ugandan children

being adopted by American

citizens. However, on inves-

tigating, she discovered an

increasing number of unethi-

cal and fraudulent practices,

including cases where the

birth family had been misled

about what would happen to

their children.

The average U.S. family

pays more than $30,000

in fees and expenses in an

adoption. With profit to be

made, adoption agency offi-

cials duped U.S.-citizen par-

ents into beginning adoption

procedures for children who

were not actually orphans.

Though Ms. Brafman

saw these practices on

the ground, she was con-

tinually pressed to proceed

with cases. The pressure

came from the prospective

adoptive parents, attorneys

and members of Congress

advocating on behalf of their

constituents.

Cast as

“anti-adoption,”

Ms. Brafman

was vilified on

social media and

harassed by pro-

spective adoptive

families. Adoption

agencies even

advised their cli-

ents that Ms. Braf-

man was blocking

adoptions and that

they should not tell

the truth when attending the

embassy for their interview

with a consular officer.

Despite the challenges

she faced, Ms. Brafman con-

tinued to conduct diligent

reviews of all adoption cases

and report frequently on the

alarming fraud and illegal

conduct she and her con-

sular team were discovering.

She also repeatedly

raised her concerns about

violations of Ugandan law

and regulations, initially

in conversations with CA

colleagues and then via

cables. She produced a body

of 15 reports outlining the

preponderance of fraud and

the fleecing of U.S.-citizen

parents that was occurring

in Uganda.

Thanks to her diligence

and perseverance, Ms.

Brafman persuaded CA to

ban a particular adoption

provider—not only in Uganda

but worldwide. The bureau

is also considering formally

suspending all adoptions

in Uganda to protect the

vulnerable children and their

families there as well as U.S.

citizens seeking to adopt.

Accepting the award,

Ms. Brafman thanked her

colleagues at Embassy

Kampala for “seeking what

is right for U.S. citizens and

the Ugandan children they

sought to adopt.” Consider-

ing the need for constructive

dissent, she quoted William

Faulkner: “Never be afraid to

raise your voice for honesty

and truth and compassion

against injustice and lying

and greed.”

Wendy Brafman joined

the Foreign Service in 2005.

She has served in Kinshasa,

Cairo, Baghdad and Wash-

ington, D.C., and is now con-

sular chief in Kampala. Ms.

Brafman has a B.A. in French

and foreign affairs from the

University of Virginia and a

J.D. from the University of

South Carolina School of

Law. Her husband is also a

Foreign Service officer.

n

William R. Rivkin Award winner Wendy Brafman (center) with Ambassador

Charles Rivkin (left) and AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson.

The award is named for Amb. Rivkin’s late father.

Wendy Brafman at Embassy Kampala with her

colleague Naela, a member of the local staff there.

COURTESYOFWENDYBRAFMAN

AFSA/TOYASARNOJORDAN