Transnational Adoption and the “Financialization of Everything”
International adoption is often seen as a mutually beneficial relationship between children in need of a home and financially stable adults wanting to raise a child. But it is also big-money business. In line with neoliberalism, or the hollowing out of government services, many adopted children are born to single mothers who are offered little to no resources to care for their children. International adoption agencies have stepped into this gap by offering homes, and making a profit in the process. The transformation of adoption into a global business creates a further incentive not to assist mothers, who may turn to adoption out of desperation, not desire. Adoptee activists are working to shed light on this issue. Focusing particularly on South Korea, author and co-founder of Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea (TRACK) Jane Jeong Trenka argues the process should be re-engineered to put the money and fateful decisions back where they belong: with the mothers and their children. TRACK is now working with the Korean government to get the the voices of birth parents and Korean adoptees heard in South Korean adoption law revisions.
Transnational Adoption and the “Financialization of Everything”
By Jane Jeong Trenka
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2009 CONDUCIVE
During the presentation of a paper named “Domestic and Overseas Adoption and Unwed Mothers’ Welfare” at the South Korean parliament complex in Seoul on March 4, 2009, Dr. Mi-jeong Lee of the Korean Women’s Development Institute remarked that after the Korean War, capitalist South Korea sent children abroad permanently to adoptive parents, while socialist North Korea had a different philosophy in handling the crisis. Instead of sending children for adoption, it sent children to other countries with North Korean nurses, and the children were brought back later. Dr. Lee said that considering this, when the North criticized the South for “exporting” children for adoption, the South “had nothing to rebut against North Korea.”
Although transnational adoption has been normalized to a great many people, this kind of child-care arrangement is in fact highly abnormal in the history of the world
My point is not to defend the North Korean regime, but to point out that when the two Koreas were faced with the same post-war situation in 1953, they chose radically different ways of caring for children. Transnational adoption is not an inevitable result of war and poverty. There are different ways of addressing the same problem. (That is, if the problem is how to provide care for children — not how to provide babies for parents). Although transnational adoption has been normalized to a great many people, this kind of child-care arrangement is in fact highly abnormal in the history of the world, and the practice is now governed more by the almighty dollar than the “best interests of the child” or international law, which is not so easily enforced.
In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey outlines the social damage that neoliberalism has wreaked globally, and based on neoliberalism’s own theory, predicts the current financial crisis that we are struggling to cope with now; the system carries the seed of its own destruction. The book purports that neoliberal practices are based on the idea that freedom equals free markets. However, this idea of achieving ultimate freedom through free markets has instead resulted in government deregulation, which has in turn transferred valuable public resources and essential government services to the private sector. Letting the market run unfettered — auctioning off precious public resources and farming out public services to the private sector —enriches a few, but impoverishes and endangers the rest of us. Pretty soon, private companies are running the government with their lobbying and government-business tie-ups, even though it is the government’s job to govern business. The public interest takes a distant back seat to profit. In a nutshell, neoliberalism is, as David Harvey puts it, “the financialization of everything.”
Adoption has become all about the “freedom” and “choice” of adopters, to the detriment of basic human rights in “sending countries.”
Personal “freedom,” depletion of natural resources, government irresponsibility, bending over backwards for private enterprise, and considering everything and anyone sellable: Let me posit that transnational adoption has become a neoliberal project. Adoption has become all about the “freedom” and “choice” of adopters, to the detriment of basic human rights in “sending countries.” Even though social welfare services are the responsibility of the state, transnational adoptions are performed by private lawyers and agencies. And, in both South Korea and the U.S., where transnational adoptions are performed by private businesses, not public social welfare agencies, the inevitable questions arise: Who are the most organized and monied people? Who has a business at stake? Who actually shapes the laws that govern adoption? It’s certainly not the birthmothers!
When people talk about the “reform” of intercountry adoption, it is often couched in terms of eliminating the monetary incentive that drives it. If this truly can be done, mass transnational adoption as we know it, which transports tens of thousands of children a year to foreign countries, would be almost completely wiped out. Transnational adoption would only exist for a very few special cases, as recommended by international conventions. The mass production of adoptees would give way to real social welfare programs that support unwed mothers with childcare, education, and adequate monthly stipends for daily necessities in countries like South Korea. People who claim to care about children and unwed mothers would heavily support family preservation programs instead of opening new exploitable markets in places like Ethiopia as soon as other “sending countries” start to shut off the supply.
Yet that kind of situation is at present only a pleasant fantasy. Transnational adoption as it is practiced today is a business that exists in a world of global capitalism where anything — including brides, sex slaves, and the children of vulnerable mothers — can be purchased for the right amount of money. In South Korea, which still sends over 1,000 children per year to Western countries even 56 years after the end of the Korean War, the majority of adoptees have come from unwed mothers. In 2001, 97.2% of Korean adoptees had unwed birth mothers. This is the direct result of a policy of neglect towards unwed mothers by the government on a social welfare level. This practice is then enforced by the adoption agencies that prey on resourceless women, and reinforced by usually well-meaning but emotionally vulnerable adopters, who are willing to accept as inarguable and immutable whatever cultural “knowledge” the adoption agencies dole out, which in reality is just targeted advertising for a very expensive, non-returnable product.
The adoption agencies would like to portray themselves as the leaders of the movement to end the monetary incentive behind transnational adoption. They would like to be perceived as the people who originally came up with the wonderful idea to preserve families instead of separating them. But, let’s look at this logically. The ideal situation, which everyone seems to pay lip service to, is for children to stay with their own families in their own countries. Therefore, the adoption agencies should be working to put themselves out of business. The agencies say that they are doing wonderful work in “sending countries” to support families, but the reality is that the adoptions themselves fund this work. In other words, supporting vulnerable families is directly at odds with their main source of revenue. Adoption agencies exist because of adoption, not in spite of it. Their work to support families will therefore always be half-hearted. This contradiction exists on the organizational level.
Read the rest of the article at Conducive Magazine