An interesting article appeared on time magazine today about baby lifts in Haiti (see Here). It articulates very well what the legal and social pitfalls are for people trying to steal babies out of Haiti and “save them”. But it’s far from my favourite article on the issue. No, that honour goes to this piece on the Racialicious blog.
“You live with your child in a house that burns down. You’re dazed, confused, and burned. Your neighbor says, “I think I should take care of your child”. You say, “Thanks for your offer. But my child really needs me now, and I think they wouldn’t sleep well in a strange house. If you could just give us a tent and some food and some bandages, we can camp out while I get better and look into rebuilding, we’ll be OK.”
Your neighbor says, “that’s too logistically complicated and I’m concerned about the security situation. I just want your child.” You say, “Thanks again for your concern and I’m grateful for any help you can give me. If you’re so worried about my child, maybe you could let both of us stay in your guestroom for a while? That way my child could be safe and would sleep well too.” Your neighbor says, “No, we have an interdiction-at-sea policy and visa restrictions will not be relaxed. Just give me your child. Actually, never mind. I don’t evenneed your permission anyway…”
One of the most cited but rarely read books in international development is the text “White Man’s Burden”. I have to say, I haven’t read it either but it seems to be a recurring theme in development circles, that people from the “West” (if ever there was a socially constructed, ideologically loaded and substantively deficient label) feel the need to swoop in and save babies from the developing world whenever a crisis hits. The Time article adeptly reminds us of the situation in Chad a few years back where the Zoe’s Ark missionaries thought that they could just swoop in and take Chadian children, many of whom had families, back to France for “adoption”.
Here’s my gripe. You think poor children need education – build a school. Don’t take them away from their families and move them into societies, many of which will welcome them with the hospitality of a dentist’s office. You think they need healthcare; subsidise a dispensary or mobile clinic. It costs more to get a bus pass in most European cities than it does to pay for basic vaccinations for a child that could mean the difference between a long and healthy life and one beset by polio, or heaven forbid, one in which a child dies of a disease that could have been prevented.
Baby lifts only feed child smuggling syndicates, and that is a fact. I’m not entirely against interracial adoption – hey, sometimes you just meet a baby and fall in love and want to raise them as your own. That’s fine. What I’m against is this notion that somehow because the countries you’re adopting from are poor or struggling that you have the right to circumvent the law. You don’t. It takes months or even years to adopt a child in the “West”, for a reason. The number one priority for everyone involves is the best interests of the child. If we can’t even be sure anymore that biological parents won’t kill their children, why shouldn’t we take our time in making sure that adopting parents are doing so with the best intentions at heart? And why shouldn’t it take longer to adopt a child from a developing country, where its protection needs are least likely to be met; where it needs the protection the most?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for mindless regulation and unnecessary bureucracy just to frustrate the benevolent intentions of people. I’m just saying that in as much as the law constraints our behaviour it also facilitates it. In as much as it makes it harder for us to conduct random “spontaneous” baby lifts, it also makes sure, as far as is humanly possible within an admittedly broken system, that every child, if adopted, is adopted into a loving, caring, and above all else, safe environment.
So, white men of the world, put down your burdens. And do something that really helps.