Adoptive parents battle bureaucracy to bring children home from Africa

Here’s a story about people who are doing everything right in their quest to bring adopted children into the United States, only to face intransigent foreign governments and a shockingly indifferent U.S. government:

A group called Both Ends Burning, dedicated to the cause of international adoption, has been working with parents in the United States who ran into trouble with the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This is one of many areas around the world with a large number of orphaned children who are not easily cared for by extended families.  There are said to be over 4,000 orphans living in the DRC.  The adoption process for some 350 such children had been completed and approved by both Congolese courts and American authorities, when the Congolese office of immigration and emigration abruptly stopped issuing exit paperwork for adoptions approved after September 2013.

The stated reasons for this freeze on exit permits included “concerns about the health and well-being of previously adopted children,” although the DRC government has been short on specific examples.  Originally the suspension was scheduled to last for a year, but now the parents are being told it could take much longer, because the Congolese government wants to pass new adoption laws, and their parliament won’t convene again until the fall.

“Both Ends Burning supports the DRC in its investigation and believes every nation is obligated to ensure that international adoptions are conducted with integrity, transparency and the highest ethics,” the adoption group declared.  “However, we do not support the closure of international adoptions while such an investigation is underway.”

Time is of the essence when dealing with such young children in a difficult environment, as one adoptive mother explained to me.  These families have already traveled to the DRC to meet with their children.  Both parents and child are devastated by the long, and perhaps indefinite, delay in the adoption process.  Fully one in seven of these orphans will die before reaching their fifth birthday.

Last month, the Congolese government released fifteen children to their adoptive parents, chosen seemingly at random, followed by another four children with severe health issues, at the urging of U.S. Ambassador James Swan.  While happy news for the reunited families, these developments only heighten the distress and uncertainty of the families still in limbo.

Both Ends Burning has not been impressed with the performance of the U.S. State Department.  “Prior to BEB’s involvement, the Department of State had done next to nothing to advocate that exit letters be issued as originally promised. These stuck children were not a foreign policy priority with the DRC,” the group charges on their website.  “Further, the State Department had not even gathered the basic facts, such as determining how many families were eligible for exit letters, until BEB began to create its own list. This was a simple task for our government to perform, and it had been done when children were stuck in similar situations in the past, but the State Department only prepared such a list once BEB was able to bring attention to this matter.”

I thought that was stern talk for a group that obviously must rely upon good connections with the State Department to complete its mission, but the adoptive mother I spoke with endorsed this dim view of their performance.  She described a conference call with several hundred adoptive families in which they were told by a State official to abandon the children they adopted in the DRC and “pick another country.”

“We usually know what’s going on in the Congo ten days before the State Department does,” she added.  Since the Congolese government has not put forward specific allegations of abuse or corroborating evidence, she found little reason to hope that the investigation into the alleged misfortune of previously-adopted children would be completed any time soon, without prodding from the American government.  Some of the adoptive families are from other nations, including Italy and France; the Italian government was praised for its willingness to push hard on behalf of its families, and send an aircraft to pick up their children.

Both Ends Burning had better luck with Congress, receiving bipartisan support from the House Foreign Affairs Committee:


With remarkable speed after this hearing, the Committee approved House Resolution 588 in support of the adoptive families.  Noting that the United States has give $274 million in bilateral aid and $165 million in humanitarian assistance to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past fiscal year, and citing the United Nations’ recognition of “a child’s right to a family as a basic human right worthy of protection,” the resolution expresses concern for the suspension of exit permits and calls on the DRC to resume processing adoptions, with expedited treatment for those completed before the exit freeze, particularly those involving children in poor health.

Both Ends Burning also hopes that a congressional delegation will meet with the Congolese government, which was supposed to send its own delegation to Washington in April, but canceled their trip at the last minute.

Additionally, the group urges the State Department and U.S. Immigration to “allocate more resources to handle adoption case processing in both DRC and the National Benefits Center so that children can be united expeditiously with their families once adoptions reopen.”  Considering how many resources have been devoted to children sent illegally across the border of late, it would be nice if the system put some effort into helping a few hundred families that followed all the rules, put their time and money into a difficult legal process, and opened their hearts to orphaned children from a dangerous land.