A Stolen Gen 9: The Cruel Myth of ‘orphan saving’


 Part 9

 The Cruel Myth of  ‘orphan/ baby saving’ 

Helping a family by taking a child away from her mother is arguably an extraordinarily cruel form of assistance.[1]

The success of Furness’s publicity campaign hinges on the antithesis of what research has established: her claims that there are: “millions and millions of needy orphans,” all waiting “to be saved.”

Westerners have been sold the myth of a world orphan crisis. We are told that millions of children are waiting for their “forever families” to rescue them from lives of abandonment and abuse. But many of the infants and toddlers being adopted by Western parents today are not orphans at all. … the neediest children are sick, disabled, traumatized, or older than 5. They are not the healthy babies that most Westerners hope to adopt. There are simply not enough healthy, adoptable infants to meet Western demand—and there’s too much Western money in search of babies. As a result, many international adoption agencies work not to find homes for needy children but to find children for Western homes.[2]

In reality, there are very few young, healthy orphans in need of adoption. “It’s not really true that there are large numbers of infants with no homes who either will be in institutions or who need intercountry adoption,” says Alexandra Yuster, a senior adviser on child protection with UNICEF.

Graff states:

In 2006 UNICEF reported an estimated 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But the majority lost just one parent, either to desertion or death. Of those who lost both, most live with extended family—and are older than 5. UNICEF’s “millions of orphans” are not healthy babies doomed to institutional misery. Most are older children whose extended families and communities need support to care for them … One American who adopted a little girl from Cambodia in 2002 wept as she spoke at an adoption ethics conference in October 2007. ‘I was told she was an orphan,’ she said. ‘One year after she came home, and she could speak English well enough, she told me about her mommy and daddy and her brothers and her sisters.[3]

The orphan myth came about because of the broad criteria used by UNICEF to label a child an orphan.[4]   To rectify this misunderstanding UNICEF stated on its website: “Evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of ‘orphans’ are living with a surviving parent, grandparent, or other family members.”  Not understanding this has led to “responses that focus on providing care for individual children rather than supporting the families and communities that care for orphans and are in need of support.”[5]

According to UNICEF there are 13 million orphans in the world.  Of which 95% are over 5 years old and live with a grandparent or other family member.   Hence only  5% = 650,000 orphans have lost both parents, but even those are likely to live with a family member and very few of this number would be under 12 months old.[6]  Nigel Cantwell, a Geneva-based consultant on child protection policy, has helped reform corrupt adoption systems in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Asked how many healthy babies in those regions would be available for international adoption if money never exchanged hands, he replied: “I would hazard a guess at zero.”[7]

A New Source of Infants identified Locally

A new source of infants was identified, and these were from very young parents, and in particular women who have a substance dependence. In fact, adoptive parents stated publicly that they view the children of these parents as a new “source” of adoptable infants.[8]

In 2012-2013 children in local adoptions tended to be younger than those adopted from other countries; all were aged under 5, with almost half (48%)  under 12 months. The 81 adoption in 2012-2013 by ‘known’ carers, such as foster parents (52% of all know adoptions- 45% by stepparents),  represented a 10 year high for this type of adoption, more than triple the 25 such adoption in 2003-2004.  The number of finalised adoptions increased from 333 in 2012 to 339 in 2012-2013.  This is an increase of 14% while the number of overseas decreased by 13%.[9]  From whom are these babies being sourced? The median age of mothers of children subject to a finalised local adoption in 2012-13 was 23, and 8 years younger than the median age of all unmarried mothers giving birth in 2011. In 2012-13, 60% of the mothers were under 25.  Almost all were unwed (94%).  Most children were adopted by childless couples 86%.  The increase in known child adoptions was largely driven by increases in NSW from 91 to 108 of which 78 were carer adoptions, and WA from 18-26. Of the 156 known child adoption 108 were finalised in NSW. Known adoptions make up 74% of adoptions of Australian children.

The highest proportion of known adoptions were by carers such as foster parents (52%) and the majority of these occurred in NSW.  78 of the 81 carer adoptions nationally occurred in NSW. According to the AIFW this  is the  outcome  of NSW’s recent shift in policy direction of promoting adoption as a means of achieving stability for children under the long-term care of state and territory child protection when reunification is not considered appropriate.[10]   The influence of the Furness led campaign to make more babies available for adoption is  having an impact. Now it has the Federal Government’s seal of approval no doubt this trend will continue and expand to all state and territories.[11]

During most of the 20th an unmarried mother’s was stigmatised as being “unfit” therefore removing her baby at the birth by adoption agents became normalised.  The barbaric practices went on unabated for over 50 years all justified by being done for the protection of children.  Deborra-lee Furness, herself an adoptive parent of two babies, taken from their mothers at birth is now the rallying point for the next era of Forced Adoption. Furness has acknowledged that she would not adopt an older child.   So with a powerful lobby group demanding babies once again in “their best interests” state welfare and social workers are targeting the young, poor and those with mental health problems as the next category of “unfit”. Egregious acts perpetrated on these mothers are excused under the much misused term in the best interests and child centred policy.  Their babies are forcibly taken and detoxed by a foster carer who specialises in same and until they are ready for the adoption market. Hence they go through what a baby would experience as two or three abandonments before they reach their “stable” placement.  The damage is already well and truly done.  Research, cited earlier, indicated that crack addicted babies did far better on all measures when they remained with their mother and both together went through a rehabilitation program.  Research indicates the opposite happens when they separated.[12]  But there is no compassion for these mothers, they are dehumanised and  yet again become part of another stolen generation.

“The secret about adoption is that many of them are NOT successful”.[13] This reality was a fact documented by the NSW Child Welfare Department as early as 1956.[14]  Its failure as a social policy was further attested to by those who suffered its fate: the Stolen Generations, Forgotten Australians, British Child Migrants and Survivors of Forced Adoption. Why then was, and is it now, being continued?


When one digs under the hype and the easy slogans like: “save an orphan”[15] “adoptions stop child abuse” and “there are parents who want children and children who need a home” [16]  a very ugly prejudice is exposed.  There are those who deem themselves superior and feel entitled to other people’s children. Just as they labelled unwed Aboriginal and white mothers as inferior and without any right to rear their own children so a new category of ‘unfit’ must be found and they targeted to secure infants, preferably newborns, for what is nothing more than an unholy trade.[17]  Another worrying aspect of forced adoption is that it is a blunt instrument utilised for social control.[18]  This new stolen generation is about modifying behaviour by punishing parents and holding the fear of permanently removing the children over the heads of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

[1] Professor David Smolin ‘The Two Faces of Intercountry Adoption: The Significance of the Indian Adoption Scandals, Seton Hall Law Review, 35(403), at 440 Retrieved 10/11/2011 from http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=david_smolin

[2] Graff, E. J. (2008), The Lie We Love’ Foreign Policy, Nov-Dec http://www.utne.com/Politics/International-Adoption-Lies-Orphans-Myths.aspx#ixzz1dIUwGKeq

[4] Graff,, E. J. (2008).  The Problem with saving the World’s Orphans The Boston Globe Dec 11 http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/12/11/the_problem_with_saving_the_worlds_orphans?mode=PF

[5] UNICEF Unite for Children Press Centre Accessed May 13, 2009 http://www.unicef.org/media/media_45290.html

[6] UNICEF Press Centre, ‘Orphans’, Retrieved 10/11/2011 from http://www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html

[7] Graff, E. J. (2008), The Lie We Love’ Foreign Policy, Nov-Dec http://www.utne.com/Politics/International-Adoption-Lies-Orphans-yths.aspx#ixzz1dIUwGKeq

[8] Kathryn Leckenby, adoptive mother, oral testimony to the Standing Committee on Family and Human Services, ‘Inquiry into adoption of children from overseas, July 21, 2000 at p. 73  http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=fhs/./adoption/hearings.htm

[9] AIHW 2013. Adoptions Australia 2012-2013. Child Welfare Series 57 Cat. No. CWS 47, Canberra: AIHW. http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129545516&tab=2

[10] AIHW 2013. Adoptions Australia 2012-2013. Child Welfare Series 57 Cat. No. CWS 47, Canberra: AIHW. p. 28   http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129545516&tab=2

[11] ABC (2013, Dec 14). Federal Govt to speed up and simplify adoptions (domestic as well as intercountry)’, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-14/federal-govt-to-speed-up-and-simplify-adoptions/5156826?section=act

[12] Hiilamo, H. & Saarikallio-Torp, M. (2011). ‘Child custody placement outcomes for mothers’, Children and Youth Services Review, 33, pp. 1489-1496

[13] Amy Lemly of the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes cited in Kempa, D. (2013). Newsreview.com. June 20, http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/adoption-foster-care-sacramentos/content?oid=10293558

[14] Crown St. Archives: 1956 cited in Cole: 2013, Vol 1, p. 270.

[15] Connolly, E  Furness attacks adoption culture  The Daily Telegraph Aug 5th, 2007; see various posts of Daisy Williams  http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,22189580-; 5001021,00.html; Horton, S. Furness’s date with Attorney-General The Sun Herald, the Diary S2 Feb 24, 2008; Connolly, E,  A present for all the children The Sunday Telegraph Dec 23, 2007, p. 3; Connolly, E ‘Big Day for adoption campaign The Sunday Telegraph April, 27, 2008, p. 36; Connolly, E  Our adoption laws an embarrassment The Sunday Telegraph August 5, 2007 p. 9; Connolly, E.  Jolie’s doctor crusades Courier Mail April 6, 2008 http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,23492936-5012980,00.html;

Connolly E, Actress’s mission to overhaul the rules :Adoption fight goes to Rudd The Sunday Telegraph, Nov 11, 2007, p. 30; O’Neill, M  Actress helps win adoption issue The Sunday Telegraph Mar 30, 2008 p. 34.

[16] News.com.au  (2013, Nov 13). ‘Deborra-Lee Furness wants federal government to make adoption easier’, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/deborralee-furness-wants-federal-government-to-make-adoption-easier/story-fnet085v-1226756411775

[17] Smolin, D. (2013). The Corrupting Influence of the United States on a Vulnerable Intercountry Adoption System: A Guide for Stakeholders, Hague and Non-Hague Nations, NGOs, and Concerned Parties, Journal of Law & Family Studies & Utah Law Review; Smolin, D. (2012). Of Orphans and Adoption, Parents and the Poor, Exploitation and Rescue; A Scriptural and Theological Critique of the Evangelical Christian Adoption and Orphan Care Movement, Regent Journal of International law; Smolin D. (2010).  Child Laundering and the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption: The Future and Past of Intercountry Adoption, University of Louisville Law Review; Smolin, D. (2006). Child Laundering: How the Intercountry Adoption System Legitimizes and Incentives the Practice of Buying, Trafficking, Kidnapping, and Stealing Children, ExpressO; Wayne Law Review; Smolin, D. (2005). Intercountry Adoption as Child Trafficking, Valparaiso Law Review  http://works.bepress.com/david_smolin/doctype.html#article  ; The Problem with saving the World’s Orphans The Boston Globe Dec 11 http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2008/12/11/the_problem_with_saving_the_worlds_orphans/[18]Henley Report: 1870, pp. 34, 47 cited in Cole: 2013, Vol 1, p. 135; Mundella Report: 1896, p. 86 cited in Cole: 2013, Vol 1, p. 141.


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