I remember August 2002 vividly. My husband and I spent a grueling month assembling a fat dossier because we wanted to adopt a baby from Russia. Gathering documents, getting referrals, being finger-printed—it all seemed endless then. In November 2002, we had our referral and in January 2003, we took our first trip to Siberia to meet our 8-month-old baby. Three weeks later, we returned to Siberia to take her home to New York.
The process took six months. Six months!! It happened so fast, it was overwhelming. A decade later, I realize how lucky my husband, Ricky, and I were, because today international adoption is a bog. In fact, international adoptions fell from 22,991 to 9,319 between 2004 and 2011, a 60 percent drop.
Craig Juntunen, an adoptive father of three Haitian children, and founder of Both Ends Burning, an adoption advocacy organization, hopes to reverse the tide. Thousands of families are ready, willing and able to adopt international orphans, and millions of children need families. But political barriers need to be removed.
On May 17, Juntunen will lead a “Step Forward For Orphans March” in the nation's capitol. At its conclusion, Both Ends Burning will deliver a petition with some 30,000 signatures to Congress, asking legislators to help facilitate and streamline international adoptions. The organization is expecting at least 1,000 marchers.
A growing number of countries are suspending or curtailing international adoptions because of corruption or philosophical and ethical arguments over where orphaned children belong. In many cases “orphaned” does not mean parents are deceased. Countries have tightened regulations, making it more difficult for gay couples, single parents or older people to adopt. After years of adoptions, nations have shut their doors. Russia closed its door last January, leaving would-be adoptive parents heartbroken, and orphans in Russian institutions left to languish without families.
Marchers will gather at the northeast corner of the Washington Monument between Constitution and 15th Street at 12:30 on May 17, a half-hour before the march begins. The 1.5-mile route to Upper Senate Park will take approximately one to two hours. At its conclusion, radio show host Laura Ingraham, who has three internationally-adopted children, will speak, as will Juntunen.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Lousiana), who is co-chair of the Congressional Coalition On Adoption, won't be at the march but she plans on announcing a “Children in Families First” bill at a different function. The bill, among other things, is aimed at “streamlining and simplifying U.S. international adoption procedures.
The organization has gained awareness through Stuck, an award-winning 90-minute documentary it produced to spread awareness on the issue. It has been touring the nation since March and is screening in New York City at 7 pm at Chelsea Clearview Cinema on May 9. The award-winning film, directed by Thaddaeus Scheel and narrated by Marisk Hargitay, follows four families caught up in the bureaucratic morass of international adoption. The most poignant story is about a couple who spend three years--and everything they've got--pursuing the adoption of a Vietnamese boy after the country shuts down U.S. adoptions.
After New York, Stuck will finish its tour in Princeton (May 11), Philadelphia (May 12), Wilmington, DE (May 13), Baltimore (May 14) and Washington, D.C. (May 16).
International adoption is a complex issue that raises moral, ethical and cultural issues. In the ideal world, every country, including our own, would have the wherewithal to absorb children who are “orphaned” either by abandonment or death. But it's not that simple, and the film's graphic images of children in squalid, overcrowded, stomach-clenching environments in Haiti, Ethiopia and Vietnam, accelerates the sense of urgency that something needs to be done.
Both Ends Burning's founder says the problem is “the process” because children are stuck in orphanages, waiting too long for adoptions to be completed, while American adoptive parents find themselves stuck in a Twilight Zone process that includes obstacles, delays and sometimes, mid-adoption shut-downs.
Juntunen is an interesting character. He made a packet during the '90s high-tech boom and he and his wife, then childless, figured they'd enjoy the spoils. Everything changed when a friend of his adopted a Haitian orphan. In 2006, Juntunen brought home three children, now 11, 10 and 6, but he was haunted by those left behind, children who are desperate for a forever family. Children who go to bed hungry, are denied healthcare, are starved for human companionship. I've been to a Siberian orphanage. I know exactly how he feels.