We saw this documentary last night. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Rather than summarizing a work of heart-wrenching impact, watch the trailer. Better yet, go and watch the whole thing. I found it to be incredibly informative, deeply moving, and…dare I say, personally motivating. And it’s that last bit that kept me awake last night.
There are so many compelling, well-told stories of adoption. I’ve personally seen several. This documentary fits into that category, but it’s far from alone. The question I’ve always had after watching things like this is, “Okay, what can I do?” A potential problem occurs when we’re stirred emotionally but are unable to respond in other meaningful ways. When this happens, we become desensitized to the “call to action.” Eventually, we stop paying attention altogether. It’s human nature.
I’m experiencing “Stuck” differently. Beyond the portraits of earnest, loving people struggling on their adoption journey…or the stories of adorable orphans longing for a home, and, failing that, perhaps just a simple hug from a stranger…or the tragic recounting of birth parents forced to give up their children…this documentary hones in on a broken system. It reveals a system of bureaucracy that is mind-numbing in its ineffectiveness. It calls out a system (and even individuals), whose purpose is to advocate for the most vulnerable and helpless of society, for not only failing in its mandate but sometimes even working against their best interest.
“Stuck” points one finger of accountability squarely towards The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption (THC) and another towards the U.S. State Department. While the documentary’s expert interviewees clearly affirm the ideals of The Hague Adoption Convention (ex. the elimination of corruption, child trafficking, and forced adoptions), they also cite statistics and examples of how the implementation of The Hague is not working. In fact, it is failing.
I first become aware of THC in 2009, when we submitted our dossier to China for our adoption. At the time, I understood that THC would make our process more complicated and slower. Given its intended purpose, however, I also saw it as a good and necessary thing. While I readily admit that intercountry adoption is an extremely complex process involving multiple governments and laws, I find the math of these numbers to be simple and undeniable. When it comes to convincing arguments, I’m a numbers guy.
There are over 10 million orphans in the world. That’s 10 million children living in institutional facilities, without homes and families. The Hague Convention was established in 1993. The U.S. signed the convention in 1994 and it became U.S. law in 2000. The assumption of lawmakers like Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who helped write the legislation, was that after a few years of slow-down in intercountry adoptions in order to implement the standards of THC, adoptions would pick back up and even increase due to better systems. Instead, international adoptions in the U.S. continue to drop. In the last five years, these adoptions have dropped by 50%, from 19k+ to a little over 9k. The purpose of THC was not to decrease intercountry adoptions. The purpose was to clean up a system of corruption and abuses IN ORDER to better serve the orphans. Yet, 13 years after it became law in the U.S., we see fewer and fewer of the over 10 million orphans worldwide find a home. Instead, they languish in orphanages and state-run institutions, most literally wasting away. I’d say that the orphans, as a whole, are not being served and something is not working. Mary Landrieu seems to agree, saying as much while interviewed for “Stuck.”
Similarly, “Stuck” aims criticism towards the State Department for its unwillingness to lead internationally in this area. Intercountry adoption obviously involves other national governments beyond our own. According to the State Department, the consistent drop in international adoptions is due to the failures of “source” countries to clean up their systems and adhere to THC, not to any failure of the U.S. State Department. While there are serious problems abroad (some examples referred to in the documentary include Guatemala, Vietnam, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Cambodia), it is beyond naive to think that our government does not also suffer from its own serious inefficiencies. The documentary cites some examples, too. Moreover, it’s this unwillingness to take responsibility and accept accountability, driven by indifference and political expediency, that makes the State Department complicit in this failure.
The United States government throws its weight around internationally all the time in order to get what it wants. For better or for worse. Every country, to the extent they are able, does this. This is at the heart of foreign policy and diplomacy. We choose to do this in the name of national security and economic prosperity and numerous other aims. Not, apparently, in the name of the orphan. The U.S. is far and away the biggest player in intercountry adoption. The U.S. adopts more children internationally than then next 4 countries combined. The U.S. is THE major player in this drama. Pressure from the U.S. gets things moving, gets things that are seemingly stuck to be unstuck. IF it chooses to apply it. Instead, the State Department seems to default to assigning blame elsewhere to justify their own inaction.
Rather than limiting our influence to building military bases abroad or securing favorable trade terms, can the U.S. also use it to help some of the 10 million orphans find homes and families? Rather than limiting my own responses to the plight of the orphans as emotional reactions (however heartfelt), can I channel that into some type of meaningful action? Those are some questions that “Stuck” left me with.
Okay, lots of words in this post. Thanks for sticking around until the end. The “Stuck” documentary will be on its 60 cities in 80 days tour and if it comes around to your town, do check it out! In the meantime, I’m going to write some letters to my own senator, John Cornyn.