Wisdom of solomon

This is a hard article to write. It demands care, honesty and
personal examination. These are qualities that often seem in low
supply in the columnist’s world. Personal columns have become the
alternative to rigorous fact-finding journalism. Some sparkling
Polly Filler or Lunchtime O’Booze comes up with a few trite
observations, files their 500 or so words, and pockets the

I’ve seen such contributions in the mainstream media on
inter-country adoption, but it really won’t do on this subject. I
can think of few issues so complex, so closely connecting the
personal and the political, and sometimes so painful. I find it
hard to think of any kind of adoption as a situation where everyone
gains and no one gets hurt. Pain and suffering always seem to be in
there. The questions are: how can they be minimised; how can the
most good and least harm be done? When you lay on top of this the
cheap politicisation of adoption by the press and politicians, the
scale of the task becomes apparent.

Also we must each be clear about our own position. I am fortunate
to write as a birth parent. So who am I to judge people who want,
but may not have, this opportunity? At the same time, inter-country
adoption is closely tied in with oppression and inequality. Few
mothers want to give up their children. Most do because they have
to. The trade mostly flows from impoverished majority world to
wealthy western nations.

But theorising and judgements from some imagined moral high ground
aren’t enough. Much more collective campaigning and issue-raising
are needed – and there are organisations struggling to do

Meanwhile, the sad truth is that for many individuals – birth
parents as well as adopted children – inter-country adoption for
now may serve as some solution. It can offer the prospect of
freedom from want and a life unbowed by disease and

China has come in for particular criticism because of its “one
child policy”, intended to limit population. Controversy continues
over the policy, how widely it has been implemented, how much it
has been resisted, and the scale of human rights abuse associated
with it. And there is no doubt that it is mainly girls who have
been available for adoption and who have been adopted.

This imbalance is further evidence that within China, as in other
impoverished areas of the majority world, girls and women have
historically got the short straw. Gender discrimination means
higher morbidity and infant mortality rates among girls, and less
value and status attached to them.

The problems are not isolated to one part of the world. In the UK,
the same standards are required for inter-country as for domestic
adoption. That’s a start, although few countries do this. The US
tends to see adoption in terms of a global market. A few days ago
the Sun newspaper reported that “hunk” Brad Pitt “wants to adopt a
baby after visiting orphans in Africa with new love Angelina
Jolie.” Said Brad, “It’s as much for me as them.” Perhaps we should
be grateful that at least he has some insight.

Inter-country adoption should not hide from us the shortcomings of
our own domestic arrangements for adoption. One is the continuing
failure to provide adequate and appropriate support for people to
look after their own children, particularly where disability and
distress are involved. Also, arbitrary restrictions are imposed
over who can adopt which sometimes have less to do with what
individuals have to offer and more to do with the medical and
social labels and stereotypes attached to them.

Shortly after the Second World War, a British film called The
Divided Heart was made. It focused on the Nazi policy of removing
children seen as of suitable “Aryan” stock from conquered countries
for adoption. I first saw this film as a child. It frightened me
and left a powerful imprint. Significantly, I can’t remember what
the judge decided – whether to return the child to its birth
parents or to leave it with the kindly adoptive German family. But
I do remember the decision that was made put the child first. That
has to be the priority. The globalisation of life, including
adoption, has led to the need for even more complex judgements than
were required of Solomon. But the guiding light must always be the
child’s rights and interests, not those of the rest of us.

Peter Beresford is professor of social policy, Brunel
University, and is involved with the psychiatric system survivor

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