4 Signs The International Child You’re Matched With Isn’t Actually An Orphan

How can you be sure you're not unwittingly playing a role in child trafficking?

Jennifer Mellon February 10, 2018
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Since the ratification of the Hague Convention on Adoption in January 2008, prospective adoptive families and orphans eligible for adoption have received many more protections and safeguards.

Prior to the Convention going into force, prospective adoptive families were not afforded the same confidences they have today that the children they adopt are not trafficked, stolen, or not actually orphans. As the former Executive Director of Joint Council On International Children’s Services, I often dealt with families who adopted children only to later learn they were trafficked or adopted through unethical means. As the Founder and President of Trustify, a technology platform connecting clients to the only global network of licensed and highly-vetted private investigators, I continue to serve families who are seeking answers about their personal adoption origins or their adopted child’s biological family.

Even with all of the safeguards in place today, prospective adoptive families still worry and wonder how best to tell if the child they are adopting internationally is actually an orphan. The definition of “orphan” makes this concern even more precarious. USCIS has a complicated explanation for what the U.S. Government deems an orphan. Essentially, a child is considered an orphan if both parents have died, the child’s mother is unwed and the father has died or abandoned the child, or the remaining parent has abandoned the child or given legal release for the child to be adopted. Many people do not realize that a child can be considered an orphan with a living parent.

So where does this leave adoptive parents who receive a referral for a child and they are concerned the child with whom they are matched is not an orphan? What are the signs prospective parents should look for?

Suspicious Paperwork from the Orphanage

Many families who have learned their child was not an orphan after the adoption was completed state that the paperwork from the orphanage was inconsistent or suspicious. Some families shared that they were comforted by the detailed explanation they received from the orphanage regarding their child’s first year of life. However, they had since learned the child’s information was word-for-word the same as the info given to other families. Other families were given death certificates to confirm that both biological families were deceased and later learned they were fraudulent. Using an investigator to confirm the authenticity of documents can give you the peace of mind you need.

Your Adopted Child Speaks about Their Birth Families

Many families who have gone through the heartache and pain of realizing their adopted children actually have been stolen or trafficked first researched the possibility when their children began giving details about their prior life or asking about when they could go back to their parents. It can be difficult for adoptive parents to know if it is due their child’s desire to find their biological parents or if they were taken from a living family. Child trafficking is the leading crisis of our time. If your child speaks in detail or inquires about their family in their country of origin, ask more questions. Some families fear the answers they will receive, but you owe it to your child to keep asking until you can put the pieces together.

Your Agency Isn’t Reputable

Sadly, many times the signs come after the fact. When an agency or adoption service
provider is indicted or accused of unethical adoption practices, it may be the first sign
that the child with whom you have been matched is not an orphan. It is critical that you do as much due diligence as possible prior to deciding what adoption service provider to utilize at the start of the process. If you have any suspicions or are uncomfortable about their practices or the information you are given mid-process, do not be afraid to go with another agency or attorney to complete your adoption. Make sure that the contract gives you the option to be released from their program and receive funds back in those circumstances.

It’s An Adoption Scam

Throughout the last 20 years there are many recorded international adoption scams.
Often after a natural disaster or war, families seek to help the children displaced or
orphaned by the crisis. This is also the time when fraudulent individuals take advantage
of those families and orphans for personal and financial gain. Be sure to heed the
advice of the U.S. State Department and confirm that the organization you seek to use
for the adoption is Hague certified (if from a Convention country) or licensed to place
children in families in the United States in their respective states. When in doubt, speak
to other service providers, the Office of Consular Affairs, or organizations like the
National Council for Adoption and others to get their recommendations.

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Jennifer Mellon

Jennifer Mellon has worked in the child welfare field for more than a decade, serving in varying capacities as the Executive Director and Chief Development Officer of Joint Council on International Children's Services (JCICS) and the Corporate Communications Program Manager for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI). Jennifer has served on the Board of the Campagna Center, which provides critical educational services to children and families in the DC Metro Area and on the Development Committee for the National Council for Adoption. She is the mom of three children and resides in Alexandria, Virginia.


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