STUCK Documentary on ABC Nightline OCT. 29

The ABC News Nightline episode on international adoption, featuring STUCK, will air TUESDAY NIGHT


With the Minnesota Transracial Film Festival coming up, there are several documentaries that I’m looking forward to watching. I love being able to hear from other adoptees, their stories and journeys along this long path of life as an adoptee. This artistic and emotion outlet is often awe inspiring and thought provoking. Sometimes, I like to think that I might join these film makers someday and share my story in a new medium.

One film that has already been released and is gaining in popularity is the film, STUCK. However, this film is not adoptee made. From what I can tell by the trailer, it voices most loudly the opinions of adoption agencies and desperate adoptive parents in a very harmful way that perpetuates “the Global Orphan Crisis” and other stereotypes of poor countries, as well as a “save the children” mantra about international adoption.

The trailer starts out with images of some children, but many infants, and the words, “Around the world over 10 million children are stuck in orphanages. The images featured in the trailer reflect only orphanages that are in the poorest of regions with few resources amid the arid land. While some orphanages certainly are less financially enabled, I’m going to say something that may shock people whose only perception of international adoption is Western media. Orphanages in the city with running water, painted walls, play structures, and schools do exist. The images they provide in the trailer may leave gullible people assuming that these are the conditions of orphanages everywhere. Additionally, the number of infants and toddlers pictures does not accurately depict the UNICEF figure that 95% of orphans are over the age of five.

The trailer goes on to say that International Adoptions today, on average, take about three years and cost $28,000.  When delays occur due to tumultuous political events or system breakdowns, I understand how that may be frustrating, however generally adoption slowing down should be a good thing. It should mean that there are fewer orphans who need homes. The adoption industry works as a supply and demand business. In this case, the demand is higher than the supply. The problem is that so many prospective adoptive parents are waiting and expecting healthy, little infants, this drives much unscrupulous behavior in relation to adoption. Parents have to wait until a child is available either because of natural reasons or more likely because of oppressive social constraints or through the work of middlemen who kidnap children or coerce birthparents into giving them up or by outright lying – telling them that their children are being sent to school in the U.S. and will return when they are older.

The cost is another factor that many prospective adoptive parents fret about. The reality is that whether raising a child from birth or through adoption, kids are expensive. When you consider that, in some cases, these children have been taken care of in the orphanage for a number of years and may have had surgeries or other cost factors (oh wait, not if you only want a healthy infant), the money really becomes very little. Also, orphanages do use this money to pay their staff, to provide more for the children under their care, and to both modernize and customize the facilities so that they don’t look like the ones depicted in this film. Why are adoptive parents disgruntled about making the orphanages better for the children still there?

“The most frustrating thing is that all of these children have families. All of these kids have homes in the U.S.” She’s right, it is frustrating that all of these children have families → correction: in their home countries. It’s so incredibly frustrating that after the earthquake in Haiti, children were just uprooted without even trying to search for living biological family.

Adoptive parents go on to tell their problems about trying to get “their” children. One woman boldly says, “It’s been 3 ½ years. No one has come for him. We are his only hope.” This statement doesn’t even try to cover up the humanitarian, child-saving motive that some parents have when going into transracial/transnational adoption. I’m sure it’s agonizing waiting for a child that a couple has already placed so much love into, but the sense of entitlement to someone else’s child is sickening. Children are not commodities to be traded and owned.

Along with intense music, the narrator of the trailer says that “over the past five years, international adoptions into the U.S. have fallen by 50%,” like this is some ominously horrible statistic. People get panicked by the falling rate of adoptions into the United States, but it must be understood that if the goal of international adoption is to help children, the rates of adoption will drop as fewer and fewer children are actually orphaned. If the goal is, however, to serve the adoptive parents’ desire for foreign children and continue pumping that revenue into the corrupt adoption industry, then falling rates of international adoption could maybe be perceived as a negative.

The intensity of the music increases as the camera changes to look at more horrifying images of children in dire poverty, smushed together on the floor in piles or comparing them to them to rearing cattle. While these images may be necessary in viewing international adoption completely, the trailer makes no effort to show any other type of orphanage living situation. Providing only images like this drive the ethos around international adoption to be one of rescue and ransom, instead of having love, resources, and the want to expand a family.

Though I haven’t yet seen the film, the trailer depicts  the earthquake in Haiti as some type of adoption miracle. It was a devastating event that separated even more families and destroyed the lives of many there. A narrator says, “We don’t need earthquake or tsunamis. There are millions of children in need, and thousands dying every day. Why don’t we do something about it?” That’s such a good, compelling question. Why don’t we do something about it that isn’t necessarily international adoption? Why don’t we support birthparents more so that they can keep their children? Why don’t we advocate intra-country adoption so that children don’t have to loose all of their roots? Why are we so focused on international adoption, thereby ignoring the orphans within the United States who also need homes?

She goes on to say, “what we want these senators to know is that if they shut down international adoption, what we are saying to each of these children is that they don’t matter.” I don’t believe a total shutdown to international adoption is the solution, but I think by continuing to feed into the international adoption system as it operates today, what we are telling these children is that it doesn’t matter how you came into your adoptive family, whether through fraud, trafficking or coercion, now that you’re there. It doesn’t matter that you may have biological family who wanted to keep you, but felt they didn’t have the resources available to them. The current thought around international adoption prioritizes adoptive parents over birthparents, and this is unfair to original families and to adopted children. Poverty should never be justification for family separation. The answer to helping and showing these children that you care is by making efforts to build communities in these developing countries that help women raise their children, by working to eradicate poverty, negative social stigmas against single mothers, and systems that oppress people in their home countries so that children may be able to stay in their original families and original countries.

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