Adopting families and the Congo
As the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission reflected on a busy 2013 and looked forward to 2014, our attention was turned to (at least) five American families that find themselves stuck in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following a decision by the country’s government to halt their adoption visas. At least three of the adopting families are members of Southern Baptist churches.
Each of these families has been in the process of adopting children from the Congo for some time now. This present travel to the nation was supposed to be the final step. All that they need is for the DRC to sign the exit papers so the children (already legally adopted) may leave the country with their parents. While international adoptions are often vulnerable to unpredictable bureaucratic red tape, the Congo situation is unique because the parents had been told their adoptions would be completed inspite of the DRC’s broader suspension of the adoption program. Now some of them have been waiting in country for as long as three months.
Our hearts ache for these families. We’ve attempted to make sense of the situation, making contact with a number of friends from non-governmental organizations and Capitol Hill. Governments like that of the DRC have a responsibility to protect their citizens, especially orphaned children, and international relations is indeed a balancing act. After speaking with various sources, the ERLC has been told the following:
- A State Department advisory explains that the DRC halted the “issuance of exit permits” due to the discovery of falsified adoption documents by another family.
- A State Department Adoption Alert dated Sept 27, 2013 also indicates the DRC may be responding to reports that children adopted from the DRC may have been “either abused by adoptive families or adopted by a second set of parents once in their receiving countries.”
- For the above to reasons given, the entire DRC adoption program remains indefinitely suspended.
- The adoptions by these five families are otherwise complete and had been told by the Congolese government that adoptions whose processes were complete prior to September 25, 2013, would be resolved. Some of the families have now been waiting over a month in the DRC.
- The U.S. consulate (State Department) in DRC may only be equipped with two full-time staff. Those personnel handle all diplomatic work in the DRC, including adoptions. In a country that is experiencing increasing unrest and violence, it’s plausible they have their hands full.
- Adoption advocates around the Hill are not convinced the State Department has exhausted every possible or creative avenue in an attempt to influence a swift resolution.
The ERLC continues to be apprised of the situation and is inquiring to NGO friends and contacts on Capitol Hill as to possible avenues of advocacy by U.S. government entities (State Department, etc.). As we wait, these American parents and their legally adopted children are stuck in limbo in a country where violence and unrest is on the rise. It is not apparent that there is necessarily a ‘villain’ in this incident. But there is certainly room for heroic diplomacy.
The adopting families as well as adoption advocates say this predicament highlights the broader need for reform of adoption processes in the proposed Children In Families First Act (‘CHIFF’), bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX) and Karen Bass (D-CA). In December, the ERLC delivered letters to congressional leadership in support of the legislation. While the proposed law would not necessarily resolve this present incident (the ultimate decision is up to the Congolese government), proponents say it would better enable the necessary U.S. agencies to respond to future incidents like this when they occur.
In addition to praying for these families and the wisdom of Congolese officials, friends of these families are encouraged to appeal to their respective representatives in the U.S. Congress, educating them on the situation and asking the representatives to encourage the State Department to use every diplomatic effort to bring these families home. We’ll update information here as we learn more.
Carroll family (Tennessee)
Justin Carroll has been in country with his sons for seven weeks.
Harshman family (Kentucky)
Katie Harshman has been in country with her daughter for 11 weeks.
Wallace family (Virginia) *
Erin Wallace has been in country with her daughter for 12 weeks.
Doherty family (North Carolina)
Ryan Doherty has been in country with his son for four weeks.
A 5th family, TBA.
(We’re awaiting details.)
One suggestion for contacting elected representatives: As Congress does not return to session until next week (Wednesday, January 7) it may be productive to contact the district offices in-state (as opposed to the offices in Washington, D.C.). Many representatives remain in their home districts until Congress resumes session next week. District offices tend to handle a lesser volume of correspondence and phone calls than the D.C. offices and could potentially be more responsive.
Assorted Press coverage
State Department advisories
- This article previously indicated the Wallace state as Maryland. We’ve since learned Erin is a registered voter in Virginia, though she is from Annapolis, MD.