Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Morality Vs economics - the debate surrounding cross-national adoptions?

The controversy surrounding pop star Madonna's attempt to adopt a second child from Malawi, is only the latest episode in the long history of events that have pitted morals and values against economic utility and rational considerations. It has been argued that what is economically (or financially) beneficial is often morally, ethically, and/or culturally repugnant.

Briefly the facts of the case. Following an intense debate involving opposition from child rights activists, a court in Malawi had rejected Madonna's efforts to adopt an orphan three year old girl, Chifundo James, because of a requirement that prospective parents be resident in the country for 18 to 24 months. Interestingly, the same residency rule was waived in 2006, when Madonna was allowed to take her adopted son, David, from the same orphanage, to London before his adoption was finalized in 2008.

Global opponents argue that such adoptions of children in developing countries by parents in rich countries, will encourage trafficking. They also claim that such adoptions transplant children from their cultural moorings, thereby dislocating them and leaving them rootless in alien cultures. Domestic opponents argue that such adoptions create a picture that the state has failed to care for children and therefore that orphans should be taken away from their communities to other countries.

All the aforementioned objections have answers. Trafficking can be controlled if the adoptions are carried out within the framework of both national and international regulations. The cultural dislocation advocates would do well to remember that millions of immigrant children are today growing up in alien cultures, in simlarly "rootless" cicumstances, where assimilation is surely a challenge, though not unsurmountable. The nationalist arguement does not carry any conviction, and if anything, should spur the respective local governments to get their acts together.

Ideological and blanket opposition to such complex issues are commonplace, and more often does more harm than good. It ignores the reality of adoptions, leaves the country without an appropriate regulatory framework to police adoptions, and drives adoptions into the underground market (or high profile one-off adoptions like the present case).

Consider the simple facts in the instant case - the child is an orphan (and this is important), is living in a poor African country (where presumably the chances of a good life for the child is bleak), and the adopter is a rich parent. All things being equal, in purely probablistic terms, the chances of the child having a more comfortable life, both materially and metally, is clearly higher if she is adopted. So what is the fuss about?

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