The Indian Express newspaper recently published a chilling piece out of the northern state of Haryana: local police are accused of drugging and gang-raping minor girls from a local orphanage. Jaswanti Devi, the orphanage director, apparently complicit in the horror, has been charged with trafficking, torture, and bonded labor. Investigators believe that after two of the girls became pregnant from the police rapes, director Devi "stepped on their stomachs and inserted sticks inside their private parts to force abortions."
Before the scandal was exposed, Devi had received a state award to honor her achievement in "empowering women."
I wish I could say that this story is an anamoly, but it's not. During my time in India, I heard countless anecdotal reports like this; the stories were always pretty similar and always involved police abuse. Of course, the problem isn't limited to India; I've written about other ugly cases in the past, most notably in Portugal. Abuse of vulnerable, unparented children happens far more often than we know (actually, you only have to open the newspaper to see this holds sadly true for children in families, too.)
Opponents of international adoption love to point out that the majority of children in orphanages have at least one living parent who may be using institutional care as a stopgap measure; these kids don't need to be adopted, they say. It's true; sometimes desperate parents do turn to orphanage care as a temporary measure, HOWEVER we actually have no way of knowing how many situations like that actually exist. As I've said before, the enduring concern is that WE HAVE NO REAL IDEA HOW MANY CHILDREN LIVE IN ORPHANAGES AND INSTITUTIONS AROUND THE WORLD, let alone the familial status of those kids. Governments in the developing world frequently don't have the infrastructure to gather that kind of data. In a place like India, where millions of births still go unregistered and unlicensed, ad hoc orphanages spring up overnight, tracking children is a daunting task. And of course, governments everywhere are loathe to publish data that points to policy failure. Most governments don't even want to know how many orphans they have within their borders, let alone share the details with the international community.
I believe in ethics and accountability in adoption, and the reality is that children in developing countries on track for international adoption currently enjoy greater legal and administrative protections and oversight than kids in other childcare institutions. I'd find more in common with those calling for more adoption reform if they started talking about protecting ALL destitute and unparented children from ALL forms of exploitation, not to mention programs that keep kids out of orphanages in the first place.