Black Market Adoption

Black Market Adoption

News is breaking of a black market adoption scam out of northern Mexico, in which a state child welfare official reportedly seized newborns from poor, drug-using mothers and sold them to middle class Mexican couples for payments of $5-9k under the table.

It’s not a big surprise, frankly.

Not because Mexican child welfare officials are known for corruption– on the contrary, adopting infants in Mexico is typically a far more laborious process than the American way of adoption.

What makes this surprising is that such practices are still news at all, because sadly, black market adoptions such as these have been going on for decades, all across the globe but especially right next door to Mexico– in America.

Fifty years ago in the US, Dr. Thomas Hicks, a Georgia obstetrician, reportedly facilitated 200 black market adoptions of babies he delivered, often misleading mothers who were told their babies died at birth while Hicks was secretly collecting then-lucrative payments from the adoptive families to whom he “gave” their children.

black marketHicks had nothing on Edna Gladney colleague Georgia Tann, however. Tann, the daughter of a judge, is said to have made millions off of more than 5000 illicit adoptions– with the help of unethical judges, doctors, nurses and others who scouted vulnerable mothers for her.

The common denominator in nearly all black market (or gray market) adoptions is a lack of transparency. Such transactions are devoid of openness because the parties involved wish to leave as few tracks (or records or receipts) as possible– for obvious reasons. In the Mexican illegal adoptions cited above, as in the Hicks and Tann cases, great efforts were undertaken to falsify birth records, a practice which routinely occurs even in legal adoptions in the U.S., for reasons which are unclear even to many adoption professionals.

Lest anyone think that unethical adoptions are merely the domain of poor countries or infractions of yesteryear, think again. American Academy of Adoption Attorneys members such as Steven G. Dubin, John Bado and Barbara Bado, and the late Stanley Michaelman were all reportedly investigated, charged or disbarred for misconduct in adoption-related allegations. Beverly Hills adoption attorney David Keene Leavitt was hit with a $7 million judgement for depriving a father of his rights to his child in 1999. Adoption attorneys such as Kevin Cohen (himself an adoptee) and attorney Linda Zuflacht (formerly of Adoption Services Associates of San Antonio) each went out of business after being accused of bilking adoptive parents out of thousands of dollars. In Texas in August 2015, Simone Swenson, director of a state-licensed adoption agency called Sans Pareil Center for Children & Family Services was charged with four counts of adoption fraud for secretly “double matching” expectant mothers with multiple adoptive families. Swenson currently faces up to 20 years imprisonment on each count, and a fine of $250,000.

Particularly disturbing, wherever illegal adoptions may occur, is the overriding and misguided belief that “the ends justify the means,” and thus that it is somehow all right to trick disadvantaged birthparents out of their children (or advantaged adoptive parents out of their money) if it means the children are being successfully adopted. No adoption is a success if it occurred through dishonesty, fraud, coercion or theft. No child’s best interests have been met if they have been stolen or acquired via deception. It’s as simple (and tragic) as that.

Black market adoption is not a problem unique to any one country. It is a phenomenon that has gone on for far too many years and will likely continue to recur until the adoption community puts a stop to it, because sadly, it is unlikely that any one else will recognize how high the stakes are for all the world’s children. We commend the Mexican government for pursuing conviction in the matter at hand. We encourage Americans to rally for open records access for adoptees and legally-enforceable open adoption agreements, in the interests of greater transparency, and greater oversight of adoption practices throughout this country.

It may be that black market adoptions will never be stopped, entirely. By making the problem more recognizable, however, and by increasing prosecution of those who commit it and by advocating better for its victims, we could all play a part in helping to shield more children from black market adoption and in doing so, ensure a happier ending in more adoption stories from all around the world.

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