After spending more than two years in legal limbo, 159 children from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be united with adoptive parents –from the U.S., France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The government agreed to grant long-stalled permits to the children and is working to resolve the remaining cases, said Ambassador Francois Balumuene.
More than a thousand legally adopted children from the DRC have spent the past two years in orphanages, their arrivals at their new homes blocked by the diplomatic deadlock.
Adoptions came to a halt in 2013, when the DRC blocked exit visas to children adopted by foreign parents, citing fears that the children could be abused or trafficked. The DRC government cited concerns with safeguards in the Congolese adoption process and concerns regarding the welfare of the children being adopted internationally.
A State Department fact sheet noted that Congolese officials reported on several occasions that the suspension was prompted in part by weaknesses in Congolese adoption procedures, which they believe might not adequately protect children. The suspension was imposed on all intercountry adoptions of Congolese children by prospective/adoptive parents from all countries, not just adoptions by United States prospective/adoptive parents.
The government also voiced concerns about adoptions by gay couples but campaigners say the move created a lucrative trade in which children are smuggled across borders for a price.
“Adoptions in DRC have become a business for government agents, judges, lawyers, representatives of adoption agencies and orphanages,” said one person in Kinshasa speaking anonymously to investigators.
With more than 4 million orphaned children, according to the U.N. children’s agency Unicef, Congo became a favored international adoption destination in recent years. Other countries favored for adoptions were China, Ethiopia and the Ukraine.
Until the ban, U.S. adoptions from Congo rose 645 percent between 2010 and 2013, the U.S. State Department said.
Legal adoptions began to resume last November when the Congo signed off on exit visas for about 70 children adopted by European, Canadian and American families. A few exceptions were also made for children with life-threatening medical cases that could not be treated in the DRC.
During the visa ban, an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation found that moratorium on adoptions had spurred a black market in child smuggling, with more than 80 adopted Congolese children illegally transported out of the country and to the United States.
Both France and Italy halted issuing entry visas during the moratorium but not the U.S. As a result, some parents reportedly smuggled children to Zambia from where they could be brought legally into the U.S.
Meanwhile, Berhanu Seyoum, pastor of the Ethiopian Mekane Yesus Church in Seattle, is continuing his efforts to help Ethiopian children who went from adoptive homes to living on the streets in the Northwest.
“I don’t want to say I’m the only one,” said Seyoum in an interview with Slate magazine, “but I end up being the only one running around saying, ‘Hey guys, this is going to happen, these kids are going to lose their future.’ “A proud Ethiopian, he says it’s in his culture “to have broad shoulders; we can take everything.” But he worries that there’s no one who’s going to help these kids. They’ve just fallen between the cracks.